The expensive route to open access in Nature journals

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The eLife editorial on preprints that I referenced yesterday (“Moving toward preprint reviews at eLife”) is only one of the big changes in science publishing over the last month or two. Nature last month announced that they will begin charging €9,500 to authors to make papers open access “Nature journals reveal terms of landmark open-access option”. Additionally, several Nature-affiliated journals will begin a trial of charging authors €2,190 for peer review, whether the paper is rejected or accepted. Science publishing has been shifting costs to authors for a long time.

It looks like we face two models with different futures for science publishing. In the eLife model, authors post their work to preprint servers where it remains open-access to readers. Peer review of these preprints may commence immediately. Publishers, including traditional journals but possibly other more innovative models, select papers that fit their own editorial mission. The publishers facilitate peer review, which may be closed or open.

In the Nature model, traditional journals handle peer review for a fee and publish accepted papers for a fee. Some journals may pass on the editorial and publication costs to subscribers, but this avenue of funding will become less viable as open access mandates from institutions and funders take force.

What will happen to biological anthropology publishing in these futures? Few anthropologists have the kind of funding that would enable paying $11,000 or more to publish in Nature very often. Of course, few anthropologists have the kind of funding that enables paying $2500 to publish in eLife very often.

I think we will be looking at a resurgence of edited volume publishing in anthropology. It would be very easy for universities to establish low-cost imprints that enable individual researchers to curate and publish collections.