Mon 12 Oct 2015 8:06PM

Should we support MDPI in setting up the OA journal 'Vision'

LD Lee de-Wit Public Seen by 229

A number of people in the vision science community have recently been contacted by MDPI (http://www.mdpi.com/) to ask if they would become an editor of a new Open Access journal called 'Vision' (http://www.mdpi.com/journal/vision). So far five editors have accepted (http://www.mdpi.com/journal/vision/editors).

MDPI have been accused of being something of a 'predatory open-access publisher', but a report by the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association suggests this is unfounded (http://oaspa.org/conclusions-from-oaspa-membership-committee-investigation-into-mdpi/).

It will be free to publish articles submitted in 2015 and 2016 (http://www.mdpi.com/journal/vision/apc). with Vision while the journal establishes its self. After that date it is not clear how much it will cost, but MDPI claims to be 'committed to keeping its open access publication charges at a minimum level'. Author Publication Charges for existing journals range from 155-1661 dollars, though many journals charge just over 300 dollars per article (http://www.mdpi.com/about/apc).

Simon Rushton is currently organizing a Skype meeting with MDPI to discuss the future of 'Vision' and how MDPI could serve the vision science community (hopefully on 16/10). If you have questions for this discussion, or issues you would like to raise, please comment below. Some of the questions we plan to ask so far include:

  • future of costing policy, what is a viable long term APC for MDPI. What do they anticipate Vision increasing to?
  • editorial control (role of publisher in that?)
  • Anticipated size of editorial board?
  • publishing criteria (novelty or rigor – is that up to the editors?)
  • nature of review process (option for open reviews?)
  • facilities for hosting of data and code with publications?
  • how will it differ from Journal of Vision?

Marco Bertamini Mon 12 Oct 2015 8:39PM

Hi, I have some experience with Symmetry, which is a MDPI journal. Charges for Symmetry are about 500 pound per article, with the usual system of institutional memberships and discounts. My impression is that it is a typical for-profit publisher. The structure is standard. I guess the best one can hope is that it will be a somewhat cheaper version of JOV.


Nick Scott-Samuel Tue 13 Oct 2015 7:54AM

I'm a lot less keen if this turns out to be simply another open access journal with rather opaque accounts and a pricing structure with no obvious rationale. My ideal would still be an open access, open accounts, zero profit option. I see no reason that scientific publishing should be turning a profit (unless it's for a learned society, and the money is ploughed back into the research area).


Tom Wallis Wed 14 Oct 2015 9:05AM

I'm with Nick. This option sounds like a slightly cheaper JoV; I don't think that alone is worth supporting a new journal over our established open-access option (JoV).

Personally, I'm still keen on a curated perception page on PeerJ.


Simon Rushton Wed 14 Oct 2015 12:28PM

Note that the lower (and most common) price point for MDPI is 300 CHF. Thats about £200. If you look into the PeerJ pricing its not clear to me that they would be cheaper. Indeed I think they would be more expensive unless you send everything to them.


Simon Rushton Wed 14 Oct 2015 3:41PM

The other point is that we have to face up to the age-old problem - we are academics, we are very good about moaning and having great ideas but terrible about actually taking action. I'd argue we need an outside "nasty capitalist" publisher to start a journal because we never will... Or is someone going to prove me wrong?

Btw, I just got an email re Frontiers finances and APCs


Nick Scott-Samuel Wed 14 Oct 2015 3:53PM

Isn't the counter example to your premise Beau Watson (academic, started JoV)?


Simon Rushton Wed 14 Oct 2015 4:33PM

Is JoV low-cost and true open access (CC-BY by default)?


Nick Scott-Samuel Wed 14 Oct 2015 7:32PM

I think that it was, originally. Of course, Beau isn't there now...


Jon Peirce Thu 15 Oct 2015 8:50AM

So the question for MDPI, following Tom's point above, is how they will be (and stay) different to JoV? We don't just want another journal to confuse things for the sake of it.


Simon Rushton Thu 15 Oct 2015 10:40AM

Thanks Jon. Maybe we should add iPerception as well as that does seem to have already taken the slot for "a somewhat cheaper version of JoV".

So any other questions for us to ask tomorrow?

