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They want me to send them free material and pay for the privilege

Since we’re on the topic of publishers asking me for money . . . The other day I received the following email:

Mimi Liljeholm has sent you a message. Please click ‘Reply’ to send a direct response.

Dear Prof Gelman,

In collaboration with Frontiers in Psychology, we are organizing a Research Topic titled “Causal discovery and generalization”, hosted by Mimi Liljeholm and Marc Buehner. As host editor, I would like to encourage you to contribute to this topic.

A brief description of the topic is provided on our homepage on the Frontiers website (section “Frontiers in Cognition”). This is also where all articles will appear after peer-review and where participants in the topic will be able to hold relevant discussions:

Frontiers, a Swiss open-access publisher, recently partnered with Nature Publishing Group to expand its researcher-driven Open Science platform. Frontiers articles are rigorously peer-reviewed, can be disseminated freely and are widely read by your colleagues and by the broader scientific and medical research communities.

The idea behind a research topic is to create an organized, comprehensive collection of several contributions, as well as a forum for discussion and debate. Contributions can be articles describing original research, methods, hypothesis & theory, opinions, etc.

Frontiers will also compile an e-book, as soon as all contributing articles are published, that can be used in classes, be sent to foundations that fund your research, to journalists and press agencies, or to any number of other organizations.

As such, a manuscript accepted for publication incurs a publishing fee, which varies depending on the article type. Research Topic manuscripts receive a significant discount on publishing fees. Please take a look at this fee table:

Once published, your articles will remain free to access for all readers, and will be indexed in PubMed and other academic archives. As an author in Frontiers, you retain the copyright to your own papers and figures.

I would be delighted if you considered participating in this Research Topic.

Please note that the deadline for abstract submission is on Oct 31, 2013 and that for manuscript submission is on Mar 31, 2014

Since I am using the Frontiers system to manage this topic, I would really appreciate if you could also please indicate your decision by clicking on one of the links below.

AGREE to Participate

DECLINE to Participate


Mimi Liljeholm
Guest Associate Editor, Frontiers in Cognition

I was like, wha—? But I felt like maybe I was missing something, so I clicked ‘Reply’ to send a direct response:

Wait a minute, I’m confused here. You’re asking me to send you free material which you can publish, but you want me to _pay you_ for this? This does not make sense to me!

I have received no reply, so I’m assuming they didn’t have a good answer to my question.

The whole thing is just stunning to me. I just love that bit, “Research Topic manuscripts receive a significant discount on publishing fees.” Wow, a discount! Does QVC still exist?


  1. jrkrideau says:

    I think I’ve seen this plot used before: Tom Saywer – Fence?

  2. Michael Joner says:

    My understanding is “page charges” are still fairly common when publishing in leading journals in some disciplines. Fortunately statistics research is generally not subjected to page charges.

    But you do raise an interesting point. Why do academics feel an urge to publish their research? The publishers are in the business to make money, but those of us who have articles in the journals don’t collect royalties or anything like that; on the contrary we’re often asked to grant the publisher exclusive rights to publish the research!

    • Daniel Lakens says:

      These are not page charges. The publisher is making no money from the article after it is published (in that it is not sold to universities at ridiculous prices, or to individuals at even more ridiculous prices). The costs for publishing the article (and for other articles in the journal from researchers who cannot pay the fee and receive a waiver) are therefore paid by the researcher who publishes. I’m getting the idea this is not understood in the statistics community, but I can hardly believe that the idea of Open Access is not understood – after all, this is 2013, not 2003.

  3. Daniel Lakens says:

    I’ve just started as an editor for the Frontiers in Cognition section of this journal. It is open access, and therefore, researchers pay for publication. There are grants (at least in The Netherlands) for some researchers to cover these expenses. If you cannot pay them, there are waivers.
    Let’s reverse your rationale: You submit an article for free to a publisher. You are paid (or in general most researchers are paid) by tax money. You give the work to a publisher, who puts copyright on it, and sells it back to tax payers (through university subscriptions, are a price of around 30 dollars for a single article). Aren’t you – Like wha?
    I think Frontiers is in this for the right reasons – look at PlosOne for a similar idea, or PeerJ for a new initiative that aims to bring down the price of an open access publication. So, did you really never consider that before open access journals, you were giving your work away for free and let publishers make money my selling it back to the tax payer who already paid for it, or is there anything special about this open access journal, in the way it hosts special issues and ask you to contribute? If that’s the case, would you have said yes if it was a journal that hosted a special issue, let you put in time (paid for by taxes) and sold it back to the general public for a hefty profit?

