Ross Mounce’s Visualization of “Gold” Open Access Rights and Prices

This blog highlights some splendid work done by Ross Mounce, one of our Panton Fellows. Ross actually started this before he applied to us, but he’s done and though a lot since so we can claim a little reflected glory.

The work is blogged at .

“To try and publicize the variety of Gold Open Access article publication options on offer, I’ve decided to create a visualization of the journal data that has previously been collected as part of my survey of ‘Open Access’ publisher licenses’ spreadsheet. ” [RM]. So the data can be found there.

For those who don’t know a scholarly publication with a major publisher is only readable if your library has a subscription (up to more than 10,000 USD/year for a single journal) or if you pay one-off fees (40 USD for one day for one article). This means that most of the world (including most people in the rich West) do not have access and normally suffer by remaining ignorant.

There are three main approaches to scholarly publishing:

  • Create and run publications with no charges for publication or reading “Sponsored Publication”. IMO this is what we should ultimately be aiming at but critics dismiss this as “Fairy Godmother”. There is after all 15 Billion USD spent by universities per year so some of this could be put to use. Nonetheless many journals work this way, but not normally large ones.
  • Make an agreement with a publisher that a copy of the article can be put on a permanent site (“Green”). This copy is not normally the final published article (“the PDF”) but something close. Publishers have no legal requirement to allow this and many don’t. The copies have to be mafde by the authors and many don’t take the trouble. Nonetheless some academics believe that by passges of years and campaigning they can force all academics to deposit green manuscripts.
  • Pay the publisher (APCs or Article Processing Fees) to make the final article publicly readable (“Gold”). There are two mechanisms:
  1. choose a journal where all artciles are Open Access. Examples of such are PLoS and BiomedCentral journals, Acta Crystallographica E, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics and many more. This is straightforward if there is a journal in your subject (though I and others questions the need for journals). You pay the price (NOT the cost) (AFTER the article is accepted, so not “vanity publishing”) and your article is published Openly. I have managed to do this for almost all my recent publications – but it costs money.
  2. Choose a “closed” journal, i.e. where most of the articles are not readable by the public and pay the journal APCs. This is “hybrid Gold”. For many scientists this is the only viable option, sinvce most of their natural outlets are closed. One obvious concern is that we are paying twice – once to publish and once for people to buy the journal (most of which is closed). The publishers assert that they lower their prices to account for this and although they don’t disclose accounts we trust them because publishers are by nature trustable, as are banks.

Before commenting on Ross’s data I’ll comment that there are no effective market forces for Gold. If I want to publish in Journal X I have to pay whatever the journal sets. This ranges (as Ross shows) from 160 USD for Acta Crystallographica E to 10,000 for Nature (not on the plot as it is in Nature statements rather than on the web page).

Those outside academia may well be baffled by a charge for 10,000 USD to publish a paper that an author has authored for free (authors are not paid and no-one says they should be) and academics have reviewed for free. You can buy a good used car for that. The journal incurs costs in managing the peer-review (but not normally doing it), making the journal look nice (which most people can do with Open tools for free), hiring lawyers to stop people copying articles, hiring web expets to build tools to stop people reading articles, hiring salespeople to persuade people to buy journals, and paying large dividends to shareholders.

So IMO and Ross’s it’s important to change the way we publish science so that everyone can read it.


Because even if you can read an article you are normally explicitly debarred from using machines to read it, or especially lots of articles. I have argue that this is costing humankind huge amounts of lost value.

There is a formal way to ensure that machines ARE allowed to read articles, and that’s to add a licence explicitly allowing them to do this. The only well-known licences that are acceptable for this are CC-BY or CC0.

But many publishers do not provide CC-BY even if authors have spent thousands of dollars. This is a unilateral decision by most publishers and IMO this is immoral, and unethical. There is no justification for this (it does NOT protect authors – scholarly norms do that). These lesser licences include CC-NC (“non-commercial”) and CC-ND (“no derivatives”). Many – including me – have argued that these are counter-productive to scholarship. The publishers include them for a variety of motives:

  • Lazineness, incomptence and ignorance. This is not excusable – after all we are paying publishers zillions – but it’s probably the easiest to change. So Ross’ plot is a reall opportunity to name-and-shame publishers who couldn’t be bothered to think about licences. The worst category on the diagram is “no clear licence” and we hope that many publishers will realise that by a simple process of adding a single phrase to their publication they culd whizz to the top.
  • A misguided idea that “non-commercial” is a good thing. It isn’t . Its main effect is to hit academics themselves (e.g. can’t use in books), small businesses, government (buying publications is a commercial act), etc. If you aren’t convinced we’ll help change your mind
  • A desire to milk the system for every last drop. Publishers want to retain the right to resell the paper and its diagrams as reprints, in books, etc. Free-to-read is not free-to-reuse
  • And other means of trying to control academics, libraries etc in a confusing and highly profitable market.

So armed with that, re-read Ross’ plot. “Good” is at the top “unacceptable” at the bottom. Some points will not be in the right place on the diagram. There are several reasons:

  • It’s often very difficult to find out theprice (e.g. when there are page charges and colour charges (coloured electrons cost more on the internet)).
  • Many publishers (especially those with society journals) have many different journals
  • There are special deals – if you belong to some institutions they get reduced author rates
  • The licence information is so badly written it’s impossible to work out what’s happening (answer, use a CC licence – either CC-BY or CC0)
  • Some publishers offer more than one licence. I can’t understand why – they should offer only the most liberal.

Then there is the question of ownership and copyright. But that’s another day.

The price axis is one of the areas we should be addressing. The price bears NO RELATIONSHIP to the cost (except for journals at the LH side the plot, like Acta Crystallographica E). It doesn’t COST Nature 10000 USD to publish an article that has been written and reviwed for free. It doesn’t COST Perrier umpteen dollars to fill a bottle with water that comes out of the ground. These are vanity prices, and academics don’t care as long as the taxpayer or students are paying for library bills.


But you form your own conclusions from the plot. Comment on this blog or Ross’ if you think data is wrong.







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