On pastrami and the business of PLOS

Last week my friend Andy Kern (a population geneticist at Rutgers) went on a bit of a bender on Twitter prompted by his discovery of PLOS’s IRS Form 990 – the annual required financial filing of non-profit corporations in the United States. You can read his string of tweets and my responses, but the gist of his critique is this: PLOS pays its executives too much, and has an obscene amount of money in the bank.

Let me start by saying that I understand where his disdain comes from. Back when we were starting PLOS we began digging into the finances of the scientific societies that were fighting open access, and I was shocked to see how much money they were sitting on and how much their CEOs get paid. If I weren’t involved with PLOS, and I’d stumbled upon PLOS’s Form 990 now, I’d have probably raised a storm about it. I have absolutely no complaints about Andy’s efforts to understand what he was seeing – non-profits are required to release this kind of financial information precisely so that people can scrutinize what they are doing. And I understand why Andy and others find some of the info discomforting, and share some of his concerns. But having spent the last 15 years trying to build PLOS and turn it into a stable enterprise, I have a different perspective, and I’d like to explain it.

Let me start with something on which I agree completely with Andy completely, science publishing is way too expensive. Andy says he originally started poking into PLOS’s finances because he wanted to know where the $2,250 he was asked to pay to publish in PLOS Genetics went to, as this seemed like a lot of money to take a paper, have a volunteer academic serve as editor, find several additional volunteers to serve as peer reviewers, and then, if they accept the paper, turn it into a PDF and HTML version and publish it online. And he’s right. It is too much money.

That $2,250 is only about a third of the $6,000 a typical subscription journal takes in for every paper they publish, and that $6,000 buys access for only a tiny fraction of the world’s population, while the $2,250 buys it for everyone. But $2,250 is still too much, as is the $1,495 at PLOS ONE. I’ve always said that our goal should be to make it cost as little as possible to publish, and that our starting point should be $0 a paper.

The reality is, however, that it costs PLOS a lot more than $0 to handle a paper. We handle a lot of papers – close to 200 a day – each one different.  There’s a lot of manual labor involved in making sure the submission is complete, that it passes ethical and technical checks, in finding an editor and reviewers and getting them to handle the paper in a timely and effective manner. It then costs money to turn the collection of text and figures and tables into a paper, and to publish it and maintain a series of high-volume websites. All together we have a staff of well over 100 people running our journal operations, and they need to have office space, people to manage them, an HR system, an accounting system and so on – all the things a business has to have. And for better or worse our office is in San Francisco (remember that two of the three founders were in the Bay Area, and we couldn’t have started it anywhere else), which is a very expensive place to operate. We have always aimed to keep our article processing charges (APCs) as low as possible – it pains me every time we’ve had to raise our charges, since I think we should be working to eliminate APCs, not increase them. But we have to be realistic about what publishing costs us.

The difference in price between our journals reflects different costs. PLOS Biology and PLOS Medicine have professional editors handling each manuscript, so they’re intrinsically more expensive to operate. They also have relatively low acceptance rates, meaning a lot of staff time is spent on rejected papers, which generate no revenue. This is also the reason for the difference in price between our community journals like PLOS Genetics and PLOS ONE: the community journals reject more papers and thus we have to charge more per accepted paper. It might seem absurd to have people pay to reject other people’s papers, but if you think about it, that’s exactly what makes selective journals attractive – they have to publish your paper and reject lots of others. I’ve argued for a long time that we should do away with selective journals, but so long as people want to publish in them, they’re going to have this weird economics. And note this is not just true of open access journals – higher impact subscription journals bring in a lot more money per published paper than low impact subscription journals, for essentially the same reason.

Could PLOS do all these things more efficiently, more effectively and for less money? Absolutely. We, like most other big publishers, are using legacy software and systems to handle submissions, manage peer review and convert manuscripts into published papers. These systems are, for the most part, expensive, outdated and difficult or expensive (usually both) to customize. We are in a challenging situation since, until very recently, we weren’t in a position to develop our own systems for doing all these things, and we couldn’t just switch to cheaper or free system since they weren’t built to handle the volume of papers we deal with.