    • Sam Gershman says:

      The critique of closed access publishing is reasonable, but why does open access publishing require fees of any sort? The costs of publishing on the internet are fairly marginal; look for example at the Journal of Machine Learning Research. I’m still astonished at the cost of publishing in Frontiers. It seems like that cost is supporting a gratuitously complex website and unnecessary editorial/technical staff.

    • Justin says:

      I agree with you on how it’s bad that publishers charge the public to access articles about research funded by taxpayers. I wonder how these journals will do if the bill going through the US Congress now passes — which requires that taxpayer-funded researcher be made available to the public for free.

    • Jack PQ says:

      It would be important for Frontiers to take the necessary steps to clearly establish it is a reputable journal because open-access is being contaminated by rubbish predatory journals that also ask for money.

      For example, if your journal could be endorsed by a well-known association of academics, it would be very helpful to establish trust.

  4. Oliver Bothe says:

    I have to admit, the blog post reads as if the open-access discussion hasn’t yet reached statistics. Or do I miss something.

    • Daniel Lakens says:

      Indeed – truly shocking.

      • Andrew says:

        Oliver, Daniel:

        I’m confused. Are you saying I should send these people a free article along with some money? Why exactly should I do this? If the motivation is pure public service, fine—but then instead I would prefer to write my free article and post it on Arxiv or JMLR or some other place. More people will read it, and I don’t have to pay any money.

        • Oliver Bothe says:

          No, that’s your choice as it is for those who want to do that, but the post sounds as if the concept is totally alien.

          Other communities other cultures. Better paying for the #OA-way than for subscription-journals or even page charges in a subscription-journal?

          JMLR is a very special case, isn’t it? But yes, that concept is the ideal version of publishing.

          The rest of the comment is an unstructured shopping-list.

          I’m not sure that Arxiv is that well read (however, it certainly depends on the community). Furthermore, some people do value the layouting/editing-effort and don’t like to read the doc/latex-standard-view as in Arxiv.

          Then, there is the question of peer-review and I think that becomes more important/costly the more submissions you have. I think the shift to post-publication review is going to take some more years.

          The/A scientific community often sees only/mostly what’s in the journals – not what’s in repositories. This is even more true for the “recruiting” (?). Those who want to make “a career” in science will continue to look for the (seemingly high-)impact journal article – even if they either bury their work for the public or have to pay for it.

          Reading the comments. I’m not sure whether the calculation “pdflatex article.tex” + “upload to web” really captures all expenses. Certainly fees are often overblown. However: Latex isn’t “format franca” in all disciplines; layouting may be more or less complicated; language editing may be necessary; PR for articles one thinks important may be involved. JMLR is the ideal.

          So in the end, everybody may publish the way he wants to. Maybe one becomes more open the less one cares/has to care about one’s career?

          PS: I forgot to note that Frontiers-emails are indeed hard to distinguish from predatory-emails.

          • Rahul says:

            Cultures can change. In some instances (like this one) there’s a strong ethical imperative why cultures should change.

            If Latex isn’t “format franca” maybe it should become one. Not just for the sake of it. But if (as you seem to be arguing) publication overheads are grossly greater for non-Latex submissions, there’s good reason to prefer Latex.

            You are using an inefficient status quo to justify another inefficient strategy (paid Open Access).

        • Rahul says:

          >>>Are you saying I should send these people a free article along with some money? Why exactly should I do this?<<<

          Andrew: Not applying to you, but for a lot of young researchers, may be they pay because adding one more publication to their CV matters a lot. Much more than what these sleazy journals ask for.

          Root of the problem lies in measuring a person's worth by the length of his publications list.

        • Daniel Lakens says:

          Putting it online for free is great (naturally, everyone should do this regardless – it’s called the green road to open access). The fact is, the current situation with normal journals is untenable (see this statement by Harvard: Harvard pays 3.75 million a year for subscriptions – that would be reduces immensely if we move to open access and everyone pays the (what might sound hefty) fees to publish in an open access journal. Frontiers and other good Open Access journals like it (see PlosOne) is one solution. Perhaps not the final solution, but in many respects currently a preferred solution than giving your work away to a publisher who sells it back. Note that as I understand it, Frontiers is not making a profit. They might in the future, but this is not a get rich quick scheme.

