Starting this month, BioMed Central (http://www.biomedcentral.com), the "publishing company committed to a policy of free access to scientific research" (as it describes itself), will introduce a processing charge for articles published in its nearly 60 online journals. The new revenue source has been under consideration and publicly debated for many months.
BioMed Central believes that the scientific community generally—though, it admits, not universally—feels that processing charges are the best way to defray the cost of maintaining free access to scientific papers. It stands firm on its belief that subscription charges imposed by traditional sci-tech publishers are "strangling the communication of scientific research," pointing to the 28,000-plus signers of the Public Library of Science (PLoS) open letter (http://www.publiclibraryofscience.org) as well as the National Library of Medicine's PubMed Central archive of freely accessible research (http://www.pubmedcentral.gov).
[For an in-depth analysis of the current turmoil in the scholarly publishing realm, read Myer Kutz's article in Searcher's January 2002 issue, "The Scholars Rebellion Against Scholarly Publishing Practices: Varmus, Vitek, and Venting"; http://www.infotoday.com/searcher/jan02/kutz.htm]
BioMed Central received over 1,000 submissions to its open-access journals last year. It expects more this year with the failure by commercial publishers to respond favorably to the PLoS demand for free or low-cost digital archiving of research articles within 6 months of print publication. Many scientists who signed the letter have begun actively supporting open-access publishers like BioMed Central.
Scientists can now publish with BioMed Central for $500 per accepted article. In return for that fee, BioMed Central provides immediate, free open access to the full-text article on the Web, peer review, online re-formatting, prompt archiving in PubMed Central's permanent archives, and CrossRef electronic citation linking through other digital collections. Besides PubMed Central, BioMed Central also makes its research articles available to other digital repositories, including E-BioSci, the Open Archives Initiative, and The British Library.
Authors confirm their willingness to pay and indicate payment method (check, credit card, purchase order, or invoice) when they submit an article, but they don't pay until the article has been accepted, following peer review. For authors who cannot afford to pay due to lack of funds, BioMed Central will consider waiving the charges. Authors seeking waivers should send their submissions to BioMed Central, which will consider them, without a peer review, and inform the author of its decision on granting a waiver within 2 business days.
BioMed Central believes that payment of these relatively small fees—less than many of the page-charge fees imposed by print publishers—will become a widely accepted and standard part of science funding policy. So it has also launched an institutional membership payment program that will allow all authors at contributing institutions to submit an unlimited number of research papers. The University of Wisconsin-Madison, McMasters University in Canada, and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Institute (currently led by Dr. Harold Varmus, former head of the National Institutes of Health and initiator of PubMed Central) have already joined. Membership status will also give the institutions a 15-percent discount on any paid-for products from BioMed Central, such as the Faculty of 1,000 (http://www.facultyof1000.com) Web-based service that evaluates and recommends top new scientific literature and Images.MD (http://www.images.MD), a subscription product merging imagery from 65 medical map atlases published by BioMed Central's parent, the Current Science Group.
Abstracts of all articles generated at the institutions, regardless of whether they were published in BioMed Central online journals, may—if the institution wishes—receive archiving on a customized page on the BioMed Central Web site, as well as merge into the overall BioMed Central database for public searching. Links to full text, if available, may be made with the institution's own server or proxy server.
The following are fees for institutional membership in 2002:
Inquiries about the institutional-customer service should go to email@example.com.
- $1,500 per year for very small institutions (20-500 FTE staff and/or graduate students)
- $3,000 per year for small institutions (501-1,500 FTE)
- $4,500 per year for medium-sized institutions (1,501-2,500 FTE)
- $6,000 per year for large institutions (2,501-5,000 FTE)
- $7,500 per year for very large institutions (over 5,000 FTE)
According to Natasha Rabshaw, director of marketing at BioMed Central, the company plans to launch a campaign to promote institutional membership this year through direct mail and e-mail, along with presentations at leading conferences for librarians (ALA, MLA, SLA, etc.).
Rabshaw assured me that institutional membership would not influence the peer-review process. Though not every article will be a classic, they will all be "good science," she said. BioMed Central has detailed peer-review procedures, including the requirement that reviewers sign their reviews and declare any financial competing interests. The pre-publication history of each article (initial submission, reviews, and revisions) is posted with the article. Two external experts usually review each submitted article. The process provides four options: accept without revision, accept after revision without further checking expected, hold off approval until after revisions and resubmittal, or reject as scientifically unsound. BioMed Central normally allows authors a maximum of two revisions of an article. The whole peer-review process occurs online to reduce delays in getting research to readers.
Another new journal-publishing initiative from BioMed Central encourages scientists to set up their own online journals, applying their own editorial standards, but using system support from BioMed Central. In 2002, it expects to add 20 journals of this sort. The first two already online are Malaria Journal and Cancer Cell International.