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PLOS and Transparency (including Plan S Price & Service Transparency Framework)

Summary

As a non-profit, mission-driven organization PLOS abides by our commitment to transparency. We openly share information and context about our finances, including target revenue amounts in some of our emerging business models. The Plan S Price & Service Transparency Framework provided us — and other publishers — a clear, uniform structure to share information about the services we perform and a percentage breakdown of how these are covered by the prices we charge. Many of our mission-driven publishing activities go well beyond peer review and production services. We provide commentary on some of these services, including how the varied editorial setups of our journals contribute to different percentage price breakdowns per title. We encourage other publishers to be transparent and openly share their data via such frameworks. And, we remain confident in showcasing how our prices cover our reasonable costs for a high level of service, with some margin for reinvestment.

Full Post

Since our founding in 2001, PLOS has maintained a firm commitment to transparency. Transparency informs our work within communities. It drives our approach to open science practices & policies. And it underpins our willingness to share financial data. Here are three examples of our commitment in action:

  1. Every year we provide financial transparency via the publication and contextualization of our IRS filings (2018 financial overview available here; our 2019 overview will be available in November)
  2. We participate in broader efforts within the publishing community to encourage greater understanding around pricing and the costs of Open Access publishing (see immediately below for the Plan S example)
  3. Our new collective action business model for PLOS Medicine and PLOS Biology — Community Action Publishing — openly shares how much revenue is required for PLOS to run these specific journals. We will redistribute revenues beyond the target back to community members

This year, we are especially grateful to cOAlition S for spurring the scholarly publishing community, broadly, to engage with transparency via its Plan S Price & Service Transparency Framework.

PLOS Response to Plan S

In early 2020, PLOS (together with nine other publishers1) piloted one of the two approved pricing transparency frameworks for cOAlition S. We are now sharing the figures PLOS provided as part of this initiative to provide context to our own pricing and to further promote this kind of transparency broadly within the community. We encourage other publishers to be transparent and openly share their data as well. (Please see the post on price transparency by our friends at F1000 Research here.)

Before diving into discussion of figures, we want to restate two underlying principles.  

  • PLOS does not charge for any activity for the sole purpose of profit. We do not seek or need revenue surplus for return to shareholders, but rather to support and reinvest in our mission.
  • Our organizational activities are developed to meet the needs of researchers, our prices cover our reasonable costs for our high level of service plus some margin for reinvestment, and our drives for efficiency are to enable as good an author experience as possible.

The Plan S Price & Service Transparency framework invited publishers to divide Article Processing Charge, per journal, into seven categories of activity2:

  • Journal and community development efforts, including commissioning content, researching editorial board members, and scope development
  • Submission to desk reject or acceptance
  • Peer review management by staff/remunerated people, including management of submissions that are ultimately rejected
  • Acceptance to publication, including typesetting, conversation, and production tasks
  • Services after publication, including ethics checks and queries, usage statistics, long-term preservation and access monitoring
  • Sales & marketing to customers or of articles, including marketing campaigns
  • Author and customer support, including queries about licensing, citations, and author system troubleshooting

PLOS’ pricing breakdown (which is only one element of the data captured in the spreadsheet) for 2019 is presented in the table below.

PLOS Computational BiologyPLOS GeneticsPLOS PathogensPLOS Neglected Tropical DiseasesPLOS BiologyPLOS MedicinePLOS ONE
APC price$2,350$2,350$2,350$2,350$3,000$3,000$1,595
% of price for journal and community development14%14%14%14%20%18%13%
% of price from submission to desk reject or accept15%16%16%15%25%27%21%
% of price for peer review management12%12%14%13%21%23%13%
% of price for services from acceptance to publication22%21%21%21%12%12%20%
% of price for services after publication11%11%10%11%6%6%12%
% of price for sales & marketing to customers or of articles16%16%14%15%11%8%13%
% of price for author and customer support10%10%11%11%5%6%8%

The above is a relatively good way of illustrating the breadth of activities that occur at PLOS, and which our income supports. However, like any framework or metric, it strips away some of the detail and nuance so we wanted to provide some overarching commentary and highlight a few observations.  

Varied Editorial structures drive varied price allocation

Currently, PLOS has two types of editorial setup across our seven journals. 

  • PLOS Biology, PLOS Medicine, and PLOS ONE are supported by senior in-house editorial teams (including Editors-in-Chief, an Executive Editor, Senior Editors, and Associate Editors) working in conjunction with external editorial boards. 
  • PLOS Computational Biology, PLOS Genetics, PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, and PLOS Pathogens each have external Editors-in-Chief and Associate Editors (who are full time members of the research, medical, health, and/or academic communities).

The in-house editorial teams (a.k.a. Staff Editors) comprise salaried PLOS employees and are editorially independent. We see this combined expertise of dedicated Staff Editors and leading scientists in the field as an important aspect of the publication process for these titles. Our Staff Editors work to guide researchers through submission and peer review. They also partner with our external Academic Editors, experts in the field, to provide guidance. This unique editorial model ensures expertise, fairness and efficiency for each manuscript. This internal and external resourcing structure is reflected in the greater price share for activities related to “initial triage” and “peer review management” for these particular titles. 

Beyond editorial and production

Between 43% – 61% of our journals’ price covers the editorial/production work of receiving submissions, coordinating their peer review, and production and online publication of accepted articles. The remainder of the price covers the broader and deeper work of services before and after the publication process, including marketing, author support, and ethics checks, among other things — each of which is critically important. As examples:

  • PLOS has a highly regarded publishing ethics team that handles all  ethical and scientific concerns involving submissions and published articles. It also works to raise awareness of publication ethics standards, develops policies and processes to address integrity issues (at scale) prior to publication, and participates in broader discussions about publication ethics policies and practices.
  • PLOS engages closely with research communities (e.g. by attending/organizing conferences/events/workshops, these days mostly online) to ensure the journals and their policies truly reflect the research interests and values of these fields and communities. We operate in both global and local contexts, therefore it is ever more important to ensure we reflect the values of the diverse communities of researchers whom we publish.
  • PLOS has a dedicated, proactive media team that collaborates with authors, institutions, science media centers and journalists to communicate research to both scientists and society. Consequently, articles published in our journals receive great attention in the media. The team also develops policies and participates in industry conversations about best practices (e.g. preprints and the media). 
  • PLOS’ Outreach team promotes articles, invites submissions, promotes initiatives like calls for papers, and has also created widely used and well-regarded resources such as the Peer Review Center and the Writing Center
  • PLOS pilots, develops, and leads the way in Open Science practices, from creating new software to be able to publish peer review histories at scale, to patiently cultivating trust in science via a rigorous approach to preprints and preprint commenting
  • PLOS is constantly working to make Open Access easier, more efficient, and fair for researchers from all demographics, geographies, and disciplines. This is both via new business model development, and policy engagement

We hope the full data and above commentary can give you some new insights. At PLOS we are proud of what we do. It is our privilege to devote our time and energy towards such crucial matters as increasing trust in science. We will always do this in partnership with the research community. And, perhaps, there has never been a more important time to be doing this.

If you have any questions, please email community@plos.org

If conversation about this data extends to social media, please follow along @PLOS.

Thank you for reading!

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Footnotes

  1. Annual Reviews, Brill, The Company of Biologists, EMBO Press, European Respiratory Society, F1000 Research, Hindawi, IOP Publishing, Springer Nature
  2. Information Power’s spreadsheet outlines these categories in more detail 

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