          The situation is not that people want more publications – really, publishing in an open access journal typically has less prestige than publishing in the more traditional journals. People don’t do it because they want to score another publication easily by paying – they do it out of the ideal that we should move to a different system.

  5. Jack PQ says:

    I think Prof. Gelman’s reaction is correct because there are hundreds, if not thousands, or predatory journals that send precisely this sort of message and make money off unsuspecting academics. Is Frontiers a predatory journal? I don`t know.

    However, it is also true that some legitimate journals cover their expenses through hefty page charges instead of hefty library subscription fees (a la Elsevier).

    But if the journal is open access and the articles are in TeX, there is virtually no work required to publish the journal. Once the Editor vets the paper, it is uploaded on the website. Done. So why ask authors for a ton of money?

    • Daniel Lakens says:

      Here is a list of predatory open access journals.
      If you knew anything about this topic however, you’d know that Frontiers is not one of them.

      And can this be done more cheaply? Sure, see a new initiative: But also note that without journals as Frontiers and PlosOne, these new initiatives would have been too radical to consider. It is this earlier success that allows even more rigorous ideas.

      • Rahul says:

        >>>also note that without journals as Frontiers and PlosOne, these new initiatives would have been too radical to consider.<<<

        Fair enough. But that also does *not* make a bad model good. And I think this practice of charging authors is indeed bad.

        • Daniel Lakens says:

          So Rahul, where do you publish now? What is your solution to this problem?

          • Rahul says:

            I’ve published in conventional, greedy, for-profit journals. If I could, I’d aspire to publish in Nature-Science. If I could afford to make a statement, and not care about baser career motives, I’d only publish on arxiv. But luckily, I’ve never had to ever pay to publish. And I don’t plan to.

            My solution? Arxiv is part of the solution. Tex submissions and less overheads are too. Open Access Journals that run on Society subscriptions are a solution. Journals that run on grants / donations are good.

            A more mature service would be a hybrid of arxiv (for hosting) and peer-review imprimatur (which is done gratis anyways).

            Lots of solutions. Charging authors $2000-per-paper is an ugly solution.

      • Jack PQ says:

        @Daniel: No need for insults. In fact I know something about predatory journals, and my point is that in some regards Frontiers *looks* like one. I was saying Frontiers should try harder to set itself apart from the hordes of scam journals that flood our inboxes.

        The burden of proof is on Frontiers to establish its quality, not on me to recognize it as such.

        • Daniel Lakens says:

          Jack PQ, it was not meant as an insult, it is just that people in my view are very quick to associate open access journals as predatory, whereas they are quick to ignore that normal journals are extremely focused on selling individual articles. For example, in my research area Psychological Science will spam the media with press releases with the main goal being to sell individual articles to the general public (e.g., journalists). I know you are not at the end where you are being taken advantage of, and for you the predatory journals might be more salient, but I’m just saying there is a bigger picture here.

  6. sarang says:

    Yeah, publication charges are standard in physics journals — PRL charges about $700 per article, the open-access PRX charges substantially more, Nature and Nature Physics charge upwards of 1k… they’re all easy to waive, but they do exist! I don’t see that there’s anything problematic about this; it would be silly for journals to pay authors, as everything is on the arxiv anyway, and clearly the journals have _some_ editorial expenses.

    • Andrew says:


      I do not think it would be silly for journals to pay authors. We are providing them with content, and they are selling it. If “everything is on the arxiv anyway,” why are libraries expected to pay thousands of dollars a year in subscription fees?

      • Jack PQ says:

        Paying authors for articles is not silly, but most academics would rather get ”paid” in prestige than in money. If you have a choice between publishing in a top journal vs publishing in a mediocre journal and receiving $1000, you’ll almost certainly prefer the top journal and no money.

        The question remains: if good journals like J Machine Research Learning can publish open-access and not charge authors a fee, why should Frontiers charge a fee, and why should it be substantial? The only cost is the website and a webmaster perhaps (even that is dubious, given how easy it has become to manage one’s own website).

      • sarang says:

        Good Q! I think it’s mostly for the back issues, which are (a) extremely valuable in the aggregate to researchers and (b) not public-domain. I guess I tend to trust the APS somewhat on whether they need to raise cash from authors; though who knows, perhaps they are sitting on giant profits which get siphoned off somewhere…

      • Anonymous says:

        Andrew, the whole point of the open access movement is to stop journals from selling. And, as stated before on this thread already, you can choose to upload it to arxiv, but then the paper has not gone through a review process.
        I am a bit surprised about the field of statistics – for once management is far ahead of a field!