That said, it’s certainly possible to run journals much, much more cheaply. It costs the physics pre-print arXiv something like $10 a paper to maintain its software, screening and website. There are times when I wish PLOS had just hacked together a bunch of Perl scripts and hung out a shingle and built in new features as we needed them. But part of what made PLOS appealing at the start is that it didn’t work that way – for better or worse it looked like a real journal, and this was one of the things that made people comfortable with our (at the time) weird economic model. I’m not sure this is true anymore, and if I were starting PLOS today I would do things differently, and think I could do things much less expensively. I would love it if people would set up inexpensive or even free open access biology journals – it’s certainly possible with open source software and fully volunteer labor – and for people to get comfortable with biomedical publishing basically being no different than just posting work on the Internet, with lightweight systems for peer review. That has always seemed to me to be the right way to do things. But PLOS can’t just pull the plug on all the things we do, so we’re trying to achieve the same goal by investing in developing software that will make it possible to do all of the things PLOS does faster, better and cheaper. We’re going to start rolling it out this year, and, while I don’t run PLOS and can’t speak for the whole board, I am confident that this will bring our costs down significantly and that we will ultimately be in a position to reduce prices.

Which brings us to issue number two. Andy and a lot of other people took umbrage at the fact that PLOS has margins of 20% and has ~$25 million dollars in assets. Again, I understand why people look at these numbers and find them shocking – anything involving millions of dollars always seems like a lot of money. But this is a misconception. Both of these numbers represent nothing more than what is required for PLOS to be a stable enterprise.

I’ll start by reminding people that PLOS is still a relatively young company, working in a rapidly changing industry. Like most startups, it took a long time for PLOS to break even. For the first nine years of our existence we lost money every year, and were able to build our business only because we got strong support from foundations that believed in what we were doing. Finally, in 2011, we reached the point where we were taking in slightly more money than we were spending, allowing us to wean ourselves of foundation support. But we still had essentially no money in the bank, and that’s not a good thing. Good operating practices for any business dictate that the company have money in the bank to cover a downturn in revenue. This is particularly the case with open access publishers, since we have no guaranteed revenue stream – in contrast to subscription publishers who make long-term subscription deals. What’s more, this industry is changing rapidly, with the number of papers going to open access journals growing, but many new open access publishers entering the market. So it’s very hard for us to predict what our business is going to look like from year to year, while a lot of our expenses, like rent, software licenses and salaries, have to be paid before revenue they enable comes in. The only way to survive in this market is to have a decent amount of money in the bank to buffer against the unpredictable. If anything, I am told by people who spend their lives thinking about these things, we’re cutting things a little close. So, while 20% margins may seem like a lot, given our overall financial situation and the fact that we’ve been profitable for only five years, I think it’s actually a reasonable compromise between keeping costs as low as we can and ensuring that PLOS remains financially stable while also allowing us to make modest investments in technology that will make publishing better and cheaper in the long run.

Just to put these numbers in perspective for people who (like me) aren’t trained to think about these things, I had a look at the finances of a large set of scientific societies. I looked primarily at the members of FASEB, a federation of most of the major societies in molecular biology. Many of them have larger operating margins, and far larger cash reserves than PLOS. And I haven’t found one yet that doesn’t have a larger ratio of assets to expenses than PLOS does. And these are all organizations that have far more stable revenue streams than PLOS does. So I just don’t think it’s fair to suggest that either PLOS’s margins or reserves are untoward.

Indeed these numbers represent something important – that PLOS has become a successful business. I’ll once again remind people that one of the major knocks against open access when PLOS started was that we were a bunch of naive idealists (that’s the nicest way people put it) who didn’t understand what it took to run a successful business. Commercial publishers and societies alike argued repeatedly to scientists, funders and legislators that the only way to make money in science publishing was to use a subscription model. So it was absolutely critical to the success of the open access movement that PLOS not only succeed as a publisher, but that we also succeed as a business – to show the commercial and society publishers that their principal argument for why they refused to shift to open access was wrong. Having been the recipient of withering criticism – both personally and and as organization – about being too financially naive, it’s ironic and a bit mind boggling to all of a sudden be criticized for having created too good of a business.

