Supplementary evidence from Nature Publishing
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
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?
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
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?
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
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.