My brain just exploded: CUP pushes “article rental scheme”

With fake publishers all the rage on Twitter, I was sure that this press release from Cambridge Journals was some kind of joke.

Cambridge Journals has announced a brand new Article Rental scheme, which will see single academic research articles being made available over a 24-hour period at a significantly lower cost.

More brilliance from FakeElsevier cooked up to make fun of the absurdity of journals owning scientific papers. I could see their tweet immediately:

FakeElsevier: Can’t afford to pay £50 to “own” a copy of an article you want to read? No fears! We’ll rent it to you for 24 hours for £3.99!

But, sadly, this is NOT a joke. I hardly know where to begin. So I’ll start with the explanation offered by Simon Ross, Global Journals Director, Cambridge University Press:

Article Rental is a direct response to the increasingly high cost of full article ownership through the subscription, document delivery and pay-per view routes that non-subscribers have to use in order to access to an article.

Increasingly high cost? Do you know what the cost is going up? BECAUSE YOU GITS ARBITRARILY RAISED THE PRICE!!!! Don’t try to act like there forces outside of your control that you are rescuing people from, or that the pay-per-view price represents any kind of rational calculus.

CUP arbitrarily decided how much it would cost for people to “own” a copy of an article. They set this price ridiculously high. Nobody is buying. So instead of cutting the price to something sane (like free) they offer a ridiculous “no print, no save” 24 hour options and herald it as an awesome discount. It would be funny if it weren’t so repulsive.

And if this insanity doesn’t convince you that we need to abolish subscription-based journals and the oft-abused publisher control of the scientific literature it entails, then perhaps this piece of information will:

From our analysis of user traffic on Cambridge Journals Online, we see millions of non-subscribers turn away as they can only access the article title and abstract information. We can now provide an alternative low-barrier access route that will allow these readers to access the research that interests them.

Publishers have for years argued that there is no need for open access because most people who want access already have it through their institutions. But CUP is clearly saying this is not the case. Millions of non-subscribers turned away? MILLIONS!! I suspect they be just as unwilling to spend $6 for 24 hours as they were $25 or $50 or whatever they were charging before. There is no reason any of these millions should ever be denied the chance to read any article, or charged even a half-pence for the opportunity. We need open access. And we need it now.

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13 Comments

  1. Posted February 21, 2012 at 4:26 am | Permalink

    Deepdyve has been doing this for years: http://www.deepdyve.com/

  2. DrugMonkey
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 5:46 am | Permalink

    How about $0.99 downloads? $0.49? What is the price point where the “millions” stop turning away?

  3. Posted February 21, 2012 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    I guess you’re more aware of this than anyone, but this is all our fault (i.e., as researchers). Rental is a totally reasonable business model. Obviously most researchers don’t see their published papers as widgets to be bought and sold, but we (as a community) have decided to play by those rules. Pretty crazy.

  4. fairscientist
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    lets not even spend a sec talking about these publishers…cup & the rest, not worth our time. their time is up & they simply have to pack their bags now. let them adopt a system of open access or else perish….

    but…

    i often wondered…why is the article processing fee for plos one, plos genetics and plos biology is $1350, $2250 and $2900 respectively and why not $1000, $1500 and $2000, in that order. one wonders, especially when the number of articles getting published in plos one has gone v v high in the last 3 yrs, why has the article processing fee not come down (discounting the ones where the processing fee is waived)!!!!! where is the extra money going (no accusations here, just wanting to know)…..one has to ask these hard questions to the open access publishers as well….to be fair, when we are hard on the commercial publishers, we need to give one hard look at the open access publishers as well. or else, we will loose our credibility & voice…

    i have always wondered, what if!!!!! this is a bit contentious but let me put it out there…..what if plos opens an office in china and transfers all the editorial and support staff to china, well most of them, or hires equally talented people there….can we bring the cost of publication down and more importantly can the article processing fees for plos one, plos genetics and plos biology come down to $200, $300 and $500 respectively!!!!! and if the answer is yes, why should one not think about that…except that we are talking about taxpayers’ money in the united states of america and the recent rwa & frpaa being debated in the us congress…in that logic, why should the chinese tax payers’ money be spent in supporting the open access journal system and staff in the us!!! should we even think about a system where each country supports their own open access system. is it even remotely doable?

    i don’t know the answer, neither do i have a side to take….but i just wanted to put that across and would love to hear what others think. we need to discuss the larger issues on scientific publications and not just issues for one country as science has no boundary.

    thank you.

  5. Posted February 21, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    There are so many things to hate about this contemptuous and contemptible scheme that it’s hard to know where to start. But let’s start with this: whatever else Cambridge Journals Article Rental tells us, it tells us that Cambridge Journals have no idea how scientists use papers.

