Show me the data!

Gold OA Pricewatch

November 7th, 2012 | Posted by rmounce in Open Access

An interesting move from Nature Publishing Group today…

In a press release dated 7 November 2012 they’ve announced they’re allowing the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license to be applied to articles in some (but not all) of their journals, specifically citing Wellcome Trust and RCUK policies that now require their funded authors to publish Gold OA with a CC BY license (or alternatively to use the Green OA route), recognizing that more restrictive licenses get the funders less return on investment.

Also included is a terribly poor quality screenshot of the new Gold OA pricing scheme that will apply for these journals (below)

An image of a table of numbers like this would never be allowed to be published in any one of NPG’s journals. So why did they do this here? Are they actively trying to make it harder for people to compare Gold OA charges between journals? Odd.

But what’s really outrageous about this: they’re explicitly charging MORE for applying/allowing a CC BY license relative to the more restrictive licenses. Applying a license to a digital work costs nothing. By charging £100-400 more for CC BY they’re really taking the piss – charging more for ABSOLUTELY NO ADDITIONAL EFFORT on their part. Horrid.

Other than greed what is the justification for this?

UPDATE: the income made from printing paper (deadtree) reprints, for profit, is cited as the justification. This still doesn’t get away from the fact that this is going to penalise RCUK-funded authors who wish to publish via the Gold OA route. I also don’t remember Nature Publishing Group charging differentiated OA prices for journals that previously offered a choice of different licences – has Scientific Reports always charged different rates for different licenses? NO it seems, just one flat price: £890 AND a choice of three different Creative Commons licenses including CC BY !

  • dougie_carnall

    Please don’t be naïve: all the major publishing groups have teams whose job it is to judge just how much the “market” will bear for their product, and charge accordingly. This is the job of the person whose job title actually is “publisher.” They answer to shareholders and owners, not scientists and doctors. They are parasites, who drain the lifeblood of science–revenue for education and research–into the pockets of shareholders.

    “I saw a little boy, perhaps ten years old, driving a huge cart-horse
    along a narrow path, whipping it whenever it tried to turn. It struck me
    that if only such animals became aware of their strength we should have
    no power over them, and that men exploit animals in much the same way
    as the rich exploit the proletariat.” -Orwell G. Preface to the Ukrainian edition of Animal Farm, 1947

    Or indeed, traditional publishers dazzling the scientific cart-horses with the prospect of a shiny dangly thing that is an article in Nature (rejection rate 98%).

    But perhaps we should find it reassuringly expensive? After all, one of the things NPG will doubtless continue to pay for with these extra bucks is a PR department whose principal job it is each week to write a press release explaining how this week’s breakthroughs are the greatest thing since… err, last week’s, for all those hacks out there who flip newsburgers for a living. As citation in the general media is a powerful influence on subsequent citation in specialist publications, all concerned may judge it is in their interest to continue pay the price.

    • Glad to see my comments section *is* working. Thanks for the comment Dougie.

      I feel I am allowed to be naïve though. For readers of this blog, who might not know, I’m young – I was born in 1987. I’ve not been ‘in’ academia for very long. One goes through undergraduate studies thinking science is wonderful, and that scientists & publishers work hard to make the world a better place.

      At times like these though – you’re right – it’s a horrid dose of reality that commercial STM publishers like NPG nakedly put profit before the best interests of science & society and then bury these facts in a press release spun to make it look like they’re doing something really good – a ‘shit sandwich’ approach? I wanted to highlight this, lest anyone think this statement from NPG was 100% ‘great’. I think I’ve achieved this :)

      So, yeah – it’s great that NPG now ‘allows’ it’s authors to publish with Creative Commons licenses in *some* of their journals, to allow less restricted and cumbersome re-use, distribution & access. But there’s no getting away from the fact that by pricing CC BY higher than other licenses – they’re *knowingly* penalizing RCUK-funded authors who wish to use the Gold OA route. That *really* grates on me and whether that’s me being naive or just me not being cynical enough about the way academia operates is just a matter of opinion (to which you are of course fully-entitled to).

      • dougie_carnall

        It grates with me too, even at my advanced age (b. 1965) ;-) Perhaps you have to have worked in the publishing industry to understand the full horror of the situation, which will only be relieved when academics develop enough consciousness on the issue to liberate themselves from it. I’m optimistic we’ll both live to see it though. The day will soon come when altmetrics are no longer alt, and at this tipping point, suddenly all the laggards will scramble like rats to escape obscurity.
        PS: Your comments worked fine for me, as I have an established disqus account. But IIRC, the first time I tried to register with disqus in order to post a comment somewhere I had a nightmare and lost data. Perhaps this happened to your other esteemèd correspondent.

  • Thanks for the comment Grace. Apologies if you had trouble commenting before.

    I appreciate and agree that it was unlikely that NPG had sinister intent by posting the table of prices as an image. I was just frustrated because I see this all too often in my day-to-day work and have previously blogged about the sheer annoyance that this can cause when one wants to re-use data provided inappropriately only as an image of a table.

    Note that BMC (
    SpringerOpen (
    PLoS (
    Hindawi (
    MDPI (

    and more all provide clean and clear data on APC charges which can easily be copy n’ pasted off their sites for re-use and comparison purposes. Perhaps NPG could also create a similar page of its APC charges to facilitate easy comparison and thus further NPG’s commitment to ‘author choice’ (of publication venue).

    As for the “premium APC” NPG has now suddenly decided to charge for CC BY, which suspiciously coincides with the recent RCUK mandate for CC BY; I know of no other publisher that does this. Not Elsevier, not Wiley, not Springer, Taylor & Francis… Are there any other publishers milking more money from taxpayer funded research for CC BY, or is it just NPG that has decided to set this (ethically) dangerous precedent?

    I offer my insincere ‘congratulations’ to NPG for innovating this pricing differentiation – more money, for no additional work – only a content industry could come up with such an ingenious money-making scheme.

    Thanks again for your comment,


    • Grace Baynes

      Just to address your comment about displaying APCs, we have a table/list on the FAQ pages. See for an example. I just couldn’t link to that in the press release as it will be updated when the CC BY options are available in December so it didn’t list the prices for CC BY. We’re working on other ways to share this information, too. We’re always looking to make information clearer on for authors, so I appreciate your feedback and suggestion.

      • Thanks for the link – it is a useful one I have not seen before.

        I’ll be sure to list those expensive APC’s in the next update of my Gold OA APC plot:

        As you’ll know already, I can objectively say the APC’s NPG wants to charge are far in excess of what most other journals with APC’s charge.
        No need to take my word for it either: Solomon & Bjork (2012; ) robustly demonstrate that the average price of an APC (by journals that *do* charge an APC for free access, most don’t) is just $906.

        NPG is clearly charging higher for its ‘brand’ (alone) and I encourage authors & research funders to consider whether this inflated cost is actually worth paying for in terms of the benefit to science, society & research funders.

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