Article Processing Charges for Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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As it was foretold, since January 1st 2024 the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (MNRAS) is now charging authors an Article Processing Charge (APC) at the (suitably astronomical) level of £2310 (approx €2700 at current rates) for each paper. There are exemptions in certain situations, such as if the author’s institution has signed up read-and-publish agreements via JISC (although that still involves a researcher’s institution paying unjustifiable amounts to the publisher).

The fundamental fact is that it just doesn’t cost £2310 to publish a paper online. That APC level is – for one paper – larger than the entire running costs of the Open Journal of Astrophysics for a year.

I did actually laugh out loud when I saw the spin the RAS tried to put on this decision:

The RAS is excited to be a key contributor to the open science movement, helping to drive discoverability and change.

Au contraire. Gold Open Access a serious hindrance to the open science movement, as it involves hugely inflated costs to the authors in attempt to protect revenue in the face of declining subscription income. This means that many potential authors just will not be able to pay. That’s not Open Access. Switching from a ‘fleece-the-libraries’ model to a ‘fleece-the-authors’ alternative can in no way be regarded as a progressive move.

It is true that some institutions will pay the APC on behalf of their authors, but that is hardly the point. If institutions have cash to pay for astronomy publications to be open access then they would do far more good to the research community by giving it to the arXiv rather than to the publishing industry. When authors themselves see how much they have to pay to publish their work, many will realize that it is simply not worth the money. I refuse to pay any APC on principle.

The question for the Royal Astronomical Society, and indeed the other learned societies that fund their activities in a similar way, is whether they can find a sustainable funding model that takes proper account of the digital publishing revolution. If their revenue from publishing does fall, can they replace it? And, if not, in what form can they survive? I’d like to think that future operating models for such organizations would involve serving their respective communities, rather than fleecing them. I’d advocate a institutional subscriptions as a fairer and more transparent alternative to syphoning funds from library budgets or research grants.

Meanwhile, the new regime at MNRAS (and possibly its acceptance on Scopus) have led to steadily increasing activity at the Open Journal of Astrophysics. This morning I announced three more papers. I will post about them on here tomorrow. Diamond Open Access is the way forward. It’s just a question of time before everyone realizes it.

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