Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cost Unrelated to Quality Among Evolution Journals

I just received the latest institutional subscription fees from our librarian. He's expecting a lower budget for next year and looking to drop journals that are no longer relevant to our needs. When I noticed we were paying 20 times more for the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society ($4,950 from Wiley-Blackwell) than for Systematic Biology ($248 from Oxford Press) I thought it might be fun to plot the cost of 21 journals related to evolutionary biology against their impact factor. Turns out there's virtually no association between the importance of a journal and its cost (see simple linear regression in figure).

It doesn't take a genius to see that blood-sucking corporate publishers are taking advantage of us. Although this point has been made many times before (see also Jonathan Eisen's blog where academic publishing and open access journals are regular topics of conversation), I want my fellow phylogeneticists to know that we're being screwed particularly by Wiley-Blackwell, publisher of the three most expensive journals in our field (Molecular Ecology, $8,967, IF=5.169; Journal of Biogeography, $5,826, IF=3.539; Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, $4950.01, IF=2.368). In spite of their middling impact factors, all three of these journals are ridiculously expensive (see the "Wiley-Blackwell Zone" in the figure). Don't get me wrong, I like the science in these journals and have published in two of the three, but is it really worth it at those prices?

I know we're all under pressure to publish in places that get us attention (and hopefully tenure), but there's no time like the present economic crisis to start factoring a journal's fees into our decisions about where to submit. Perhaps you'll also think about the cost of these journals the next time you volunteer your time as a reviewer for a corporate publishing entity.

7 comments:

Poletarac said...

I hear a boycott of Wiley-Blackwell building up. Anyone else? This should clearly be cross-posted on EvolDir and EcoLog [the clean version, I mean].

myrmecos said...

I'd be interested to learn how much of the cost difference is driven by profiteering, or whether at least some of it is due to structural differences in how the journals are supported. Do the cheaper journals cost less to produce, or are they subsidized more heavily, so their cost is carried less by University subscribers and more by taxpayers (via page charges to authors, who put them on their grants)?

It seems to me everyone would be better served by publishing in those journals with the lowest overall costs, rather than those with the lowest subscription costs.

Glor said...

Good question. There may be something to this. The Journal of Biogeography (~$5,000) has no page charges, but Evolution ($753) charges $55/page (although I suspect they get a lot less than this given that members of society are given free pages each year). Incidentally, Evolution is also published by Wiley-Blackwell. The American Naturalist is another journal with a low annual cost ($608) and modest page charges ($55/page). I'm sure others have been much more scientific analyses of this than me, but it's difficult for me to avoid the impression that there is a considerable degree of profiteering going on (in spite of the differences in page charges). Systematic Botany has no page charges for members of their society and manages to put out a journal for only $188/year. I'm not sure how else this would be subsidized.

Glor said...

PS - Good to hear from you Alex!

Bjoern Brembs said...

Wouldn't you expect this distribution? There's a correlation between IF and readership and larger readership obviously means lower subscription costs, no?

Poletarac said...

No, not really. That would be sort of true if the circulation were identical for all journals and large baseline costs existed (which were split among readers). But I seriously doubt that the 20-fold difference between Molecular Ecology and Systematic Biology is driven by baseline cost/readership quotient.
Right? I mean, I don't know anything about this stuff. Still, it seems that something stinks at Wiley-Blackwell.

Glor said...

I think Bjoern makes another interesting point. However, there are plenty of journals with considerably lower costs that undoubtedly have lower circulations than Molecular Ecology and Journal of Biogeography (e.g., Evolutionary Ecology Research, Systematic Botany, Taxon). My analysis was obviously overly simplistic and failed to include many important factors (e.g. circulation, page charges, number of issues produced per year, etc.), but I agree with Poletarac that something stinks at Wiley-Blackwell.