If any of you have a few minutes to spare then there is one thing you could do that might be helpful for the discussions tomorrow. Go back over the past 3 or 4 years, and work out the costs if you had sent the papers you published in Vision Research or JoV to PeerJ instead. Pricing info here https://peerj.com/pricing/ How do the numbers stack up? What would it actually have cost you on average per article? Please do the calculations based on real data on co-authors, papers per year etc rather than just use the slider on the PeerJ webpage.

Also for those of you that are very preoccupied by costs and open accounts, can you read the Frontiers blog post (see earlier post) about their finances and costs and post some thoughts? Again, this might help us form a realistic idea of how much an APC should be and what we might expect of a publisher.


[deactivated account] Thu 15 Oct 2015 10:54AM

Frontiers blog post on finances

My take:

  • Publishing operations: 34% – for what? There is very little copy-editing, you have to use their template anyways, so the only thing they really do is typesetting. I guess the money actually goes to spamming everybody about Research Topics and Markram himself.

  • IT and innovation: 32% – ok, they're indeed innovative and that's a good thing, but I could also live with a less innovative journal if it were cheaper.

  • Growth / New Journals: 11% – they already have too many journals. This is just trying to thin-slice the market with super specialized journals of little value.

  • Discounts & waivers: 10% – make it cheaper and you won't have to subsidize anyone.


Simon Rushton Thu 15 Oct 2015 2:22PM

Ok, lets run with Jonas's suggestions and see where that gets us:

Presumably servers, typesetting, support, and basic admin (see the Frontiers post) are always going to be necessary. So how much might we estimate email publicity (and consequently pageviews and citations?) costs? Lets be generous and say 20% of the publishing budget.
For innovation, ok, so you'd want to let other companies or organisations innovate and instead just run a "vanilla" journal, so presuming the IT for the web platform etc is needed then you could maybe lop 30% off that part of the budget to remove innovation.
For growth / new journals you'd set that component to zero.
For discounts & waivers - I don't think that could go realistically. There are too many scientists that don't have funds to publish and so you'd want to keep them or you stop such people from publishing - this is a traditional complaint about JoV.

So I reckon in total that maybe cuts about 20-25% off the APC.

Does this suggest that APC cannot be driven very low?

Anyone want to cite estimates of what it would have cost them to publish in PeerJ over the past 3-4 years (their APC) as evidence that publishing need not cost authors very much?


[deactivated account] Thu 15 Oct 2015 2:38PM

OK, I can do cost comparison:

I have 3 papers in JoV:
2012 (14 pages): 4 authors
2014 (17 pages): 3 authors, all from 2012
2015 (in press, but I estimate 15 pages): 4 authors, 2 from 2012

PeerJ: Suppose we all got membership for 1 article per year. That would amount to 6 different authors * $99 = $594, or $297/article

JoV: $105/page * 46 pages = $4830, or $1610/article (even more with the new rate of $125/page).


Simon Rushton Thu 15 Oct 2015 2:49PM

Thanks Jonas, that's really useful.

That will be helpful in discussions with MDPI but its also generally informative for us. A typical APC for PeerJ, the self-styled cheapest publisher, is about $300 or £200. Its also the modal/minimum cost from MDPI. So I guess its not realistic to think any commercial publisher is going to go below that - or if they do you'd want to question their viability.

Anyone got an APC that is significantly different from the one Jonas calculated, or anyone want to add a different take?


[deactivated account] Thu 15 Oct 2015 2:49PM

As for Frontiers expenses, I don't think your analysis is fair. Or, rather, let's run it against arXiv: a trivial though ugly and inconvenient platform, no cost to publish, donations are necessary to maintain it, and real researchers use it.

Their 2014 expenses were $881,285 and they had around 97,517 submissions, which amounts to $9/article.

Of course, they don't have a peer-review system in place and I don't know how much extra it would cost to maintain it, but hello, we're talking $9/article.


Simon Rushton Thu 15 Oct 2015 2:59PM

And to go further eLife is free to authors, and if you trade a bit of personal data you can get webspace for free if you want to self-publish unreviewed articles. But I'd argue if we are going to evaluate open access journals we have to be fair. We can't really compare their costs to webspace where you can log unreviewed articles or to subsidised journals.


