Archive for Astrophysical Journal

Page Charges and Monthly Notices

Posted in Open Access, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on January 31, 2023 by telescoper

Some time ago (in 2020) I reported here that the publishers of Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (known as MNRAS for short) had decided to abandon the print edition and only have online articles. This is not surprising as demand for hard copies was falling drastically.

At the time I heard from a reliable source that MNRAS was also planning to introduce page charges – fees paid by authors to publish papers in the journal – and posted a comment to that effect here. This comment led to wild accusations of “serious academic misconduct” by me from a certain individual who shall remain nameless.

Well, the “rumour” I reported in 2020 is now confirmed to be the truth (as I knew it was). At a recent meeting of the national societies affiliated to the European Astronomical Society, Royal Astronomical Society President Mike Edmunds confirmed that, in the near future, all authors publishing in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society will have to pay page charges. The timescale is “within a few years”.

This is part of a move to making all articles Open Access, largely forced by Plan S through which funding agencies require research outputs to be made freely available upon publication. Page charges are Article Processing Charges by another name.

Other notable journals, such as the Astrophysical Journal (ApJ) and Astronomy & Astrophysics (A&A), have levied page charges for as long as I can remember, though in the latter case it is complicated because there is a waiver for researchers in “member” countries. ApJ and other journals also have a waiver scheme for those who cannot afford to pay. For those who have to pay, the fee is usually about $100 per page. For a long time MNRAS was the exception and indeed the only feasible choice for people who don’t have access to funding to cover page charges, including many in the developing world. More recently, however, MNRAS introduced a charge for longer papers: £50 per page over 20 pages, so a paper of 21 pages costs £50 and one of 30 pages costs £500, etc. This will now be extended to all papers. I don’t have a figure for what MNRAS will charge in future or what waivers will be offered, but it seems likely to be similar to existing journals.

The introduction of page charges is an attempt to maintain the profitability of MNRAS after the loss of income from subscriptions, as readers will no longer be required to pay to read papers. It is therefore a transfer of cost from reader to author. I chose the ‘profitability’ because the prime purpose of MNRAS is no longer the dissemination of scientific results but the generation of income to fund other activities of the Royal Astronomical Society. Despite the move to the much cheaper digital-only publishing mode, the annual cost of an institutional subscription to this journal is currently over $10,000. Most of that is goes as profit to Oxford University Press (the actual publisher) and to the Royal Astronomical Society. Page charges are nothing to do with the actual cost of publication, but are intended to protect the publisher’s profit margins.

Much of what the RAS does with the revenue generated by journals is laudable, of course, but I don’t think it is fair to fleece researchers in order to fund its activities. I think authors can see this, and the attempt to transfer costs onto researchers will backfire. In particular, it’s a move that plays into the hands of The Open Journal of Astrophysics, which publishes papers (online only) in all the areas of Astrophysics covered by MNRAS, and more, but is entirely free both for authors and readers. If you don’t want to pay page charges, or make your library pay a subscription, then you could give it a try.

For myself, I abandoned the traditional journal system many years ago, as it is so clearly a racket.

The question for the Royal Astronomical Society, and other learned societies that fund their activities in a similar way, is whether they can find a sustainable funding model that takes proper account of the digital publishing revolution. If their revenue from publishing does fall, can they replace it? And, if not, in what form can they survive?

The AAS goes for Gold

Posted in Open Access, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , on September 2, 2021 by telescoper

Yesterday there was a big announcement from the American Astronomical Society (AAS) , namely that all its journals will switch to Open Access from 1st January 2022. This transition will affect the Astronomical Journal (AJ), the Astrophysical Journal (ApJ), Astrophysical Journal Letters (ApJL), and the Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series (ApJS). Previously authors were able to opt for Open Access but from next year it will apply to all papers.

The positive aspect to this change is that it makes articles published by the AAS freely available to the public and other scientists without requiring the payment of a subscription.

On the other hand, these journals will require authors to pay a hefty sum, equivalent to an Article Processing Charge (APC), that increases with the length and complexity of a paper. AAS journals have in the past levied “page charges” from authors for standard (non-OA) publications. In the new regime these are merged into a unified scheme. Here is a summary of the rates.

What’s on offer is therefore a form of Gold Open Access that switches the cost of publication from subscribers to authors. In my view this level of APC is excessive, which is why I call this Fool’s Gold Open Access. Although the AAS is a not-for-profit organization, its journals are published by the Institute of Physics Publishing which is a definitely-for-profit organization.

The Open Journal of Astrophysics charges neither subscribers nor authors; this form of Open Access is usually called Diamond or Platinum Open Access.

The terminology surrounding Open Access is confusing not least because its usage is evolving. In the current jargon, “Gold” Open Access refers to publication that is free to access at the journal. The principal alternative is “Green” Open Access, which means that free access is offered through depositing the paper in some form of repository separate from the journal. Some astronomical journals allow authors to deposit their articles on arXiv, for example, which is probably the main way in which astrophysicists achieve Green Open Access.

Nowadays “Gold” Open Access refers to anything that is made available freely by a journal regardless of whether an APC is charged or not. The Diamond Open Access provided by the Open Journal of Astrophysics is thus a special case of Gold Open Access. A classification in which Diamond and Platinum are subdivisions of Gold must confuse the heck out of chemists, but that’s where we are at the moment. At least it’s not as bad as in astrophysics where the only terms used to describe chemical elements are hydrogen, helium and “metals”…

While I am glad to see the AAS move its journals into Open Access configurations, I can’t agree with the level of APC. The Open Journal of Astrophysics may be relatively small but it has plenty of capacity for growth while remaining entirely free. The more people realize that it costs tens of dollars rather than thousands to publish a paper the more likely it is that they’ll see the moral case for Diamond Open Access.