Re: BioMed Central and new publishing models

From: Steve Hitchcock <>
Date: Thu, 15 Aug 2002 11:31:15 +0100

An excellent and persuasive summary of BioMedCentral's innovative model for
open access publishing of peer reviewed papers. I have a question for Jan
Velterop. Does the model, and the money it generates, cover future
maintenance and upgrading of formats - we are told papers are converted
into HTML and PDF - so that papers can continue to be viewed on new
generations of browsers way into the future? Or does the policy of
archiving by multiple redundancy suggest that conversion is a one-time only
operation, and that preservation and upgrading of formats to ensure
accessibility must be performed by other agents? I note your comment:

>our 'archiving' efforts are more 'archivability' efforts and focussed on
>metadata (OAI and other standards) and securing 'a good long-term home'
>for the articles we publish, just in case we are forced to give up
>maintaining our own archive in the long run.

Steve Hitchcock
Open Citation (OpCit) Project <>
IAM Research Group, Department of Electronics and Computer Science
University of Southampton SO17 1BJ, UK
Tel: +44 (0)23 8059 3256 Fax: +44 (0)23 8059 2865

At 20:26 14/08/02 +0100, Jan Velterop wrote:
>BioMed Central. What we do and what we don't do.
>BioMed Central's main motive is the promulgation of open access for
>peer-reviewed primary research articles. Our secondary motive is to find
>ways of building a stable framework for open access, getting away, as
>much as we can, from the begging bowl and being at the mercy of fickle
>subsidies, and instead, find a business/economic model that sustainably
>works for open access.
>A couple of axioms:
>a. Research articles must be peer-reviewed
>b. Copyright must not be allowed to play a role in the business model
>The latter may need some clarification. When talking about copyright,
>there is always the difficulty of having two sets of interpretations of
>what copyright fundamentally means: the European one (Roman Law countries)
>and the Anglo-Saxon one. This is relevant, because although we would
>like to keep copyright at bay, we do believe in the inalienability of
>the 'droit de paternite'. The Anglo-Saxon copyright laws do not have
>such inalienability, but often recognise, at least in common practice,
>the authors' moral rights.
>At BioMed Central we leave the copyright in the hands of authors, but we
>insist on users of the open access articles we publish honouring the
>authors' moral rights such as the right to be acknowledged and to have the
>integrity of the articles being left intact. Other than that, we 'ignore'
>copyright and it certainly plays no role in our economic model.
>How do we promulgate open access?
>We currently employ two models:
> Bundled - journals for which we organise both the peer review
>(along the lines of Nature) and subsequently the online
>open access publication (examples: BMC Cell Biology -
> - and Journal of Biology -
> Unbundled - journals for which the peer review is organised by
>independent editors and editorial groups, whose accepted articles we
>publish online in open access (examples: Cancer Cell International -
> - and Kinetoplastid Biology and Disease -
> This is the prevailing model
>(minus the open access!) in the conventional STM publishing world. The
>conventional STM publishers have no dealings whatsoever with the peer
>review processes of the vast majority of their journals.
>In both cases we levy an article-processing charge (APC) for accepted
>articles, payable, if at all possible, from research grants or by the
>authors' institutions. An increasing number of institutions have become
>BioMed Central member institutions, which entitles authors from those
>institutions to automatic waivers of APCs. Waivers are also available for
>authors in circumstances where paying APCs amounts to a de facto
>impossibility, such as in developing countries. Some additional income is
>generated from advertisements on our site.
>We do not currently charge for peer review if the article is not accepted.
>There are costs to organising peer review, but we have been, and still
>are, building tools to keep those costs to a minimum. These tools are
>available, gratis, to the independent editors and editorial groups of
>the 'unbundled' journals. These tools comprise, inter alia, an online
>submission module, referee selection module, online 'mail-to-reviewer'
>module, admin and version-control module, et cetera. They have been
>created and are continually improved to make the peer review process as
>quick, efficient, reliable and cheap as possible.
>Especially for the 'unbundled' journals, where peer review and publishing
>are more clearly separated, I have likened what we do with articles
>accepted after peer review to what is known as 'self-archiving'. In
>quotation marks, though, for it is similar in certain respects, but not
>the same. The articles we publish are not just marked up and converted
>into HTML and PDF and put online (and made available via Avant-Go),
>they are also firmly and actively embedded in the web-like structure of
>the scientific literature, among others via CrossRef linking, indexing
>in PubMed, Medline, BIOSIS, and other services, rather than just relying
>on them being found by search engines or harvesters (all our material is
>OAI-compliant). We actively pursue a policy of redundancy of availability,
>by placing copies of all our output, in full, in other archives, such
>as PubMed Central (negotiations with other archives, outside the US,
>are ongoing and likely to result in further announcements in the near
>future; we are aware that these national archives are often subsidised and
>therefore vulnerable - see what is happening to PubSci - so we are seeking
>refuge in large numbers and are also collaborating with LOCKSS).
>On an aside, archiving, of course, never was a publisher activity, but a
>library one. It is only recently, with the advent of online publishing,
>that some publishers have started to see a way of making money out
>of archives, in many cases borrowing older issues from a university
>library in order to digitise them! Our policies make exploiting our
>archive impossible - we do not, after all, have copyrights - so our
>'archiving' efforts are more 'archivability' efforts and focussed on
>metadata (OAI and other standards) and securing 'a good long-term home'
>for the articles we publish, just in case we are forced to give up
>maintaining our own archive in the long run.
>Articles of exceptional interest are also press-released to a wide and
>global variety of specialist and general media, giving the authors maximum
>All the research articles we publish can, of course, be included in
>institutional self-archives or authors' own web sites. We do more than
>just archive, but our archiving 'component' is typically organised along
>disciplinary lines rather than geographical ones, the latter being
>the case for the typical institutional self-archiving facility. With
>the majority of articles in the life sciences and medicine written by
>multiple authors with multiple affiliations, this approach offers some
>advantages over institutional archives, although sophisticated indexing
>and OAI-compatibility of the material levels the differences to a degree.
>The fees we charge for our services (the APCs) are, on a per-article
>basis, materially lower (up to a factor 10) than the aggregate cost per
>article to academia of conventionally published material. We are finding,
>however, that scientists are rarely concerned with that. They do certainly
>not seem concerned if their institution picks up the bill. What they
>value most in open access journals is the vastly increased visibility and
>findability of their articles, leading to increased use and, reportedly,
>to increased citations to their articles.
>Because the new open access journals do not have an impact factor (IF)
>assigned by the ISI impact factory yet (they are too young to have one;
>the formula calls for several years of track record), some authors
>are reluctant to trade off prestige (which comes with publishing in a
>journal with a reasonable IF) for increased exposure. They need this
>prestige in order to get tenure or grants, as many tenure committees
>and funding bodies are not yet ready to recognise articles published
>in non-conventional journals. This is likely to change once there is
>a track record of the new open access journals that enables IFs to be
>calculated. Early indications of citations to articles in the open access
>journals published by BioMed Central point to very good IFs in due course.
>The changes open access imposes on the conventional publishing edifice
>are fundamental, and there will always be scepticism and reluctance to
>embrace new models that are so far-reaching. Fortunately, however,
>there is a growing corpus of authors who see the importance, benefits
>and opportunities of open access and who are willing to 'blaze the
>trail'. 'Established' scientists are in the best position to give open
>access a boost; their careers don't depend on impact factors. We are
>engaged in efforts to reach especially these echelons of authors.
Received on Thu Aug 15 2002 - 11:31:15 BST

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