        • Andrew says:

          I still don’t see the point of (a) giving these guys free content and (b) paying them for the privilege. If all I want is for my paper to go through a review process, I’ll send it to some people and ask them to review it.

          • Fernando says:


            Suppose you send a good article to Political Analysis, it gets reviewed and accepted, and you are given two options:

            A. You pay nothing, journal gets copyright, and _only_ subscribers can access your paper (and perhaps a pre-print in your website, for as long as your website is maintained); or

            B. You pay $X, you keep the copyright, and the paper is made accessible to the whole of humanity for eternity under a Creative Commons license.

            Is X>0 for you?

            • Fernando says:

              PS You might argue that if what you want is OA then you can post it to Arxiv.

              Fair enough, but you sent it to PA for a reason: To get third party certification of quality. That is what the peer review system is about.

              With modern technology — hardware, software, contractual — we can separate the functions of publishing, hosting and archiving, and certification.

              Why should Political Analysis publish anything? Why not simply issue a seal you can add to your Arxiv paper (or a R&R before getting seal)? And why limit the number of seals issued, why not simply enforce a standard? And why not pay a third party to typeset, proofread, etc before submitting to Arxiv? And so on.

              • Andrew says:


                Actually, I’ve thought about this. My idea was to replace JASA with a certifying service, so that the reviewing stage happens after publication. One difficulty (beyond the natural resistance to change of any organization) is that the current system relies on tons of free labor. (I referee papers for all sorts of journals all the time.) And once the system changes, it’s natural for people to ask themselves: why contribute my labor (or, in the case of the journal that sparked this thread) my money for free?

            • Andrew says:


              Sure, but I’m the one submitting to PA. They’re not soliciting the article from me. If they ask me to write an article, I think it would be odd for them to ask me to pay.

              • Fernando says:

                I see your point. You are complaining about commissioning articles for free. Fair enough.

                As for certification I don’t see how it should change things. E.g. you still get tons of prestige for being in PA certification board, so that is one incentive. I don’t see how PA doing the publishing, or someone else, should change that.

                If we switch from editing journals for “interesting findings” to simple certification there may be less desk rejections, and hence more need for reviews. But checklists, and computer assissted reviews, might help.

              • Andrew says:


                You are presenting reviewing/editing as an exchange (the reviewer does work and is paid in prestige), but I don’t see it. My impression is that the amount of work people put into reviewing is much much more than the prestige they get out of it. I see reviewing and editing as much more like volunteer work, something that people do for the common good and because it is expected of us. Which is fine, but it also makes me think that, as the system is changed and expectations change, people might become less included to do it.

              • Fernando says:

                I agree with you with regards to intrinsic motivation. And you pose a legitimate concern, the importance of which is an empirical question.

                Otherwise we just need to get creative un incentivising people under a new system.

              • Right. I’ve decided to “vote with my feet” as they say, and just say “no” to almost all review requests I get. Instead, I send comments to authors of papers that I like and I think are worth spending time on.

                I don’t think anybody gets prestige for reviewing. Maybe a teensy-weensy bit for being on an editorial board or being an area chair of a conference, but not enough to justify doing it.

  7. Ben Murrell says:

    Pretty cheap for open access journals. See here for PLOS fees:

    • zbicyclist says:

      Sure, and PLOS is respected. It seems to me that the question is whether Frontiers is like PLOS, or whether it is like all those junk journals whose request for papers clutter up my in-box (and I’m not even an academic!).

      If you want to post your papers for free, there are places like SSRN. If you want the signaling of peer review, it’s reasonable that there be SOME costs involved, either borne by the reader or the writer (or some angel like the NSF or a set of advertisers).

      @Jack PQ: what does the budget of J Machine Research Learning look like?

      • dab says:

        It’s not clear (to me anyway) that there must be some costs involved for peer review. Under the current system, academics peer review papers for free as part of their service. Journals are simply the middle-men who request that we peer review papers for them. So, academics do the research, write the papers, and vet the papers of their peers. Journals just publish (more or less) what we tell them to. So, it seems to me that the true cost to the journals comes in publishing. If the publishing happens in print, then it makes sense that their should be some rather substantial cost to be paid by someone (e.g., the authors or the readers). If the publishing happens on a web site that the journal maintains, then maybe there should be some minimal cost to pay for the hosting fees and administration. But hundreds or thousands of dollars per article seems rather high for that…. If the publishing happens on a repository that is otherwise funded, then it should be free. Still, I can’t fault them for trying to make money. And I admit that I have only published in traditional, closed-access journals thus far (as many have pointed out, there is a prestige economy to be considered in all of this as well, especially early in a researcher’s career when he or she is striving for tenure/promotion). But it does seem like kind of a raw deal.

