Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Supplementary evidence from Nature Publishing Group

  Thank you for your letter of 10 March relating to the Science and Technology Committee's further questions to the Nature Publishing Group (NPG) following the session on 1 March. We have decided to answer the questions in the order you have presented them and include your reference numbers. You will find our responses below.

  I would also like to thank you for giving us the opportunity to make a brief closing statement in addition to our answers to the questions. The statement is enclosed with this letter. This is not designed to be a comprehensive position statement, or an analysis of the Open Access movement and its associated slogans. It does, however, outline what we believe to be the key points, which NPG have tried to highlight in all submissions to date.

1.   You stated that, under a pay-to-publish system, Nature would have to charge authors between £10K and £30k per article. Can you supply a breakdown of the costs that would necessitate this charge? (Q16)

  At the first session of the Science and Technology Committee Inquiry it was indicated that a potential charge of between £10,000 and £30,000 per research article published could be required. The £30,000 figure was arrived at simply by dividing the annual income of Nature (£30 million) by the number of research papers published (1,000). This assumes that author fees would be the only source of revenue (ie. a totally open access model).

  The £10,000 figure is derived from estimates of the costs of selecting, reviewing, editing, designing and producing the research article element of Nature and the amount NPG would need to charge in order to cover these expenses adequately. For this calculation, it has been assumed that the very significant and extensive costs of producing the `front half (news, comments, reviews etc) would continue to be predominantly covered by a combination of subscription and advertising revenues.

  The reason for these high costs is the high investment Nature is obliged to make in the selection process, including de-selecting over 90% of the papers received. At present, Nature receives more than 10,000 papers per annum through its open submission policy. This number continues to increase with the growth in research activity and the facility of online submission.

  An additional factor behind increasing submission rates (and hence costs) is the increasing attractiveness for authors of Nature. The reasons for this increased attractiveness include investment in improving services to authors, the reduction in barriers to submission, and an impact factor (a measure of the number of times Nature's papers are cited by scientists) that is consistently the highest of multidisciplinary journals and which increased significantly last year.

2.   What proportion of the average article cost is taken up with peer review? Can you supply a breakdown of the costs of peer review? (Q18)

  Unlike many other journals where peer review is a distinct and sometimes external process, Nature does not use external academic editors, or have an external editorial board. Internally, it has a large number of highly qualified, experienced, professional editors as well as supporting administration staff who manage the peer review process. However, the actual reviewers used are professional scientists who are carefully selected by Nature's internal editors. The staff cost for this activity represents 43% of the total cost for the creation of peer reviewed content for Nature.

  To ensure that the internal editors are in touch with the latest research trends, the best reviewers, and to encourage scientists to submit their best research to Nature, editors are required to travel to conferences and conduct laboratory visits. The overseas travel costs for this represent 1% of total costs. Additionally, 2% is spent on Editorial I.T. systems, 3% on Layout and Design, 11% on General and Administration, and 6% on Publishing and Management costs.

  All these costs, as described above, collectively represent 66% of the total cost of peer reviewed content creation: the remaining costs being Electronic Production at 3% and direct Print and Distribution costs at 31%.

3.   Can you supply a breakdown of the costs involved in the publication of an article? What is the difference between the cost of producing an article, and the price you charge? (Q26)

  Fixed overheads represent 66%, Electronic Production 3%, and direct Print and Distribution 31%. For more detail see the answer to question 2 above.

  Nature is a journal that brings together different types of content into an integrated editorial package. It is this combination of content that generates a compelling and attractive offering to readers. This integrated magazine approach and the highly selective reader driven approach to content differentiates Nature and makes it successful. It is therefore very difficult to look at one aspect of the journal's content in isolation and even more problematic to view all journals in a similar manner. However, the best estimate is that NPG currently makes a margin of 14% on the cost of producing a peer reviewed article.

4.   Can you supply figures to show by how much on average the subscription price of a journal differs from the price actually paid by libraries as part of a deal? (Q27)

  At NPG, print subscription prices are not negotiated. Most institutional print subscriptions are ordered through subscription agents, and the list rates apply (see NPG Price List 2004, enclosed). Site licences for Nature-branded journals are generally negotiated directly between NPG and the institution, without the involvement of subscription agents. The price charged per title depends, firstly, on the number of full-time employees and, secondly, on discounts. Increasingly large discounts are applied for each additional title taken.

5.   Can you supply figures to show by how many percentage points the list price of the average journal has increased in comparison with the increase in U.K. R&D spend? (Q30)

  In a similar manner to the increases in Government spending on Research and Development (R&D) in the U.K., increases in journal prices vary by year. In 1999, the average journal price increase for Nature journals was 6.6%, while last year it was 7.3%. By comparison, the U.K. Research and Development Science budget increased by 4.5% in 1999 and 18.2% in 2003.

