Most open-access (OA) journals make money by making authors pay an article processing charge to publish a paper. A small online malaria journal based in the Netherlands wants to turn that situation on its head. It is promising to pay authors €150 for every article it publishes from now on. The idea behind the move—possible thanks to a Dutch funding agency—is not only to lure authors to the journal, but also to drive home the message that academic publishing is way too expensive, says the journal's editor, Bart Knols.
The upstart journal—which has so far published only 57 papers—is part of MalariaWorld, a website and networking tool that has some 8500 registered users in 140 countries. Two experts review papers submitted to the journal, Knols says; if they disagree, the journal’s editors decide whether to publish. The plan is to reward every published paper; if there are multiple authors they will need to split the €150.
Whereas traditional journals make money by charging for subscriptions, OA journals make their papers available for free; to generate revenue, most ask their authors to pay “author fees” or “article processing fees” instead. Even in the OA world, “at the end of the day it is all about money," Knols complained in a recent piece. He singled out Malaria Journal, an OA journal published by London-based BioMed Central that charges €1720 per published paper.
“Authors should understand that the high publication costs with open-access publishers like BioMed Central can be put to better use—research—now that there are good alternatives to publish their work for free and get rewarded,” Knols tells ScienceInsider. “The cost of publishing an article in the Malaria Journal can cover more than 400 children with bed nets.”
Knols says he hopes to attract more papers, but not to steal authors from Malaria Journal specifically. For African researchers especially—who, Knols says, are underrepresented in the literature and in academic debates—the reward may be an interesting incentive, he says. His main funder, the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research, is OK with the plan; the cost per paper—which also covers editorial work and copy editing—will go up from €350 to €500, says Knols, who calls the system “Open Access 3.0.”
BioMed Central says its author fees need not be an obstacle for anyone. The publisher waives them for researchers from the 100 poorest countries and also offers discretionary waivers to authors from elsewhere who can can’t pay the full fee. In 2014, 30% of the Malaria Journal’s articles were published for free, says Deborah Kahn, BioMed Central’s executive vice president.
“The open-access model is still evolving,” Kahn adds. “There are lots of different experiments with the business model, including this one by MalariaWorld Journal, and they are interesting to move our thinking and practices forward.”
Publishing in MalariaWorld Journal does have a drawback; the journal isn’t indexed in PubMed, the search engine for biomedical journals, which makes its papers harder to find; Knols says he’s working on that. For the moment, the journal doesn’t have an impact factor either.
Disclosure: The author worked at BioMed Central from September 2012 until June 2014.