SciPost's Business Model
SciPost strives to reform the business of academic publishing by providing a top-quality infrastructure covering all aspects of the publishing process while:
- being entirely not-for-profit
- not charging any subscription fees to its readers
- not charging any publication fees/APCs (article processing charges) to its authors.
The real drivers of the publishing business are the academics who write, review and edit manuscripts. We view publishing merely as a service making the workflow possible, and empowering scientists to perform these duties in the most efficient way possible.
SciPost's mission is to provide such a service, make it entirely not-for-profit, put its control in the hands of the academic community, and keep it completely free of non-academic competing interests.
If this seems impossibly idealistic to you, please read on! We hope that you will find our no-nonsense approach refreshing and convincing.
Bullet Points Summary
Our business model can be summarized in one phrase:
We don't charge authors, we don't charge readers, we don't send bills to anybody for our services, and we certainly don't make any profit; we are an academic community service surviving on donations coming primarily from Organizations which benefit from our activities.
The bullet points here give you the outline; you'll find more detailed explanations below.
Linking Publications and Organizations
As part of our production workflow, Organizations (author affiliations, funding agencies, ...) listed in our database are linked to each publication. This data is publicly displayed on our Organizations pages in the form of each Organization's NAP (Number of Associated Publications).
After publication, authors are asked to specify PubFractions for their paper (a publication's set of PubFractions answers the question "what was each supporting Organization's share of the support for the research leading to this publication?"; see the PubFractions system description below).
Determination of operational costs
On a yearly basis, SciPost determines and makes publicly known:
- its total expenditures (with a detailed breakdown, see our yearly reports on the finances page)
- an average cost per publication (estimate for 2019: €400 per paper)
- the free-riding fraction (proportion of our activities which are benefitting Organizations which for one reason or another are not yet sponsoring SciPost's activities)
Organizations can inspect all the data (in particular their NAPs and summed-up PubFractions, together with the free-riding fraction) and hereby determine to which level they choose to support SciPost (through a sponsorship agreement). Sponsors can fall into different recognition levels depending on their level of support.
The Finances pages
We strongly believe that such open accounting is necessary for establishing trust and facilitating verifiability. We see this as minimal standard practice for any Open Access publishing infrastructure.
The Organizations Pages
At SciPost, we curate a database of Organizations which benefit from our publishing activities (think for example of academic institutions which are mentioned in author affiliations and funding agencies listed in funding acknowledgements).
The data we collect is presented on our Organizations page, where you will find digested information including the NAPs (Number of Associated Publications) pertaining to any given instance.
Each Organization also has a detail page, where further information can be found (e.g. associated publications, authors, support history).
The PubFractions System
The NAPs do not offer a very fine-grained resolution of each paper's level of support obtained from particular Organizations. A paper is typically associated to many Organizations (multiple authors with their individual affiliations; multiple granting agencies etc), so NAPs for a given paper can sum up to an abritrarily high value.
In order to resolve things more finely, we run an internal system based on the idea of PubFractions, in which each paper has one unit of support recognition to be distributed among the Organizations having supported the research detailed in that paper. This is not meant to be extremely accurate, but should still somehow honestly reflect the support circumstances. Authors of a paper might thus specify that Organizations A and B each have a $0.4$ pubfraction, while C has $0.2$. This splitting can be made among an arbitrary number of Organizations, as specified by the authors. The only requirement is that any given paper's pubfractions sum up to $1$.
This information is prefilled by our editorial administration at the moment of publication based on a reasonable estimate, which the authors are then asked to correct/complement/confirm (see image). These pubfractions are then automatically compiled and linked to the relevant Organizations. This data is displayed on our Organization detail pages.
It is very important to understand that although we compile data on which Organizations benefit from our activities, we do not bill these Organizations for the services we provide. Our philosophy is to pool all the support we receive, and use these resources to provide services for the community at large.
This opens up some frequently-asked questions:
- why would any Organization donate anything?
- isn't this simply letting "free-riding" Organizations get substantial value on the back of those that do contribute?
On the question of free-riding, there will of course always be Organizations which are better than others at taking responsibility for themselves, and for the broader community. Though we do not ban free-riding, it does make our model more challenging to sustain. However, since our integrated costs are dramatically lower than those of other publishers, our infrastructure remains cheaper for our sponsors to fund even if some level of free-riding is present. And besides, since we make all data public, who deserves credit for supporting us will be clear and transparent for everybody to see.
Sponsorships allow us to cover our central personnel and operational costs, and are absolutely crucial to our sustainability. They are however not the only way Organizations can concretely help us in our mission.
We also welcome in-kind support from Organizations, in any useful form including (but in no way limited to):
- sponsorship coordination
Is someone (perhaps a library employee or Open Access officer?) willing to help us run our sponsorship scheme, by for example acting as national/regional contact person or coordinator?
- development assistance
Does your Organization have an ICT service with professional-level web programmers? Is any one of them open to the idea of contributing to our project, even on an occasional basis? We can then give them access to our repository at scipost-codebases.org where we keep all codebases for our online facilities.
- editorial coordination
Does your Organization already have editorial-level staff with broad knowledge of best practices regarding plagiarism, reviewing, archiving, metadata maintenance etc? Within our infrastructure, it is easy for such qualified personnel to contribute to the running of our workflows.
In-kind support is particularly interesting for us for the following reasons:
- it helps Organizations which benefit from our activities to maintain a close relationship with us, to be well aware of our current activities and development plans, and to help us set priorities for the future
- it provides a channel for significantly useful but non-financial support; this can be particularly interesting for institutions which are facing financial pressures but nonetheless have qualified personnel willing to help
- it helps making clear that our unitiative belongs to the academic community
- in view of the fact that our initiative is resolutely international, it helps us to remain aware of and cater for national/regional/local preferences and ways of working.
Is your Organization interesting in helping us with such in-kind support? Please contact our administration to discuss concrete possibilities.
Why do we push for this business model?
We view our model as the cheapest, fairest, simplest model which an academic publishing infrastructure can adopt.
A subscriptions-based model is out of the question because it is incompatible with our core guiding principles.
We are also against the author pays model, often implemented through Article Processing Charges (APCs). Why? Besides being arguably quite insulting to scientists,
- APCs entangle editorial and financial issues, thereby leading to various degrees of "lead pollution" in publishers' operations
- researchers worldwide cannot uniformly afford publication charges
- for a multi-author paper, who should pay? Most publishers make it administratively difficult to share costs among researchers
- the handling of APCs for each individual publication is a substantial time- and resources-wasting accounting exercise.
Our consortial funding model with pubfractions-based recognition solves all these problems in one go. Our pooling of resources and maximally simple accounting drastically simplifies administration for everybody involved. Our transparency means that recognition is given where it is due.
Similar consortial models already exist, and served us as source of inspiration. The arXiv preprint server charges no fees to submitters or downloaders, and is instead financed by a consortium of academic institutions. On the publishing side, the Open Library of Humanities is also funded through a consortial model.
As far as our operations are concerned, we run them in the most efficient way possible, with complete transparency, for the benefit not only of scientists worldwide, but also of their supporting organizations (and anybody else interested in science).
As far as our sustainability is concerned, we put our trust in the hands of the Organizations which benefit from our activities.