[deactivated account] Thu 15 Oct 2015 3:06PM

Sure, but these numbers give you an estimate how much it actually costs to maintain a server and a submission platform. I can hardly see how $9 can become $300 even with a peer-review system in place. Of course, once you start adding other features (copy-editing, typesetting and so on), costs start to grow, and it's up to us to find the right balance. But I just wanted to show that the basic realistic solution is very cheap. ArXiv is far more than self-publishing!

Moreover, notice how Frontiers is charging about €1000 per article and you estimated that even with the cost shaving I suggested, it would go down to only about €800, and yet PeerJ somehow can survive with $300. This is just to show that these figures Frontiers or others publish are not sufficient to estimate how much things actually cost.


Simon Rushton Thu 15 Oct 2015 3:16PM

I don't disagree re Frontiers. I just want to get an idea of what a realistic minimum APC for a sustainable commercial company works out as. And it looks like its about $300/£200. Of course we may be a little naïve here as we don't know how PeerJ and MDPI work their finances. The former could essentially be a pyramid scheme and the latter may use $300/£200 as a loss-leader to get people on board before then having to jack the prices to a sustainable rate. But as I say the key point is that we don't seem to have any evidence that an APC can go below $300/£200 - that is a useful benchmark.


Alex Holcombe Thu 15 Oct 2015 7:38PM

Thanks for the illuminating discussion. BTW arXiv does have some form of minimal peer review to keep out crackpots.

Open Journal Systems (OJS) is free and most major univ libraries have the technical competence to set it up, plus already have the bandwidth to accommodate it, so close to zero server cost if maintained by a library. Apparently it does nearly everything a ScholarOne or ElsevierEditorialSystem does.

For costs, I think that leaves: 1) assistance by professional staff to keep things running smoothly, 2) help with shepherding manuscripts along, 3) typesetting.

About #3 (typesetting), If you want to go from a typical author-submitted Word or PDF file to a beautiful product, it's going to cost! But I don't have a good sense of how much. I'll ask some people.

While PeerJ resembles aspects of a pyramid scheme structurally, I heard from a reliable source that despite their low fees they are already meeting ongoing costs! That's with what I suspect is technologically the best publishing platform out there; reduces costs. It is opensource, but I was told is not set up currently to accommodate the workflow that would be more typical of a journal (not sure where the differences lie).


Simon Rushton Thu 15 Oct 2015 7:58PM

Ok, so in terms of questions we now can add:

How would you distinguish yourself from JoV (already established), iPerception (established brand and lower cost) and PeerJ (not established in vision but effective pricing inline with MDPI's minimal/modal APC)?

If we are starting a new open-access journal, why should we go with MDPI rather than do it ourselves (use OJS, pull in 1+ uni per continent to host, draw on expertise in design in one of our institutions, and then raise a loan or investment to bootstrap the costs of admin)?

And, I'll add another question unrelated to the discussion above but of concern to the open-access types in my own school, and maybe of more apparent relevance given the FTC discussion on CVNET:

Will you offer a facility for registered reports?


Lee de-Wit Fri 16 Oct 2015 9:37AM

Regarding the estimate of 'what should a genuine publication cost be', the idea that something like 200/300 pounds is in the right range is also suggested by Ubiquity Press who have a basic APC of £300 http://www.ubiquitypress.com/site/publish/


Lee de-Wit Fri 16 Oct 2015 11:14AM

Simon, Alex and I just talked to the managing editor responsible for Vision. He was very open and helpful. I'll post a longer summary next week, but just a few key points.

If the journal would be indexed in web of science or pubmed they would anticipate the APC rising to 800CHF. Obviously this is more than we might have hoped, but still a lot less than JoV. But it was not really clear otherwise how it would differentiate itself from JoV, other than offering some 'competition'.

Editorial decisions would be down to the chief editor, and they were open to many innovations, and had facilities for open peer review and hosting data and code.

The company is technically for-profit, but actually all of the profit is reinvested. The 'for-profit' status is just a technical necessity that makes it easier for them to work internationally given Swiss law. The owner/founder is a scientist, who wants to improve publishing. But there is nothing in their corporate structure to protect this model, but they are discussing becoming a non-profit to guarantee this.