Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Because They Can?

Rather a while ago, I was speaking with the talented and thoughtful Darcy on publishing. (I still find it hard to believe that humanities presses make YOU pay to publish. But anyways.) It made me think about page charges, because actually... we do pay to publish. Why????

For those of you who have thus far escaped scientific publishing, it generally works like this: an accepted article is subject to charges of $X per printed (proof) page, plus usually a hefty fee for color figures. Page charges that I've seen run from $50 to $250 per page; color-figure charges from $0 to $1500.

This makes sense for a nonprofit journal: figures take extra staff time to lay out, and they want to discourage 14-figure papers. It does actually cost more to print color pictures (though my professional society's journal just went online-only and now it costs them nothing). The logic is that page charges defray the subscription cost, which they wish to keep low so that many people may have access to their scholarly work.

But then there are the Large Expensive journals. They typically charge $10,000 per institutional subscription (or more). Then they charge, say, the Wellcome Trust $5000 per article for its mandatory archiving - sometimes even of the unedited article. And, while I don't know how much ads go for in big journals, I do know they charge an extremely hefty fee just for job fairs.

So how are commercial-journal page charges NOT only for padding profits? No, really. Is there a flip side?