  8. dave says:

    Man, this “open access” sanctimony gets tiresome fast! Daniel, what part of the difference between PRODUCER PAYS vs. CONSUMER PAYS are you having trouble with? Am I just too old (at 39) to fail to see the difference? Why, I even remember a time when we had _another_ term for the “open access” model in which the costs of publishing an article are borne by the researcher. We called it “publishing with a vanity press.”

    • Daniel Lakens says:

      Well, if you think it is so great that the public that pays your salary does not have access to the work you produce, but has to buy it because you gave it away for free to a publisher, well, please don’t change anything. If you love the way tax money is spend by universities as they buy back the work you produced being employed by them, go ahead. Please realize, that major universities have referred to this system as untenable (see for Harvard: regardless of how you want to ignore this whole idea by referring to it as vanity press.

      • dave says:

        Ah, but the public does have access. All they need do is walk into the library and the work I produce is there, for free, sitting on the shelves.

        • Jeff Walker says:

          dave: I guarantee you that the work you produce is not in my local library of Falmouth Maine. Nor will it be in the larger library in Portland Maine. In fact, It’s likely that it’s not even in the library of my university (the university of southern maine). So I’m not sure your conception of public access really applies to 99.9% of the world

        • zbicyclist says:

          Journals “sitting on the shelves”

          Can you really be 39?

          • dave says:

            Yep, truly 39. And, yep, I was in the library a few days ago and, lo and behold, shelf after shelf after shelf of shiny new journals. To be sure, after a month or two, they take them away to be bound, but then they magically reappear in a different section of the library later. To be sure, zbicyclist is correct that, sometimes, you have to recall the bound stuff from an off-site repository, but it will arrive eventually. Libraries. Who would a thunk it?

            Jeff Walker cuts to the chase: The idea is that everyone – even those in Falmouth, Maine – should never be inconvenienced by the need to travel to a real academic library, let alone be asked to pay if they choose to consume academic research from the comfort of their own home. Instead, those who produce it should foot the bill! Nice racket, but I don’t think it has legs.

            • Daniel Lakens says:

              You mean they should pay twice for it, given that your research was (most likely) already paid for by the tax payers who you do not want to make it easy to access your work. Kind of reminds me of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy where the plans to demolish earth were open and accessible for everyone on Alpha Centauri, and it is the fault of those silly earthlings they did not bother to go there.

            • jrkrideau says:

              Not in my local (unversity) library. At least half or more of the major journals are only available on line.

              On the other hand, anyone can wander in off the street sit down at a terminal and download whatever is wanted, just bring your own USB. I cannot remember the last time I photocopied an article.

              I have been wondering just how much extra value journal publishers add any more. With decent software (Certainly LaTeX but for some displines, probably even Word or OpenOffice), one can produce immediately useable copy.

              In the old days, the journal publishers supplied a very valuable function. They took typed and handwritten materials and had them professionally typeset. Anyone remember hand-drawn chi-squares, integrals and sigma’s in equations?

              They also coordinated subscriptions, mailings, and so on. With the move to e-publication a lot of this is becoming unnecessary and the value-added function of the publisher seems to be shrinking.

            • konrad says:

              Dave: are you really advocating printing shelves full of _paper_ copies of journals, and having them take up _physical_ real estate, as an efficient way of spending money? Most of the journals I read don’t even _have_ hardcopy versions anymore.

            • Jeff Walker says:

              No my statement said nothing about inconvenience. You stated anyone could walk into their local library and have access to all the world’s research. I replied that you live in a rarified world and are ignorant of the accessibility of many many journals. The flagship university of the state of maine does not carry many, many journals, either on the shelves or via online. Maine has no medical school. What about aerodynamic engineering? How do I access these?

        • Jake says:

          I remember having to show my student ID to get access to the stacks in the university library during graduate school.

  9. William says:

    This is all getting to be too much like the “Who’s Who” explotation that still goes on. As long as there are tons of publishers and journals on Beal’s list [] then they are all going to be subject to critism unless they can explain how they are different? A day doesn’t go by when I don’t get an email offering me an “Editorial” position for a journal on this list and I get to even keep 20-50% of the Open Access Fees submitted by the authors for my time. Pfft… Face it, predatory journals have poisoned the Open Access well.

