| Knowledgespeak Exclusive -- An interview with Dr.Matthew Cockerill, Publisher, BioMed Central - 23 Aug 2006|
How does BioMed Central ensure long-term sustainability of its open access journals while staying profitable? Can you briefly discuss your business model?
BioMed Central's business model is to cover the the cost of publishing through an 'Article Processing Charge' or APC, payable for every published article. Funders such as the Wellcome trust have expressed strong support for such a model, saying that publication and dissemination is best seen as the final part of the process of doing research. The cost of paying to cover publication costs is tiny (1-2% by most estimates) compared to the costs of carrying out the research in the first place. Btu the benefits of universal open access are enormous.
There is no inherent reason why open access publications supported by Article Processing Charges should have any difficulty being sustainable and profitable. The same amount of money currently spent by the scientific community supporting traditional subscription-only journals could easily cover the cost of open access publication of that same research. The costs in both cases are likely to be similar. BioMed Central is already very close to profitability as a commercial open access publisher. The fact that new open access journals are not immediately profitable should be no surprise to those in the publishing industry. Even traditional scientific journals do not generally make a profit in their first 5 years - the fact is that starting new journals is hard work and requires a lot of investment. But open access publishers such as BioMed Central are now seeing that hard work pay off. It is notable that there are already examples of commercial publishers who are operating profitably on the open access model - e.g. the Hindawi Publishing Corporation.
Based on impact factors and other citation-based metrics, how are open access journals placed, when compared to the traditional (subscription based) journals?
BioMed Central's journals are doing extremely well in terms of citation-based metrics, especially since they are relatively new journals. Several studies have indicated that one of the benefits of open access is that the increased visibility of open access articles seems to be translated into increased rates of citation.
The following BioMed Central journals are all in the Top 10 by impact factor, in their ISI subject category.
Arthritis Research & Therapy
BMC Developmental Biology
BMC Structural Biology
BMC Evolutionary Biology
Genome Biology's first impact factor (9.71) is especially impressive, and demonstrates clearly the compatibility of open access publishing with the highest editorial standards.
For more details on BioMed Central journal impact factors, see:
It's also worth noting that services such as Google Scholar and Scopus are demonstrating that there is more to citation coverage than the data collated by ISI. Both Google Scholar and Scopus include a broader collection of open access journals than those tracked by ISI, and further demonstrate the levels of citation impact that open access articles and journals are receiving.
Do you take any specific steps to ensure that BioMed Central's titles score high on impact factors?
It is true that some publishers publish certain types of front matter or review articles in their journals specifically in order to try to increase their impact factor.
BioMed Central's journals, though, are for the most part pure research journals. This makes their impact factors all the more impressive.
The fundamental thing that we do, as a publisher, to deliver good impact factors, is to have thorough, stringent peer-review to ensure the scientific soundness and quality of the articles we publish, and then to make those artices as widely visible as possible.
Can you list the major abstracting and indexing resources under which BioMed Central's journals have been indexed for inclusion?
Since BioMed Central's articles are all available under an open license, they are actually redistributed through more channels than it is feasible to list.
But some of the major indexing services which cover BioMed Central's content are listed here: http://www.biomedcentral.com/info/authors/indexing
How does BioMed Central ensure editorial quality while writing technical abstracts for (medical) research articles?
Producing good summaries of the scientific content of articles is a challenging task, especially when the aim is to ensure comprehensibility by a lay audience. The abstracts for research articles are written by the authors, but we ask our reviewers and editors to ensure that these abstracts are well written and provide an accurate and comprehensible summary of the article. For articles of special interest, our editors also create short readable summaries that appear on the website as 'Research Highlights'.
As far as open access initiatives are concerned, can you please elaborate on new products or services that you plan to launch in the near term?
Today marks the launch of Chemistry Central - a new portal site for open access journals in chemistry. Chemistry Central is from the same team responsible for BioMed Central, and builds on BioMed Central's proven open access journal publishing technology. We have also added special features to meet the needs of chemists (for example, figures can be submitted in the popular ChemDraw and ISISDraw file formats). In the last several years research communication in biomedicine and physics has evolved rapidly, with emphasis on more open communication of research results. Chemistry has up to now lagged behind, with chemistry-related journals and databases overwhelmingly remaining subscription-based. In fact, though, the benefits of open access publication are just as applicable to fields like Chemistry. It's time for change - hence the launch of Chemistry Central.
Back in May 2006, BioMed Central faced a revolt from the editors of several of its independent journals who expressed discontent over the way the journals were being managed. Please summarize the corrective measures undertaken subsequently to ensure that journals don't shift to other publishers.
We have listened to the concerns expressed by editors, and taken several measures to address those concerns. For example, under our revised standard contract, BioMed Central as publisher takes responsibilty for granting waivers to authors who lack the funds to pay article processing charges, removing from editors the burden of this task, and its financial implications. We have also released numerous improvements to our journal publishing system, enhancing the tools that our independent editors use to manage online peer review.
Based on your experience as a successful open access publisher, what are the unique characteristics of the medical publishing industry? How well is your company geared to tackle these challenges, going forward?
The benefits of open communication of research results apply across all scientific disciplines, not just biology and medicine.
Biomedicine has some particular characteristics that have helped the adoption of open access publishing, though. Biomedical research is typically funded through research grants, and the funding agencies which provide those grants (e.g. Wellcome and the Research Councils in the UK, and the NIH in the US) have a keen interest in ensuring that their research funding amounting to billions of dollars annually) is well spent. It is understandable that such funders are frustrated when they see that the research they have paid to fund ends up locked behind subscription barriers, and controlled not by the scientific community, but by publishers. As a result, those funders have played a very important role in supporting and driving change in scientific publishing.
We are seeing that in other disciplines too - for example in high energy physics, CERN is leading the way - the director of CERN, Robert Aymar, has made clear that he expects the results produced from the Large Hadron Collider when it is finally switched on to do experiments in 2007, to be published under an open access model. As a result, even Elsevier has been forced to adapt its policies - see http://www.iwr.co.uk/information-world-review/news/2160654/elsevier-sponsors-open-access