Now despite that, I don’t want people to confuse my defense of PLOS’s business success with a defense of the business it’s engaged in. While I believe the APC/service business model PLOS has helped to develop is far far superior to the traditional subscription model, because it does not require paywalls, but I’ve never been comfortable with the APC business model in an absolute sense (and I recognize the irony of my saying that) because I wish science publishing weren’t a business at all. When we started PLOS the only way we had to make money was through APCs, but if I had my druthers we’d all just post papers online in a centralized server funded and run by a coalition of governments and funders, and scientists would use lightweight software to peer review published papers and organize the literature in useful ways. And no money would be exchanged in the process. I’m glad that PLOS is stable and has shown the world that the APC model can work, but I hope that we can soon move beyond it to a very different system.

Now I want to end on the issue that seemed to upset people the most – which is the salaries of PLOS’s executives. I am immensely proud of the executive team at PLOS – they are talented and dedicated. They make competitive salaries – and we’d have trouble hiring and retaining them if they didn’t. The board has been doing what we felt we had to do to build a successful company in the marketplace we live in – after all, we were founded to fix science publishing, not capitalism. But as an individual I can’t help but feel that’s a copout. The truth is the general criticism is right. A system where executives make so much more money that the staff they supervise isn’t just unfair, it’s ultimately corrosive. It’s something we all have to work to change, and I wish I’d done more to help make PLOS a model of this.

Finally, I want to acknowledge a tension evident in a lot of the discussion around this issue. Some of the criticism of PLOS – especially about margins and cash flow – have been just generally unfair. But others – about salaries and transparency – reflect something important. I think people understand that in these ways PLOS is just being a typical company. But we weren’t founded to just be a typical company – we were founded to be different and, yes, better, and people have higher expectations of us than they do a typical company. I want it to be that way. But PLOS was also not founded to fail – that would have been terrible for the push for openness in science publishing.I am immensely proud of PLOS’s success as a publisher, agent for change, and a business – and of all the people inside and outside of the organization who helped achieve it. Throughout PLOS’s history there were times we had to choose between abstract ideals and the reality of making PLOS a successful business, and I think, overall, we’ve done a good, but far from perfect, job of balancing this tension. And moving forward I personally pledge to do a better job of figuring out how to be successful while fully living up to those ideals.


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  1. Posted March 21, 2016 at 4:29 am | Permalink

    Thank you for writing this.

    I would add another point: with APCs costs are visible to scientists, as are the cost differences between journals. Thus we are closer to a fair market, and thus scientists can get indignant about the costs of publishing. With subscription-based models, scientists continue to expect access, thus expect our libraries to pay costs which are hidden to us, and that consequently very few people are indignant about.

    So I would say that this discussion about the costs of scientific publishing was also a direct positive outcome of the model that PLOS has been pushing.

    And thank you for your continuing efforts into making open access a viable option.

  2. Steve H
    Posted March 21, 2016 at 5:51 am | Permalink

    I do feel like its all a storm in a teacup. If you don’t pay competitive salaries, who is going to work for you? Would a professor work for a post-doc salary to continue his/her research? Surely not.

    • Dopey Taylor
      Posted March 21, 2016 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

      Well, Post-docs work for post-doc salary, so obviously someone will do it.

    • Posted March 23, 2016 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      The significant differences in academic salaries (at the same level of seniority) between institutions, and between countries, suggest that this is a bit too simplistic. We all know people in science who earn significantly less than they could do elsewhere because they place value on the city/institution where they are, or the niche they occupy in their Dept, or their colleagues. And BTW, I’ve even known Assistant Profs who actually have worked for nothing when the grants ran dry, though usually not for more than a year or two. The “vocation” aspect of science means you see this more, I’d contend, than in most other professions.