  10. Lord says:

    Peer reviewed vanity publishing. How much is your vanity worth?

  11. Nathaniel says:

    It is true that upfront publication charges are the “business model” of open access, and also that these charges seem awfully high in exchange for the lack of value that these venues provide.

    Aside from the general point, I find Frontiers to be one of the most appalling of the bunch: they have a unique combination of sanctimony and spammy, slimy communication practices centering on this sort of pyramid scheme where they roboblast spam inviting people to host special issues as though it were some sort of elite honor & get these people to scare up friends to write and review them. Then if you write an article for them youre later spammed by being told it’s one of their top articles, so youre invited to write another article reviewing it (pumping up impact factors etc). And dont get me started on their totally undirected reviewer initations — I get like 5 a day, together with admonitions that if I dont like getting inappropriate crap I should fill out a research profile on their wannabe facebook site.

    • Daniel Lakens says:

      I agree with many of these issues. Frontiers is part non-profit, and part a commercial organization. But they are really hurting their long-term image with their e-mails trying to convince people to submit papers. Not smart.

  12. As a researcher, your published work is either going to cost you, or it’s going to cost your readers. There is no other (private) way for this business to work. *Someone* must pay for publishing a journal article…

    This kind of business model (“researcher pays”) is just for those researchers who would prefer to pay the cost of publishing their work themselves, rather than require (de facto) the publisher to charge readers (“readers pay”).

    @Lord, that isn’t vanity, it’s getting your research out there. If it’s vanity, then the whole business of research is vanity, unless you think researchers are only be in it for the money..? In which case, what are they? Something better or worse than vain?

    There’s nothing wrong with researchers trying to get their research both published and free to readers by paying for his/her own publishing costs. That is true whether a researcher self-publishes (e.g. as Andrew might do on his blog), or uses a service like Frontiers. Let the researcher decide what is worth more, his own money or that of his readers’.

    I don’t see what’s so wrong with this…

    And I think what I’m arguing here is independent of whether this is a good deal or not. It could be a terrible deal — maybe Frontiers in Psychology is a shit journal, I have no idea — but I don’t see what’s so ridiculous about a “They want me to send them free material and pay for the privilege” type of model. Especially for younger researchers with money but without a name.

    • Rahul says:

      One problem in asking authors to pay is the wrong incentive structure this sets up: It’s a slippery slope from here to auctioning out pages to the highest bidder.

      There’s an inherent conflict of interest being set up here. How does a paid Open Access Journal ethically quantify the trade-off between article quality and author ability-to-pay?

      • Ashok Rao says:

        Hmm. And this isn’t qualitatively different from what’s being offered. Auctioning just controls the quantity for a flexible price. This just the opposite.

      • Alex says:

        Rahul—I can’t speak for all journals, but the PLOS One model is to separate the decision to publish from the question of the authors’ ability to pay. The academic editor makes the decision to publish or not, while someone on the journal staff handles any requests for a fees waiver, and the AE never knows whether the authors asked for or got the waiver. Also, all the AEs making the decision to publish get is a cup or a t-shirt at the end of the year (plus warm happy feelings).

        • Rahul says:

          Know what this reminds me of? The strict information firewall that’s supposed to insulate traders from market analysts of the same firm. In principle, a great idea, of course.

      • Fernando says:


        There is such a thing as branding. Some OA journals will simply publish anything for a fee. Others will do serious peer review, publish quality stuff, and invest in a reputation.

        Intuition suggests there is a separating equilibrium where good OA journals charge a premium according to reputation. After all, barriers to entry for online publishing are pretty low but building a reputation is costly.

        And by the way, even good quality OA journals should publish a lot. In the age of the search engine, and the computer assisted literature review, there is no point having editors decide what are “interesting findings”. Just publish everything that is scientifically sound, poses interesting question.

        You read it here: 10 years from now editors will be replaced by computers like IBMs Watson.

        • Erin Jonaitis says:

          You read it here: 10 years from now editors will be replaced by computers like IBMs Watson.

          OMG, I cannot wait.

  13. JMLR is not unusual. Look at Bayesian Analysis, JStatSoft, or Computational Linguistics. They’re all free to publish in and free for people to read.

    I know from being on the Computational Linguistics editorial board that they pay about $25,000/year to MIT Press to host everything and deal with a bit of formatting. These fees are paid out of membership dues to the Association for Computational Linguistics. JMLR, on the other hand, hosts their own pages. It’s not that hard.

