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August 9, 2007

Yale Drops It's Pre-Pay Membership to BioMed Central

As widely reported in the media, Yale University has dropped it's institutional membership in BioMed Central.

This isn't a reflection on lack of support on Yale's part for the idea of open access. In fact, membership was dropped because Yale authors are apparently flocking to publish their articles in the openly accessible BMC journals, which then made the cost to the library - which was picking up the publication fees for the papers -- soar out of hand! There were 41 BMC papers published by Yale authors in 2006; already in 2007 there have been 43. (Note: The corresponding author, whose institution pays the publication fee, was not necessarily a Yale author in all these cases.) By taking an institutional "pre-pay" membership in BMC, the Yale Library had opted to try to pay the BMC author publication fees (via the Institutional Membership program) and these fees just got to be too much for them to bear as more and more Yale authors opted for publishing in BMC titles.

To be sure, the article charges for publishing in BMC journals have been rising, too. Yale authors can, of course, continue to publish in BMC journals, and it will be interesting to see how many still opt for this. They will have to pay the page charges out of their grant money, as over half of the BMC authors have been doing.

As David Stern, Yale's science librarian, reported in his posting:

The libraries’ BioMedCentral membership represented an opportunity to test the technical feasibility and the business model of this OA publisher. While the technology proved acceptable, the business model failed to provide a viable long-term revenue base built upon logical and scalable options. Instead, BioMedCentral has asked libraries for larger and larger contributions to subsidize their activities. Starting with 2005, BioMed Central article charges cost the libraries $4,658, comparable to a single biomedicine journal subscription. The cost of article charges for 2006 then jumped to $31,625. The article charges have continued to soar in 2007 with the libraries charged $29,635 through June 2007, with $34,965 in potential additional article charges in submission.

He goes on to conclude...

"We believe in the widest possible access to scholarly research supported by workable business models and should BioMed Central develop a viable economic model which allows them to more equitably share costs across all interested stakeholders, we would consider renewing our financial support. "

BMC Publisher, Matthew Cockerill, has of course replied to the Yale news, pointing out that the article processing charges that BMC charges are still less than most commercial publishers. He goes on to suggest that libraries consider the future where instead of purchasing some subscriptions to journals it may be a role of the library to support open access publishing for the greater good. From his posting:

That is why BioMed Central introduced its institutional membership scheme, which allows institutions to centrally support the dissemination of open access research in the same way that they centrally support subscription journals, thereby creating a 'level playing field'.

In order to ensure that funding of open access publication is sustainable, we have encouraged institutions to set aside a small fraction of the indirect funding contribution that they receive from funders to create a central open access fund.

It should be noted that BMC's Institutional Membership program, whereby universities (usually the library) pre-pay all or most of the author's article fees is not the only way in which the institution can show it's support for the BMC flavor of open access. BMC also offers a "Supporting Membership" which is not tied to the number of articles submitted from an institution; it offers a modest (usually 15%) reduction in the article publication charge.

At this point, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is neither an Institutional nor Supporting member of BMC.

Posted by Katie Newman at August 9, 2007 2:34 PM