      There has, I think, been much more of a trend across industry/academia/non-profit in the last 20-30 years for people to push aggressively for “What I’m worth on the open market’. It has contributed to the pushing up of salaries in things like the non-profit sector as people compare themselves to the commercial sector. Personally I think this is the long-term result of the ethos of the Reagan/Thatcher 80s. Should the Chief Exec of, say. the American Physiological Society expect to be paid in the same sort of ball-park as the CEO of a company with a similar-size turnover? I would have said ‘No’, but then I’m an old-school dinosaur. Increasingly nowadays people seem to feel the answer is ‘Yes’.

  3. Jamie
    Posted March 21, 2016 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    Thank you.

  4. Dave Clancy
    Posted March 21, 2016 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    PLOS are making too much money from the taxpayer and the goodwill of reviewers and editors, and putting nothing back. The profit from 2014 of $10M is equivalent to publishing charges for 4444 PLOS Genetics articles. You don’t need that much money in the bank, and your revenues are much more predictable than you state. It’s disingenuous to suggest otherwise, and you shouldn’t be comparing your cash reserves with those of learned societies.

    The CEO pay is symptomatic of a bad culture. I am amazed you actually trotted out this old lie: “They make competitive salaries – and we’d have trouble hiring and retaining them if they didn’t. ” Rubbish. The Chancellor of UC Davis gets $400,000 and manages 25,000 staff and teaches 36,000 students per year. CEO at PLOS manages 100 staff.

    Time to start coming clean, and putting back.

    • Posted March 21, 2016 at 7:34 am | Permalink

      Perhaps the Chancellor of UC Davis is a bad example as she supplements her meager wages with hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees.

      And you are just flat out wrong about the predictability of PLOS’s revenue. We are feeling significant effects of competition from other open access publishers – which is a good thing of course – and it is the responsibility of the board to ensure the stability of the organization by building an adequate cash reserve and investing in the future of open access.

      • Posted March 21, 2016 at 9:55 am | Permalink

        It’s very interesting that most of PLOS ONE’s competitors (with the exception of PeerJ) are not competing on price. Why not?

        Also, I think that any organization that’s attempting peer review for over ~100 papers per year must have an editorial office, and that immediately lifts costs to a few hundred dollars per paper. There’s just no way that academics can efficiently cover all the tedious administration of checking submissions and chasing reviewers on a volunteer basis.

  5. Posted March 21, 2016 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    “This is also the reason for the difference in price between our community journals like PLOS Genetics and PLOS ONE: the community journals reject more papers and thus we have to charge more per accepted paper. It might seem absurd to have people pay to reject other people’s papers, but if you think about it, that’s exactly what makes selective journals attractive – they have to publish your paper and reject lots of others.”

    Has PLOS ever considered minor submission fees? Some thoughts on those here: http://neurodojo.blogspot.com/2015/08/journal-fees-would-you-rather-pay.html

    • Posted March 21, 2016 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      We’ve considered it, but it’s very very unpopular with authors. I prefer to have a system in which we don’t reject any papers – where we publish first and the main service we provide is peer review, not publication.

  6. Bartek Wilczynski
    Posted March 21, 2016 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    I do understand your attachment to the existence of PLoS, but I’m not sure everyone shares it.
    It seems that even if you are convinced that “PLOS brought us OA”, then maybe that’s what its mission was and there is no need for it anymore. Especially if it does not seem to be trying to go beyond what is already achieved and starts to play the same game as the BMC journals now bought by Springer.
    Or maybe we should expect PLoS to push further? From the tweets by pastrami and your response it seems to me that PLoS has found its place and is getting comfortable in its niche rather than pushing for the further change of the publishing ecosystem.

  7. Posted March 21, 2016 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    “This is also the reason for the difference in price between our community journals like PLOS Genetics and PLOS ONE: the community journals reject more papers and thus we have to charge more per accepted paper. It might seem absurd to have people pay to reject other people’s papers, but if you think about it, that’s exactly what makes selective journals attractive – they have to publish your paper and reject lots of others.”

