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Stupid legal crap

From the website of a journal where I published an article:

In Springer journals you have the choice of publishing with or without open access. If you choose open access, your article will be freely available to everyone everywhere. In exchange for an open access fee of € 2000 / US $3000 you retain the copyright and your article will carry the Creative Commons License. Please make your choice below.

Hmmm . . . pay $3000 so that an article that I wrote and gave to the journal for free can be accessed by others? Sounds like a good deal to me!

21 Comments

  1. Jon Westfall says:

    Not to mention that if you pay in $ you're getting ripped off for $545 at today's exchange rate…

  2. John S. says:

    Their business model is dead, but they think they can keep it alive with blackmail.

  3. xi'an says:

    Some funding bodies (check OpenAccess on Wikipedia) require open access to publications funded by them. And provide additional funding to compensate. So this "legal crap" (pardon my French) is kind of compulsory… Obviously, as an author, I am provided grey open access thru arXiv anyway…

  4. Andrew Gelman says:

    X: Open access is fine. The part that's ridiculous is that they are trying to charge me $3000 for something I already wrote. Isn't this the kind of contract that record companies used to specialize in, back in the 1950s? This seems really bizarre to me. I'm writing this article out of a sense of professional service, and then they're trying to charge me a fee to distribute it? I suspect that the day they start trying to enforce this sort of thing is the day they start to go under. Or maybe John S. is right, that they're going under in any case.

  5. Bill Jefferys says:

    I try to avoid publishing in proprietary journals. In my field at least, they are less prestigious than society journals anyway, and since everything published in astronomy or astrophysics ends up in archiv.org anyway, there's not much incentive to play games such as Springer is playing here.

  6. Jonathan says:

    There was nothing that stopped you from posting the article in any number of open access places in the first place. Your gift of the article is paid for in editorial prestige — that gatekeepers felt the article was good enough to make it into their journal. So if you also want to make it available for everyone, you have to pay more.

    What's interesting to me under this system is that anyone with fame (or even tenure) would ever bother to go to a gated place in the first place — aren't you confident enough in what you've done, and famous enough to get the world to find your article without going through Springer's imprimatur? The system makes sense (still) for untenured faculty who are still trying to impress the world. But your work impresses on its own (if only in your own mind), and will be found because of who you are and what the internet can now do.

  7. Bill Mill says:

    As a non-university-affiliated person who likes to read science in his spare time, I hate Springer-Verlag with the heat of 1000 suns. $40 per article extortion artists.

  8. Andrew Gelman says:

    Jonathan:

    You are making an assumption that happens not to be true in this case. The journal editor wanted to publish something that I had written, and as a professional courtesy I sent them my article. I'm not getting paid in "editorial prestige." I'm not getting paid at all, but that's ok–we do a lot of things (including blogging) for free in the academic world.

    You ask why I would bother do go through this in the first place. Good question. After being asked to send the article, I went through the (minor) inconvenience of officially submitting it. I then forgot about it until getting this email from Springer telling me to go to a website to fill out some forms or the paper wouldn't get published. I did so and saw the annoying conditions, but at that point I was too lazy to fight it so I just filled out the damn form so I wouldn't have to think about it anymore. Then, of course, I made the mistake of blogging it, and now I keep thinking about it over and over again. I'm not planning to ever send anything else to this journal, that's for sure.

  9. David says:

    What do you mean you are not getting paid at all? I'm sure you get paid a handsome salary by Columbia and it is part of your job to publish.

  10. Andrew Gelman says:

    David: It is not a requirement of my job to publish. In any case, this particular article will have zero effect on my salary. As noted above, it's something I did out of professional courtesy. I'm not getting $3000 worth of credit for publishing this article or even $3 worth of credit.

  11. "There was nothing that stopped you from posting the article in any number of open access places in the first place."

    Well, the Open Access journals are currently charging around this much money to publish the paper. There are options for publishing technical reports but there can be an advantage to getting a piece of work into the indexing programs for modern science and making it easily citable. Blog posts (sadly) make it hard to do either (or I;d do more research via blog).

    Over in Epidemiology, we pretty much have a requirement to publish in peer reviewed journals as a way of showing that we have fulfilled our funding with work of acceptable quality. While I suppose a parallel quality control mechanism could emerge, it hasn't at this point.

  12. Anne says:

    Hey, it could be worse: at least you didn't have to pay per page to publish the article, which they then got someone to review for free, and which you would then have to pay to make public.

  13. David says:

    Andrew, I'm interested to know what your job does involve as I'm applying for a few jobs at the moment in statistics and the main thing they are seem interested in is my publication record and my ability to continue to publish.

    But back to the point of the post, you do realise that any for profit journal publisher makes a living out of charging your work? The only change in the open access model is that instead of charging others (libraries mainly) they are asking you to pay. They still allow you to publish under the old model and restrict access only to subscribers.

    But clearly it costs something to produce a good quality journal. PloS is a reputable non-profit publisher and their publication fees range from US$1350 to US$2900 depending on how popular the journal is.

    And Xian, I think you'll find that posting articles simultaneously on arXiv is not a grey area but a breach of copyright (albeit one that is not generally policed).

  14. Eli says:

    I've never understood the way journals work; the only reason I bother is because publications are required for my PhD and are a criterium to get project fundings for our research group.

    When I submit an article, it's based on 1 year's work on average, so 1 article costs my promotor approx. 2200 dollar x 12 months + laboratory expenses; we have to give our results for free to the journal, they don't pay anything to the reviewers (afaik) and our university even has to pay to read the journal's contents. To me it seems that the only costs of a journal are the editing, maintenance of their website and the actual printing of the journal.

    I don't understand it.