    Just to catch Andrew up — many journals ask you to pay them to make your article “open”. The fee is often in the $3K range, and can be reduced in cases of hardship or subsidized in the case of some grants. Some journals even let you keep the copyright if you pay them. The traditional system is for academics to write, review, and edit articles for free, then give all the rights to a journal, which then turned around and charged the institution.

    Some journals let you publish preprints on your own web page, but not the final version. And NIH requires open access on everything it funds, but you can use money from grants to pay to make things open access and publishers have allowed preprints to satisfy the letter of the law.

    The whole cost system is hidden if you’re at a top university. I got fed up when I worked at a small company and people asked me to review things that I then couldn’t even read when they were published.

    For the last five or six years, I’ve refused to write or review for closed or pay-to-open source journals. Or the various handbooks I keep getting invited to submit to.

    I think the next target should be books. We really don’t need publishers there, either. But at least with books, authors receive some pay.

    I believe the whole game is still about credibility. It’s why Andrew keeps saying we should write a Stan paper for the tabloids (Science or Nature) and why he keeps suggesting closed-access journals to publish in — they are taken more seriously for tenure and promotion decisions than JStatSoft. As long as this is still the case, academics will have incentive to publish in closed venues.

    • Ian Fellows says:

      I like a lot of what you have said here. Being a small research company myself, I may be in the same boat as you were very soon. I like the position of only doing reviews for open journals (it is the path I have chosen) because it doesn’t put strain on any of your co-authors who may be very vested in the closed prestige system.

      I would make a distinction between optional pay-to-open (like JRSS) and open-with-publication-fees journals (like PLoS). I will do reviews for the latter, but not the former. If an author wants to pay for the editorial services and prestige of an open-with-publication-fees journal, then that is more than okay in my book. The end result is an easily indexed research article open to everyone, so as a reviewer, who am I to complain.

      When you publish with an open access journal you are not “giving them content for free,” because they don’t own the content, merely curate it. If the effort of curation incurs some cost, I see it as reasonable that the author (who wants to see their work widely shared) or the author’s institution contribute. I have no idea how much these costs are, but I suspect that they are much higher in fields without latex as a community standard.

    • Erin Jonaitis says:

      Some journals let you publish preprints on your own web page, but not the final version. And NIH requires open access on everything it funds, but you can use money from grants to pay to make things open access and publishers have allowed preprints to satisfy the letter of the law.

      Huh. You made me wonder something for the first time: If a journal only allows posting of preprints (the pre-review version), and you post yours to your website, and the journal is expensive enough that a lot of your audience will just grab your paper from your website instead of trying to find the official version, then people may *cite* the copy of record, but they are not *reading* it. Which one is then the “real” version? If the preprint is good enough for most people’s purposes, what function is peer review really serving? I guess at bottom this is yet another argument for post-publication review.

      • Ben Murrell says:

        “If the preprint is good enough for most people’s purposes, what function is peer review really serving?”

        My understanding is that the preprint you’re meant to post is the one after you’ve made any revisions requested by reviewers and the paper has been accepted, but before the paper has had any copy editing and formatting performed by the professionals employed by the journal.

        • Fernando says:

          Yes but this is no long term solution unless you post your pre-print to some repository that plans to keep its services running for centuries….

          Most personal web sites die with author. Indeed there is a whole industry around managing your digital death, legacy, and state.

        • Erin Jonaitis says:

          Hmm, that isn’t my understanding — I think the version you are talking about is more commonly called a postprint (as in “post-peer-review”). Here is a blog post talking about these distinctions.

          • Ben Murrell says:

            I stand corrected. Any idea who owns the postprints?

            • Erin Jonaitis says:

              A great question, and I don’t know! Some journals will let you self-archive postprints; others will not.

              Copyright can’t rest with the journal until you’ve signed a copyright transfer agreement, and hopefully those agreements specify which versions are owned by whom.

  14. Jack PQ says:

    I think it’s useful to collect some of the main points discussed:
    (1) Publishing used to be expensive, and either authors or libraries paid those costs. Asking authors to be may be incentive-incompatible.
    (2) Open-access publishing must be vastly less expensive. What is a reasonable OA journal budget? What does it mean if an OA journal asks authors to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to publish? Where does the money go?
    (3) Many (most) OA journals are predatory. This means good journals are discouraged from going OA because they will be bundled with predatory journals. In fact, publishing hardcopies can be seen as a barrier to entry signalling quality of the journal!
    (4) Authors should aim for good, reputable journals. This means, mostly, old-school journals.

