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Something Is Not Open at PLoS, Maybe ...

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I really like reading some articles posted on Hacker News. Usually they focus on the entrepreneur side of the software/web business, but sometimes there are some nice pointers to scientific stuff. And most of the comments are also really nice, a lot of clever people around there. But this is what you expect of these virtual communities. Anyway, I’m here to talk about PLoS.

Yesterday somebody posted at HN, an article about open access to publications: Open Access to Scientific Publications The good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s a so-so read, but gives some information on the current scenario of open and closed access publishers. But what really caught my eye (thanks initially to a comment on HN) is this passage:

But how much are authors ready to pay to publish an article? A few hundred dollars? The most prominent Open Access publisher, the Public Library of Science (PLOS), is a nonprofit organization that has received several million dollars in donations. Yet it charges between $1,350 and $2,900 per paper, depending on the journal.d In fact, many in the profession estimate that to be sustainable, the author-pay model will need to charge up to $5,000–$8,000 per publication.

There are seven journals on PLoS, with an average publication fee of $2125. In average each journal publishes around 310 papers per year [I took Computational Biology (388 pubs) and Neglected Tropical Diseases (236 pubs) for 2009]. With the fees and number of publications in each journal being quite similar, that the total revenue for one year is around $4,000,000. From the article we have the idea that these fees should be (and will be) higher in the future, from double to quadruple of what we see now. This, of course, will double or quadruple the revenue. The comment on HN that made me read the article is this:

WTF? $8000 per article would pay for each article to have its own EC2 instance for >10 years, including bandwidth costs. Something not right there…

Indeed, something is not right here. With the costs of hardware infrastructure going down every day, nothing justifies these fees (or a bit of them) to “host it [publication] on a server that is accessible around the clock.” I really like PLoS, but in almost no time is becoming another publishing company. I don’t know if PLoS financial books are open, and if not, don’t you think they should be open too?