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Concepts and Questions

Concepts and Questions

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Published by Amy Adams

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Published by: Amy Adams on Nov 19, 2009
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The Ecological Society of America
cientists are the primary producers as well as the mainconsumers of scientific journals. Traditionally, theyhave had little reason to concern themselves with the eco-nomics of this industry. However, because journal pricesconsistently increase more quickly than library budgets,scientists, even at large research institutions, begin to feelthe pinch of restricted access to the scholarly literature.This paper investigates the economic factors responsible,with a focus on ecology journals.
Our data cover 92 regularly published primary researchjournals in the field of ecology. These are the 107 ecologyjournals listed in 2005 Journal Citation Reports (JCR2005), which reports citation data through the end of 2004, with the following exceptions: review journals(
 Advances in Ecological Research; Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics; Trends in Ecology andEvolution
), irregularly published journals (
Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History; Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia; Western North American Naturalist; Wildlife Monographs
), and popularjournals (
 Natural History
). We omitted the for-profitjournal
because the 2005 price reflects a mergerwith
but the 2004 citation data do not includeboth journals. The bundled pair
Molecular Ecology
Molecular Ecology Notes
were treated as a single journal,with circulation information estimated from the former;we treated the bundled trio
Diversity and Distributions,Global Ecology and Biogeography
, and
 Journal of Biogeography
similarly, estimating circulation from thelast of these. Finally, we omitted the three journals, allnon-profit, that provide all of their content freely on theweb (
 Amazoniana; Conservation Ecology; Revista Chilenade Historia Natural
), to avoid underestimating the aver-age prices per page and per citation.
Price data are from 2005, with a few exceptions; where2005 prices were unavailable we used 2004 instead. TheESA journals (
Ecology, Ecological Monographs, Ecological Applications
, and F
rontiers in Ecology and the Environment
)feature tiered pricing; we used 2004 circulation data toestimate the average cost to print plus electronic sub-scribers. Exchange rates to US dollars were Euro = $1.26,Canadian Dollar = $0.79, Australian dollar = $0.76,Danish Kroner = $0.17.
Page charges
Page charges were collected from the
Instructions for Authors
on journal websites in April 2006. For societies,we have used the higher non-member prices. Becausesome journals charge higher page charges for pagesbeyond the recommended paper length, we have usedonly the per-page price for normal length papers.
Recent citations
The number of recent citations is an indicator of the use-
The economics of ecology journals
Carl T Bergstrom
and Theodore C Bergstrom
Over the past decade, scientific publishing has shifted from a paper-based distribution system to one largelybuilt upon electronic access to journal articles. Despite this shift, the basic patterns of journal pricing haveremained largely unchanged. The large commercial publishers charge dramatically higher prices to institu-tions than do professional societies and university presses. These price differences do not reflect differences inquality as measured by citation rate. We discuss the effect of price and citation rate of a journal on librarysubscriptions and offer an explanation for why competition has not been able to erode the price differencesbetween commercial and non-profit journals.
 Front Ecol Environ
2006; 4(9): 488–495
Department of Biology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA(cbergst@u.washington.edu );
Department of Economics, Universityof California, Santa Barbara, CA (tedb@econ.ucsb.edu)
In a nutshell:
The transition to online distribution of scientific publicationshas done little to alter the basic pricing structure of scholarlypublishing in the field of ecologyOn average, in 2005, commercial publishers charged universitylibraries several times as much per page for institutional accessto scholarly journals as did non-profit publishersThe price differences between commercial and non-profit pub-lications do not reflect an underlying difference in quality asmeasured by citation rate Journal circulation is highly responsive to price differences
CT Bergstrom and TC BergstromEconomics of ecology journals
© The Ecological Society of America
fulness of a journal. While citation ratesdiffer across disciplines, this measureserves as a reasonable statistic for estimat-ing journal quality, within the field of ecology.When comparing citation rates andprices, we used price per recent citation inorder to properly adjust for differences injournal sizes. Price scales with the size of ajournal, but impact factor divides out thejournal size – so instead we measure recentcitations which, like price, scales withjournal size. We measured recent citationsby estimating the number of times thatissues published in 2002 or 2003 werecited in 2004. Our data source was the2005 ISI Journal Citation Reports citation index; recentcitations is simply the product of 2004 impact factor andtwice the 2004 article count.
Full information on the number of pages was not avail-able beyond 2003, so we have used page counts from thatyear. In general, the number of pages is estimated usingthe last page number listed in the table of contents of each volume, with tables of contents taken from
(www.infotrieve.com) whenever available andfrom websites or paper journals otherwise. When vol-umes split across years, the first page number listed for thefirst 2003 issue is subtracted. Average price per page iscomputed as
price /
We estimated library circulation using theOnline Computer Library Centre (OCLC)WorldCat interlibrary loan database (OCLC2005). In August 2005, for each journal, weused a perl script to count the number of OCLC member libraries that reported anactive subscription to the journal, as indi-cated by an open date range (eg “v.4–1995–”). Because the OCLC database trun-cates holdings information at 24 characters,journals with complex holdings descriptions(eg “Vol/No: 1–2, 18–35, 37–38, 65–70, 74–1968–1969, 1975–1979, 1984–”) are notreturned in full and thus have been omitted.This introduces a bias toward underestimat-ing the active subscriptions to older journals(most of which are non-profit). Based onknown circulation for the ESA journals, wecan conservatively estimate that the actualnumber of institutional subscriptions is atleast three times the number of OCLC sub-scribers.