6.   Can you supply data comparing your profit margins now with those of 20 years ago, in 1984? (Q38)

  The profit margin before interest and tax in 1984 was 15% and will be 19% this year. However, NPG's profit margin can vary considerably by year and has fallen to 7% in some years between 1984 and 2002, as a result of market conditions and investment decisions. NPG has been investing in the launch of new journals in scientific disciplines where it believes there is the need for a reasonably priced high quality journal. It has also been investing considerably in digital publishing technologies.

7.   What measures are you taking to promote greater flexibility in journal bundles? (Q46)

  NPG has always encouraged flexibility in journal subscriptions and taken a customer-focused approach. NPG does not sell specific bundles of multiple journals in so called "big deals". For Nature journals, print subscriptions are unconnected to site licences for electronic access (and other NPG journals are now adopting this model). Institutions can buy whichever print subscriptions they choose, and they can purchase a site license for internet access to journals of their choice (and of course the discounts for additional titles apply). As of 2004, NPG does publish one journal, The EMBO Journal, in two parts (including EMBO Reports) on behalf of the European Molecular Biology Organisation, but this isn't a journal bundle in the generally understood sense of the phrase.

8.   What penalties, if any, do you impose on libraries which cancel a subscription to a journal, or bundle of journals, before the end of the agreed period? (Q 46)

  Generally, NPG only sells one-year subscriptions and site licences. NPG does not sell three year `big deals'. It is very rare for an institution to cancel a subscription or site licence part way through a year. With print subscriptions, the library would cancel through their subscription agent. The agent may or may not offer a pro rata refund. NPG does not refund subscription agents, but they are free to switch business from one delivery address to any other delivery address, which allows them to offer refunds and take on new business. If a library wishes to terminate a site licence early, NPG would encourage substitution with another journal of similar value.

9.   What provision do you make for teaching staff to reproduce material you have published as part of undergraduate and postgraduate student packs and courses?

  All NPG authors of original research retain their copyright (they provide NPG with a "licence to publish"). As copyright holders, they, and any academic institution where they work at the time, may reproduce the authors' contribution for the purpose of course teaching. Thereafter, use of copyright materials in the U.K. is subject to copyright law and fair dealing ('fair use' in the US), which provides exceptions for the "non-commercial" reproduction of selected articles for teaching and private study.


  Nature Publishing Group (NPG) has contributed to the House of Common's Science and Technology Committee Inquiry into Scientific Publications, and has both reported on and participated in the broader debate about access to the global scientific literature. NPG feels that the debate has raised important issues, such as access for countries in the developing world, sharing scientific research with the general public, and the role of publishers in adding value and generating profits from the publication process. NPG also notes that, as with any debate, there have been generalisations, simplifications and exaggerations on all sides. In this context, NPG would like to emphasise three key points:

  1.  Not all original research is the same, and journals and publishers differ in approach.

  Publisher approaches vary according to the scope and focus of their journals and the scientific disciplines they publish for as well as the readership they are trying to attract.

  Nature has a complex and diverse range of content types within its own pages. This is one of Natures unique characteristics and one of the reasons it has become an international market leader. Diversity in approach is an important element in scientific publishing.

  For example, some original research is published in Nature as research articles: other original research is published as Letters to Nature, or Brief Communications. All of these are peer-reviewed. Natures internal team of professional editors with their authors and reviewers determine the most appropriate format and style for communicating research findings. Additionally, Natures News items, News and Views articles, and other opinion and commentary articles also communicate research findings.

  2.  NPG adds value to the research it publishes.

  Nature has attained and maintained its position in the market over many years by focusing on quality and the needs of both authors and readers. Nature has always treated all author submissions fairly and with integrity, by investing in world-class editorial staff and building proven systems for peer review and article selection. Nature actively encourages and seeks out submissions worldwide from its network of international offices.

  In order to continue to add value and provide up-to-date efficient services to its authors, NPG invests substantially in editorial I.T. systems, developmental editing, and the commissioning of related editorial material to provide context to the original peer reviewed papers it publishes. This also benefits readers by making articles more accessible.

  NPG provides a press and news services, table of contents (TOC) email alerts and updates. NPG also writes digests and summaries in English and foreign languages, including Japanese and Chinese, to ensure both accessibility and the widest possible dissemination of the original research it publishes.

  3.  NPG's current business models allow it to provide a cost-effective service to the scientific community.

  Unlike many other journals, where peer review is a distinct and sometimes external process, Nature does not use external academic editors, or have an external editorial board. It employs, internally, a large number of highly qualified professional, experienced editors as well as supporting staff. However, the actual reviewers used are professional scientists who have been carefully selected by Nature's internal editors.

  The mix of subscription and advertising revenues has provided stability by spreading the costs of publication across advertisers and Nature's hundreds of thousands of readers, rather than the much smaller number of published authors. This stability has allowed NPG to continue to innovate, in print and online, and remain an attractive environment for its authors, readers and employees.

April 2004

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