    More good stuff here:

    • If there’s not a good OA journal in your field, start one. Cost is very low if you do it yourself. In my application area, computational linguistics, the best journals are OA.

      I don’t even know of a predatory OA journal, but I’m not surprised they’re out there or even that they might outnumber the legitimate ones. Who doesn’t know which is which?

  15. Fernando says:

    I could not resits adding the link:

    Math journal accepts computer-generated nonsense paper

  16. Dean Eckles says:

    Perhaps a useful thought experience from Andrew’s perspective, since (at least on reflection) what he found most troublesome about this was that the guest editor was soliciting him by email, rather than simply hosting a special issue. Some scenarios:

    The special issues is advertised
    1. on the journal’s website.
    2. on the guest editor’s blog.
    3. by emailing a mailing list for researchers in this area.
    4. by emailing particular researchers in the area whose work the guest editor thinks highly of. (Perhaps this is the actual situation — I don’t know how widely these emails were sent.)

    Or some combination of the above.

    At least if 4 is genuinely what’s happening, this doesn’t seem so objectionable to me, though it likely depends on the perceived probability that the recipient will find this offer of interest.

  17. C Ryan King says:

    For what it’s worth, one of the co-founders of PLoS talked with us the other day and claimed that PLoS was rolling in excess revenue that they needed to come up with clever ways to invest. Most of that comes from PLoSOne, where the digital economy of scale is really kicking in. Thier last financial report claims 61% of their expenses are publishing; they break out overhead separately but leave “advocacy” in with publishing costs.

    For smaller journals, I can see a regime where because everything is not perfectly streamlined one needs a full time staffer (which with benefits runs you probably $120k) and $30k of server costs. If you’re “picky” and publish 10*12 articles a year (Bayesian Analysis only publishes about 40/year) then you end up with $1250 per article. For larger enterprises you’ll need office space etc. Of course dividing out fixed costs and streamlining to reduce staff needs goes a long way. I assume that the PLoSOne cost of $1350 could go down a bit (since they’re bringing in non-trivial profit and still getting more efficient), but that seems like it’s getting close to the lower limit.

    It’s worth remembering that not every field has prepaid the “TeX tax” of requiring every researcher to learn LaTeX, which can be quite fiddly when transitioning to a publisher’s package requirements and time consuming when getting things like tables to appear correctly where you want them in both PDF and HTML. For example, medical doctors are pretty unlikely to go along with publishers requiring LaTeX.

    • $30K of server costs? What are you planning on serving?

      Like I said above, MIT Press charges Computational Linguistics around $25K/year for some light typesetting help and serving (that number from a few years ago when I was on the editorial board). There’s no “full time staffer”. But then there aren’t 120 articles/year.

      The staffing is divide and conquer, like all good engineering efforts. There’s an editor, and then there are area editors and then reviewers. As usual, none of them are paid. They deal with getting the papers to the state they can just be dumped into the hosting system.

      Make people learn LaTeX. Or just publish Word docs. I think the typesetting and copy-editing concerns everyone expresses are way overblown compared to getting ideas out cheaply and efficiently. It’s not like most articles are ever read, much less stand the test of the ages.

  18. […] Gelman is confused and offended by an invitation to write a paper for an author-pays open access publisher. I found this […]

    • Andrew says:

      I’m not offended, I just think the whole thing is ridiculous, that they were expecting me to send them free material and pay for it (albeit “at a significant discount”).

  19. Frank Farach says:

    Even when journals charge an article processing fee, they often waive it upon authors’ request, and a growing number of institutions are paying the fee on behalf of authors. But “author pays” is not the only business model for an open access journal. There is a lot of innovation and competition happening in the world of OA publishing. The Open Access Directory lists many OA business models that journals are experimenting with:

    For a detailed analysis of the economics of open access publishing, with an emphasis on journals published by scholarly societies, see:

    Finally, anyone who would like to become better informed about OA should read Peter Suber’s short book, “Open Access” (MIT Press, 2012), which itself just became open access:

    • Anonymous says:

      I would add one more business model for OA journals: Incentives

      You get 5 thousand words for free. Any word above that pays a “tax”. Also, one table of results free. Additional tables super expensive. All figures for free. If the study is emprical and was not preceded by a protocol, big tax (you are more likely to waste our time and effort), and so on.