Cost and value
Institutional subscription prices differ dramaticallybetween publishers. In the field of ecology, as defined bythe Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) in their
 Journal Citation Reports
(JCR 2005), journals publisheddirectly by non-profit societies and university pressescharge an average of $0.29 per page. Journals publishedjointly by scholarly societies with for-profit publisherscost an average of $0.92 per page, while those producedby for-profit publishers without an affiliated society costan average of $1.42 per page (Figure 1).The higher prices of for-profit journals do not reflecthigher quality. In fact, non-profit journals tend to beolder, more prestigious, and more highly cited than theirfor-profit counterparts. In 2004, five of the ten highest
Table 1. The top ten journals in ecology, ranked by 2004 impact factor
Ecological Monographs
 American Naturalist
Global Change Biology 
Ecology Letters
Conservation Biology 
 Journal of Ecology 
Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment
 Journal of Animal Ecology 
Nine of the ten are published by non-profit publishers or jointly by scholarly societies in collaboration witha for-profit publisher.
 Figure 1.
For-profit publishers (yellow) charge institutions more per page for journal subscriptions than do non-profit publishers (blue) such as scholarly societiesand university presses. Journals published jointly by scholarly societies and for-profit publishers (red) are typically priced intermediately. Solid lines indicate linearregression through the origin (Non-profit: slope=0.25, R
=0.67. Joint:slope=0.86, R
=0.83. For-profit: slope=1.38, R
=0.90. Note that theregression slopes are not equal to average prices per pages, because the lattereffectively weights each journal by its size.)
1000 2000 3000 400010002000300040005000Non-profitJointFor-profit
   S  u   b  s  c  r   i  p   t   i  o  n  p  r   i  c  e
Economics of ecology journals CT Bergstrom and TC Bergstrom
The Ecological Society of America
impact ecology journals were published by non-profitpublishers and four more were published jointly by ascholarly society and a for-profit publisher (Table 1).We constructed an index called recent citations, whichmeasures the annual citations of articles published withinthe previous 2 years. The average cost per recent citationfor journals published by non-profit societies is $0.78. Journals published jointly between a scholarly society anda for-profit publisher cost on average $2.42 per recent cita-tion and those produced by for-profit publishers withoutan affiliated society cost on average $4.33 per recent cita-tion (Figure 2). Thus, whether we measure cost as priceper page or price per citation, for-profit journals areapproximately five times as expensive as their non-profitcounterparts. A library that subscribes to all of the ecologyjournals considered here receives 30% of its citations and29% of its pages from non-profit journals, but spends only10% of its total budget on these non-profit publications.Many non-profit journals and a few jointly publishedjournals ask authors to help defray the costs of publica-tion by contributing author fees or pagecharges, typically between $30 and $150 perpage. Few, if any, for-profit journals requestpage charges. In comparing the revenuethat non-profit and for-profit publishers col-lect from the academic community, it isappropriate to account for these pagecharges. Subscription costs are measured asa cost per page, per subscribing library. Toinclude page charges in a comparable mea-sure, we need to divide page chargesassessed to the author by the number of libraries subscribing to the journal. We usethree times the number of OCLC subscrip-tions (see Methods) as a conservative esti-mate of the number of institutional sub-scribers. Thus, our adjusted measure of costper page is
Total cost per page = Subscription price per page +Author fees per page Number of library subscribers
Revenues received from page chargesaccount for only a small proportion of thedifference in subscription prices between non-profit jour-nals and for-profit journals. As shown in Table 2, totalrevenue – including page charges – is approximately threetimes as high per page for the for-profit journals as fornon-profit journals.Table 3 lists page charges and the total price per pagefor 20 top journals. Author fees, when charged, typicallyrun $0.03 to $0.25 per page per US library subscription.Page charges may present an obstacle to authors in devel-oping nations who are unable to pay such charges. Butmany non-profit journals have anticipated this problemand waive fees for those unable to afford them. Of the 27journals with page charges in our sample, ten state intheir “Instructions for Authors” that they will waive, orconsider waiving, page charges. Another seven journalsoffer page charge waivers to members of their societies,while ten make no mention of the issue.
Trends over time
Research interest in ecology has explodedover the past 30 years, and over that periodmany new ecology journals have beenfounded (Figure 3). Many of these new jour-nals are produced by for-profit publishers.As the number of journals has risen,expenditures at research libraries haveincreased even more rapidly. Not only arelibraries subscribing to more journals, buttheir collections are composed of increasingproportions of expensive for-profit publica-tions. Real library expenditures (ie corrected
 Figure 2.
For-profit publishers (yellow) charge institutions more per citation for journal subscriptions than do non-profit publishers (blue). Journals published jointly(red) are again priced intermediately, though with an average cost per citation close tothat of for-profit journals. Solid lines indicate linear regression through the origin(Non-profit: slope=0.36, R
=0.53. Joint: slope=2.01, R
=0.72. For-profit:slope=2.21, R
=0.52. Note that the regression slopes are not equal to average prices per citation, because the latter effectively weights each journal by its size).
Table 2. Several measures of cost for non-profit, jointly published, andfor-profit journals
Price/pagePrice/citeMedian page chargeTotal $/page
Non-profit$0.29$0.78$30$0.46 Joint$0.92$2.420$0.94For-profit$1.42$4.330$1.42
Many non-profit journals charge page charges,with a median cost of $30 per page.Total price per page esti-mates the publisher’s total revenue per library subscription per page,including both subscription fees andpage charges.Even accounting for page charges in this way,non-profit journals are considerably less expen-sive than their jointly-published or for-profit counterparts.
500 1000 1500 2000 250010002000300040005000Non-profitJointFor-profit
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