Cutting The Costs Of Open Access Research

Is it feasible to run a high quality open access journal with operating costs of just $6 USD (£4.50 GBP) per paper?

Other open access journals often charge upwards of $500 USD to get a paper reviewed and published, but $6 USD per paper is the model that has been proposed by Kyle Niemeyer.

$6 USD Per Paper?

I came across an interesting presentation from Kyle given at SciPy 2017 and also documented in a more traditional paper where he discussed the design and development of the Journal of Open Source Software (JOSS). This particular journal is used to archive software packages and largely exists within the $6 USD per paper cost range, although there’s no reason that a similar technique wouldn’t work for more traditional papers.

Kyle calculates the $6 USD per paper figure, which depends on the journal publishing 100 articles per year, as follows:

  • Crossref membership (needed for DOIs and journal indexing) = $275 USD per year + $1 USD per paper = $375 per year
  • Web hosting using Heroku = $19 USD per month = $228 per year

Total = $603 USD per year

(or $6.03 USD per paper)

The system looks to largely be dependent on GitHub.

As expected, many attendees at the open source conference where JOSS was discussed expressed positive views of the idea:

Subsequent discussion has however noted that there are some sacrifices needed to get the $6 USD per paper cost.

For instance, this requires heavily on volunteer labour, including from those people developing the software to “run” the journal in the first place. A lot of free work is put in by reviewers and editors, although that’s true of many open source journals. There may also be issues with creating redundancy in the system, which is something that’s important for the long-term archiving of academic papers.

At present, charges aren’t made directly to authors. The journal is relying on funding that has been put into it to cover the running costs. For this to be more sustainable in the longer-term, consideration to funding would need to be made, including all of the legal entity issues that come with handling money and the needs to guarantee service.

Alternative Approaches

There may also be ways to cut the costs still further. Martin Paul Eve suggests that CrossRef membership with 50 DOIs included could be possible for €75 per year (£66 GBP, $90 USD). He also recommends the use of the CLOCKSS archival service at $200 USD per year, which may solve the issue of needing reliable long-term service and archiving. He also suggests the use of Open Journal Systems, which could remove some of the technical complexity.

One idea that I’d like to see explored further would be more use of peer-to-peer hosting to archive academic papers. (Legal) torrent style services could be used which would also introduce some further redundancy into the system.

There could well be an interesting student project looking at putting these different approaches together in a way that is both cost-effective and allows for a new open access journal to be set up with the minimum possible technical complexity.

Taking all of these issues into account, it would be challenging for a journal to maintain a $6 USD publication point. But it should be possible to substantially cut the costs of open access publishing from the figures that researchers are charged by many journals today.

Rescuing Academic Research

Whilst updating my academic profiles on Google Scholar and LinkedIn, I was rather surprised to come across several pieces of research that I’d written but not published in an official academic manner.

This research took several forms:

  • Some papers that had been developed early on in my PhD research and informed my later thesis, but which hadn’t been substantially well-enough “shaped” to submit
  • Two papers that I wrote with a BCU colleague after joining, but which I had rather lost track of asking he had agreed to seek publication for these
  • One paper written with a former MSc project student, which needed reducing in size before it could be published
  • And various papers which had been started, but not completed, with other academic commitments getting in the way

It’s unlikely now that the papers would be publishable without some substantial rework. If nothing else, the fields on which these papers were written will have moved on and the information will look dated. It does, however, seem a pity to have research that has been written but is not published anywhere, so I will look to see if there is any way to resurrect these.

Now, all that comes before other research which has been involved students which could easily be made publication ready (given time):

  • There are several good student projects which I’ve worked on previously with students which could easily be made into conference papers
  • In the Professional Practice 2 module students carry out a research investigation as part of an Action Learning Set. There have been some good efforts for this module too.

Both of these meet the wider requirements of  the “Students As Partners” movement which is rightfully gaining traction across the Higher Education Sector.

There are also pieces of research that I’ve carried out to involve students in modules which could also be published.

Finally, I recently wrote a sample literature review on an aspect of the contract cheating area, designed to show students how they could undertake an assessment of their own. Whilst the Literature Review probably isn’t publication ready in its own right, some gaps in the literature became immediately clear to me.

Generally, these were things that I remember presenting about (or watching other people give presentations on) during research seminars and workshops, but which had never made it through the formal documented process of an academic publication.

Some of these talks could easily be made into an academic conference paper with very little new work needed.

It just goes to show how much research is out there.

My Challenge

My challenge is to see what research can be rescued and used in some other form.

If nothing else, a number of previously published pieces of research are no longer available anywhere. Conferences which had web sites hosted by universities have since had their entire archives removed (one of the dangers of relying on a third party to host information).

I need to go back through the archive of what I’ve done, see what can be made available and see how it can be made available. Just having a single archive of papers and talks (linked to the appropriate copyright holders where necessary) is important, as opposed to stylistically different versions spread over multiple sites.

Just getting everything in order for my own records will represent a big achievement.

Your Challenge

Your challenge is to consider your own academic publications and see what information there is out there and how it’s stored.

If nothing else, I recommend updating your LinkedIn profile to include the Publications and making sure that these are archived on your own sites.

Students, as well, should think if there’s anything you’ve done which contains academic research and which might be publishable with the aid of your lecturers or project supervisor.

How does that sound? Is there anything that I’ve missed or which you wish to add?

Just comment below and do go ahead and share your thoughts.