    Has PLOS ever considered modest submission fees? Some thoughts on those here: http://neurodojo.blogspot.com/2015/08/journal-fees-would-you-rather-pay.html

  8. Rui Alves
    Posted March 21, 2016 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    Why not shift to a model like PeerJ’s, in which you pay once and may publish for life?

    • Posted March 21, 2016 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      Because I am not convinced it’s financially viable.

  9. JC
    Posted March 21, 2016 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Ahem. Before grad school, I spent a number of years working and publishing in a lab where the open access journals were viewed with skepticism, mostly because they were new and different. One of the reasons I decided to pursue my dissertation research outside of the bounds of my adviser’s work was so that I would have control over where I submitted my manuscripts; in particular, I was excited about the idea of being a contributing partner in the open data and open access movement, because it’s something that resonated with my interests in public education and public outreach besides just feeling like the right thing to do. Like other graduate students who operate outside of their PI’s grants, I was able to fund my research by cobbling together small grants. It was hard at times, but I felt it was worth it. The problem I face now is that I can’t afford to submit my papers to PLOS. For instance, my PI isn’t even a co-author on most of my manuscripts, and being a young academic, I don’t have an R1 grant to fall back on to pay PLOS’s publication fees. My university offers limited support for students who want to publish in OA journals: up to one manuscript a year so long as others haven’t already requested the allotment of money for the year.

    I don’t write this in complaint or in judgment of the specifics of PLOS’s business model, but rather to point out the irony: PLOS was founded to make science available to those who couldn’t afford it under the old model, but in practice PLOS has made publishing in its journals extremely difficult for young academics. It seems like the new economic model wasn’t built for inclusion of the scientists who are most likely to need support in making the jump from traditional publishing to OA alternatives. But I’m glad it’s working out so well for all those well-funded and tenured professors who spent years publishing exclusively in journals that the majority of the world didn’t have access to….

    • Posted March 21, 2016 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      PLOS offers waivers to people who can’t pay specifically to address this issue. But this is why I want to evolve to a system where funders just fund publishing directly so that it’s free to read AND publish.

      • NR
        Posted March 21, 2016 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

        I had exactly this issue –the fee was not waived (it was moderately reduced), and details of my personal income were requested to determine if I could pay out of pocket. Which I definitely could not, being a graduate student on a stipend, but that didn’t affect the outcome either. Which is not to say that I don’t sympathize with the greater economic issues at play here, but if you’re saying that the waivers solve this problem, my experience was that they do not.

      • Marcin
        Posted March 22, 2016 at 3:44 am | Permalink

        I regret to have shared the experience of NR.
        Our grant finished in 2013. In 2014, we made a final paper of it, sent to P1. After some serious paperwork exchange (including Ministry-level notes), we were granted 50% discount (the remains amount to a monthly post-doc salary in Poland).
        Was the paper even successful? Hell yeah. Within a year we gathered 7 JCR cites, 1 elsewhere, 2000+ visits and ~300 downloads.
        Bitterly, I say: You’re welcome, P1.

    • Posted March 21, 2016 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      A few years ago I explicitely asked PLOS whether they would waive costs for a researcher in a rich country such as Switzerland, if this person cannot pay the charge from grants. The answer was positive. Yet many people remain convinced that you cannot publish there without grant money. It’s as far as I know one of the major differences between PLOS and BMC.

    • Posted March 21, 2016 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      Because many say “I can’t afford open access, I don’t have grants”, here’s my list of how I published fourteen papers open access with no ongoing research grants of my own:


  10. Matt Ruen
    Posted March 21, 2016 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Thank you for this.

    One of the great things about PLOS is the organization’s continuing transparency, in reporting and in conversations. If it was operating like a traditional commercial publisher, we’d have much less of the information now used to criticize them, and we wouldn’t have any opportunity to engage in a serious discussion about how much publishing actually costs, and how to do it better. (Although even in this hypothetical, PLOS would still charge lower APCs than most of its commercial rivals do.)