  15. Andrew Gelman says:

    David:

    My job is about 1/2 teaching and 1/2 research. I am tenured so I don't have to do the research anymore. But if I don't do the teaching they can fire me. There's also stuff like book-writing and blogging which aren't really either teaching or research (or, to be precise, they have both a teaching and research component but aren't usually counted as either).

    If you're applying for a tenure-track position, then it might be all about research or it might be all about teaching. It depends on the college. And I imagine that at some places book-writing and blogging might help too.

    But when I was an assistant professor I wrote a book, and the department chair at the time gave me the friendly advice that if I wanted tenure, I shouldn't spend so much time on the book. I told him (politely) that I'd rather write the book than have tenure.

    Finally, regarding publishing: I don't know about Plos, but there's no way that my article is worth $3000 to anybody. I think John S. got it right in his comment above: these dudes are desperate and are grabbing money wherever they can.

  16. Alex Cook says:

    Andrew: if you want to find out if one of your articles is worth $3000 to anybody, try budgeting $3k in your next grant proposal for publication fees. If the funders say no, then you learn nothing, but if they say yes, you know that someone thinks your papers are worth paying $$ to make freely available.

    One of the main arguments in favour of paying to publish is that it gives people in developing countries an access route to current research. Imagine doing research if your library couldn't afford to subscribe to any journal. And PLoS and other journals often waive the publication fee for those in developing countries.

    The society journals are not exempt from this "money grabbing". The IBS asked me to contribute to publication costs when I published in Biometrics (which we did), as have the Royal Society and NAS.

    $3000 does seem a tad steep though.

  17. James Annan says:

    Sidestepping the debate about the "duty" to publish, it has long been recognised that making papers freely available on-line increases their readership, and number of citations. Of course some people don't care about these things, but some have to care. Also, some of us have excessive funding that has to be spent on something. OTOH few journals actually prevent the author making the paper available on their own web site (though this probably isn't quite as good as having it on the journal site, in terms of readers).

    Anyway, it's an interesting indication of how much value the journals think we are giving them for free (in addition to the reviewing etc).

  18. Regarding the state of academic publishing, I like Scott Aaronson's take best:

    I have an ingenious idea for a company. My company will be in the business of selling computer games. But, unlike other computer game companies, mine will never have to hire a single programmer, game designer, or graphic artist. Instead I'll simply find people who know how to make games, and ask them to donate their games to me. Naturally, anyone generous enough to donate a game will immediately relinquish all further rights to it. From then on, I alone will be the copyright-holder, distributor, and collector of royalties. This is not to say, however, that I'll provide no "value-added." My company will be the one that packages the games in 25-cent cardboard boxes, then resells the boxes for up to $300 apiece.

    But why would developers donate their games to me? Because they'll need my seal of approval. I'll convince developers that, if a game isn't distributed by my company, then the game doesn't "count" — indeed, barely even exists — and all their labor on it has been in vain.

    Admittedly, for the scheme to work, my seal of approval will have to mean something. So before putting it on a game, I'll first send the game out to a team of experts who will test it, debug it, and recommend changes. But will I pay the experts for that service? Not at all: as the final cherry atop my chutzpah sundae, I'll tell the experts that it's their professional duty to evaluate, test, and debug my games for free!

    On reflection, perhaps no game developer would be gullible enough to fall for my scheme. I need a community that has a higher tolerance for the ridiculous — a community that, even after my operation is unmasked, will study it and hold meetings, but not "rush to judgment" by dissociating itself from me. But who on Earth could possibly be so paralyzed by indecision, so averse to change, so immune to common sense?

    I've got it: academics!

  19. Andrew Gelman says:

    Alex: Some of my articles are worth $3000. But not this one! In any case, the question is not whether they're worth $3000–I certainly get lots more than that in grant funding–but whether it should go to Springer as a reward for implementing the scam described so eloquently by John Taylor above.

  20. Carlo says:

    David wrote: And Xian, I think you'll find that posting articles simultaneously on arXiv is not a grey area but a breach of copyright (albeit one that is not generally policed).

    I for one am happy to publicly post a copy to the arXiv of my paper that went to a Springer journal. I produced that work while fully funded by the Australian government, and I reckon that any Aussie (at least) should be able to read it for free.

  21. Bob Carpenter says:

    Andrew: Universities like Columbia already pay the Springers, Wileys and Elseviers of the world through their libraries. Grants are taxed for overhead by such institutions to maintain, among other things, libraries.

    When published in one of these closed-source journals, others at similarly funded universities can then read the articles. Someone like me, working at a small private company, can't legally read most publications without paying exorbitant fees.

    I no longer review or submit to anything that's pay-to-view. I find it even more ludicrous to review or submit an article I'd have to pay to read.

    The main journal in my field, Computational Linguistics, just went fully open source. The Journal of AI Research and Journal of Machine Learning are also both fully open source. None of these journals charge you to publish. CL gets its copy-editing and distribution paid for out of membership dues in ACL which are extracted from people who attend conferences (membership + member's fee < non-member's fee). JAIR gets contributions directly from institutions and organizations (like IJCAI) to cover costs (such as registering DOIs).

    It's been traditional for ages in engineering to pay page fees for articles longer than some short reference length and to pay extra for color figures.

    The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) mandated that all the work it funded had to be available open source! This made the publishers realize they needed other routes than library subscriptions to make money. What you're seeing a rerouting of the money that used to go NIH – Grant – Overhead – Library – Elsevier so that it now goes NIH – Grant – Elsevier. I prefer this model because then I can at least read the articles once they're published. And NIH will pay for the publication fees as grant expenses (though I doubt Columbia will buy my rerouting argument and lower your overhead).