The future of science publishing

What is the true cost of publishing a paper in a scientific journal? A News Feature in this week’s Nature finds that this seemingly simple question is remarkably hard to answer. The article is part of a special package that examines the changing landscape of scientific publishing. The transformation is set to accelerate from 1 April, when the seven UK research councils commence their policy of making publications based on government-funded research immediately available online.

The News Feature explains that finances in the science-publishing industry remain largely obscure, leading to a stand-off between scientists, who say that it costs the research enterprise too much, and publishers, who say that their operations provide value for money. But in recent years, the rise of cheaper open-access journals has provided more transparent evidence on prices, costs and why they vary for different kinds of journal. While the global science-publishing industry takes revenues in the order of USD5,000 per article, for example, some open-access publishers say that their internal costs are in the hundreds of dollars.

In the Comment section, several authors suggest how to optimize open-access publishing, including John Wilbanks, who discusses licensing agreements. A further News Feature explores how the open-access explosion has also fuelled the rise of ‘predatory publishers’ who charge authors a publication fee without providing the expected publishing services.

Looking to a future beyond the open-access debate, Jason Priem argues in a Comment piece that “the journal and article are being superseded by algorithms that filter, rate and disseminate scholarship as it happens”. The print article was an attempt to freeze and mount some part of the scholarly process for display, he writes, whereas the Web opens the workshop windows, “erasing the artificial distinction between process and product”. The editors and reviewers employed as community assessors could, he suggests, “be replaced by the aggregated, collective judgements of communities themselves”.

A final News Feature investigates how some university libraries are reinventing themselves for the digital age by helping scientists to archive and make accessible a new kind of publication: data sets. And a piece in Careers offers advice for individual researchers trying to balance prestige, cost and career implications as they decide where to submit their manuscripts.

This special article is published online here: http://www.nature.com/scipublishing.