    Which is all to say to the OA advocates attacking PLOS that I know every revolution inevitably devours its children…but at least the French revolutionaries toppled the Ancien Regime first, before they started denouncing and guillotining their insufficiently-radical allies.

  11. JC
    Posted March 21, 2016 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    Here’s a question: What can academics do, besides volunteering as reviewers and editors, to strengthen the PLOS system, and other OA journals, that will also help decrease costs? Even though I can’t afford a $3,000 publication fee, I am always very happy to donate my time to causes I believe in. (Admittedly, like Andy Kern, I think I would feel better about donating my time for reviewing or anything else if the PLOS wasn’t spending nearly a million bucks a year paying CEOs/CFOs.)

  12. anonymous
    Posted March 21, 2016 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    “They make competitive salaries – and we’d have trouble hiring and retaining them if they didn’t. The board has been doing what we felt we had to do to build a successful company in the marketplace we live in – after all, we were founded to fix science publishing, not capitalism.”

    “we had to play the game to be competitive” is a very interesting attitude for someone who tries to encourage grad students and young researchers on the daily to take the risk and not play the game of publishing in high impact journals. When push comes to shove it’s always do as I say, not as I do, I suppose.

  13. David Hillis
    Posted March 21, 2016 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad to hear that you would like see PLOS journals move to a model where funders fund the publishing directly, so that there are no charges for either reading or publishing scientific papers. In some fields, the charges for publication present more of a roadblock to scientific dissemination than do subscription fees. Until we reach that ultimate goal, here are a few suggestions for ways to reduce the burden of publication costs to authors (especially authors that cannot afford the APCs):

    1. Give reviewers credit points for reviewing papers. Editors could be asked to score reviews from 0 to 10 based on the usefulness and thoroughness of the review. Reviewers would then get to trade reviewing points for an equivalent in APCs (maybe 20 points to publish a paper for free). This might improve the reviewing process as well as provide a means to pay-back hard working reviewers. Reviewers would have an incentive to good a better job, and could get something tangible back in return.

    2. Make the criteria for free (subsidized) publication transparent, to encourage those who qualify to apply.

    3. Charge a sliding scale, with reduced costs for papers authored by students, for example.

  14. Posted March 21, 2016 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this post. I like PLOS and have published there repeatedly, but I have some critical thoughts:

    1. many people expect PLOS to be different from a normal profit-maximizing business. After all, it’s a NONPROFIT organization founded by a bunch of radical academics to reform publishing. It sounds strange but PLOS may be seen as too similar to legacy publishers now.

    2. Paying more than a few hundred dollars to publish a paper is simply too much no matter how hard you try to justify the costs. There is a number of smaller open access journals which are much cheaper or with no APCs at all (these must be subsidized by someone, of course) – see DOAJ. PLOS must be wasting a lot of money somewhere. I simply can’t believe that APC>1000 USD is necessary to cover the costs of publishing a single paper.

    3. I really think you should get rid of the “selective” journals like PLOS Biology to cut costs. PLOS ONE was something new, but the other PLOS journals differ from traditional journals only in the payment model. More “progressive” scientists are moving away from PLOS to other, newer, more innovative publishers.

    4. I like PLOS and I hope that it will prosper, but publishing in it’s journals is simply too expensive; unless we get a discount at PLOS ONE.

  15. Amber Jain
    Posted March 22, 2016 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Really don’t get most of your arguments.
    1) You agree that publishing cost must be much less than $2000. You even recognize that arXiv is at ~ $10. But then tell that technical issues do not allow you to? You need to look at the highly expensive team of managers you have hired. My recommendation – higher a grad student whose salary is ~$2000/month – they can most probably code up a software for you in a few months.
    2) Can you please give exact maths on why you need $25 millions in assets. What risks/safety net does that mean? Having no business understanding, its hard to understand what you are saying, but $25 millions does sound too much naively.
    3) One point I do agree with – executives need to be payed far less.