    Coming next: DEEP DISCOUNT to only £1.99, provided to submit to having your brain wiped at the end of the 24 hours.

  6. Posted February 21, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    i often wondered…why is the article processing fee for plos one, plos genetics and plos biology is $1350, $2250 and $2900 respectively and why not $1000, $1500 and $2000, in that order.

    Dunno why the fees are those absolutel magnitudes, but I’m pretty sure I know why they are in that rank order: because the number of paid professional editors per published paper is smallest for PLoS ONE, intermediate for PLoS Genetics, and greatest for PLoS Biology.

    • Posted February 21, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

      CPP, that’s part of it, but there are other factors at play.

      PLoS Biology and Medicine are the only journals that have professional editors handling manuscripts. The community journals (Genetics, Pathogens, CompBio & NTD) use academic editors, as does PLoS ONE. However the community journals have a greater staff/published paper ratio, in part because they are smaller and don’t have PLoS ONE’s efficiencies of scale, but also because they provide more staff support for the AEs. This contributes to the differences in price.

      But it’s also important to note that, because it costs money to oversee peer review and provide editing (mostly in labor spent on identifying and chasing editors and reviewers), and only accepted papers generate revenue, a larger fraction of the costs of review/editing has to be borne by each paper at PLoS Biology, Medicine and the community journals compared to PLoS ONE. In principle it would make more sense to charge for review, but there are sociological reasons that make this difficult to do now.

      Our long-term goal is to eliminate as many of these costs as possible. Much of the cost of publishing is labor, and much of this labor could be eliminated with better technology, including better authoring tools (which would eliminate costs associated with converting submitted files into publication ready XML & PDFs), better methods for matching editors and reviewers to papers etc…

  7. J.J.E.
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    Mike, is there a reference that compares the “cost of dissemination” of say, a 1-year old Elsevier paper to say, a 1-year old PLoS Biology paper?

    Of course, the price for Elsevier >> PLoS Biology, but I think the exact number would be instructive. If for example you could put a number on that (I suspect that a PLoS Biology paper would be well within an order of magnitude of the authors’ publication price of ~$3,000) it would help boost the number opponents of the subscription model. I guess the problem here is that your average voter (the ones that pay the bills) don’t care much about the dry topic of academic publishing. Seriously, how much does Elsevier collect through all of those institutional subscriptions? I’m sure the papers citing these figures are there, I just don’t know this literature.

  8. Posted February 22, 2012 at 4:42 am | Permalink

    Someone has actually registered articleflix.com

  9. fairscientist
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    has the number of staff in plos one proportionally increased with the increased number of accepted manuscripts in the last 3 yrs? and if yes, why is the article processing fee not come down gradually? and how does the trajectory of article processing fee look like in plos if the current trend of accepted papers continue into the future?

    should there be a differential processing fee depending on the country where the paper originates from rather than a waiver, no waiver or a partial waiver decision (and many a times the decision making process for granting a waiver is opaque with a simple yes or no or partial waiver decision). frankly, $1350 is a lot of money for a developing country to pay for a scientific publication. what should be the right model that is acceptable to all or is there even one? should even scientists in the united states of america care? or should they? or why should they? these are questions that warrant free, frank and open debate. i, myself, am sure of the answer but it’s worth discussing. should biologists think about a model similar to arxiv.org (i know that it raises a different set of questions all together, no peer-review, peer-review post-publication etc.)

    thank you.

  10. Posted February 24, 2012 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    To answer DrugMonkey’s questions, I would definitely pay 99c for article downloads. Absolutely not problem with that and IO would even use propriety software, a la iTunes-esque for it too (given they include mobile/android versions). I’m a big fan of 99c song downloads and 1.99-3.99 book/kindle single downloads. The price is low enough to be worth it to me to keep in my library.

    The problem with publishers is that I am sensing they feel a sort of entitlement to high profits because the money they mostly get is from academic institutions and governments so maybe it has sort of an unreal, or “monopoly money”, feel to it. But the other strategy, which has been a winning strategy in other others of publishing and music, is to price low, sell lots.

  11. Posted February 24, 2012 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    I’m unwilling to pay anything for a “no print, no save” article, but would read or download a lot of articles for $0.99, especially if I could quote a sentence or two every now and then.

  12. Posted February 24, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Kevin & DM. Are you imagining this as the way to pay for publishing in toto? Or just as a way to provide access to people w/out subscriptions in a pay-for-access dominated world? Because it might be OK for the latter, but can’t work for the former.

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