    • Posted March 22, 2016 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

      1) I develop software. I know that a grad student could code up something that did the job. I could do it too. But it would’t work at the kind of scale we’re at, authors and readers would complain about it incessantly, it would break, be difficult to modify, etc… I know this because we’ve tried out many systems that basically were hacked together by grad students. There are reasons why it costs money to develop “enterprise” software.

      2) We aim to have at least 6 months worth of expenses in the bank so that if we experienced a major loss of revenue we wouldn’t have to immediately fire everyone and go out of business. We also want to be able to withstand prolonged periods where our expenses are greater than our costs. This is just sound practice for a company. Our expenses are on the order of $50m/year, so $25m/year is, if anything, a bit risky.

      • Amber Jain
        Posted March 22, 2016 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for the reply. Greatly appreciated for the dialogue.
        1) Should I take that it takes millions to make a stable/good website that would serve the purpose? Can you please compare the difference in software requirement between PLOS and arxiv? From an outsider’s perspective, this cost requirement still does not fit my mind.
        2) This is roughly $4m/month. Based on tweet links posted in the blog, it seems like most of that is for executive pay. Is that correct?
        If yes, as you point out, this is not what scientific community needs. Again, I do not see the connect between the output produced by execs and their salary, and this seems to be the most expensive part of the process.

        • Posted April 5, 2016 at 8:55 am | Permalink

          For “a staff of well over 100 people” the arithmetic wouldn’t work. The bulk must be for non-exec staff. I’m curious, in SF what level of executive compensation would you want to see? Or, if PLOS left the Bay Area for, say, Madison WI, what level would then be acceptable? Let’s get to specific numbers. I’m ambivalent on the whole exec compensation issue (everywhere, not just PLOS) but I am always curious to hear alternative proposals.

  16. Posted March 23, 2016 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the detailed response, it is insightful for those who are involved in the publication process but not in the publication business. I think attempting to reducing the cost to the consumer should be a high priority and thank you for your commitment to do so. For the many critics out there, do you have bank account and do you save resource? I suspect the likely answer is yes, particularly if like me your fixed term contract ends and your are unable to immediately secure a position, you plan for this. This is not significantly different than how PLOS appears to be operating except PLOS has to employ people etc. The number does also seem high to me ($4 million a month) therefore a breakdown of the costs would benefit the scientific community, not only what the money goes on but whether these costs are sensible. In the UK when we get our annual statement of tax paid (there is a breakdown of what the tax actually paid for, the majority in the UK goes on Welfare). This will highlight what it costs your operation to run and ideally not only help inform those who are in the publication process but not in the publication business but will actually help reform the process.

  17. Jack Werren
    Posted March 25, 2016 at 3:10 am | Permalink

    If a major cost is due to being in San Francisco (salaries and ancillaries), then my simple question is “Why still San Francisco?”. The work could be done in much less expensive locations, and this seems to be a major reason why authors (and grant agencies) are paying so much.

  18. Claudiu Bandea
    Posted March 25, 2016 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    I commend Michael for opening the discussion on “the business of PLOS”, and I agree with him that strong assets give the PLOS organization the necessary means and stability to promote open access. However, it is time for PLOS to change its business model, particularly in regard to the executives’ excessive salaries. We have to remember that thousands of PLOS reviewers perform the most critical work of the organization without compensation, and that most of the PLOS funds come from public money.

    That said, it is very unlikely that the PLOS executives will cut their salaries or trim the number of positions in the PLOS organization. So, what’s the path forward?

    I see two paths. First, I would suggest that the PLOS Board of Directors (our host Michael is of them) should openly evaluate the organization business model, using the input from the thousands of PLOS voluntary scientists; again, in the spirit of the PLOS organization, that should be a public and timely (that’s now, not in a year or two) affair. Second, if that doesn’t occur, the scientists have the choice of no longer supporting the PLOS organization by boycotting publishing in the PLOS journals or serving as reviewers.

  19. Max Linke
    Posted March 28, 2016 at 2:05 am | Permalink

    Dos PLOS plan to release its new publishing software under a open source or even copy left license? It would be a nice step in the direction to enable free publishing at some point in the future.

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