Article processing charges reduced to $99 on SAGE Open humanities and social sciences “mega journal”

SAGE OpenBack in May of last year I posted about SAGE Publication’s open access multidisciplinary humanities and social sciences “mega journal” called SAGE Open (eISSN 2158-2440). The journal, launched in May 2011, is operated using a producer-side revenue model, where authors (or their sponsors) are charged an article processing fee (APC) once a submitted manuscript has been accepted for publication. The format for SAGE Open is similar to PLOS ONE, the multidisciplinary open access science “mega journal” published by the non-profit open access publisher Public Library of Science (PLOS).

I just learned (thanks to Richard Poynder for the tip) that SAGE has reduced the APC levied for published articles in SAGE Open to $99. (Here is a link to the SAGE press release.) This charge is reduced dramatically from the standard fee of $695, and down significantly from the “introductory rate” of $395 that was previously in force. I confirmed the price change on the Manuscript Submission page of the journal site.

According to the press release, this decision follows from the results of a survey conducted by SAGE indicating that

more than 70% of accepted authors had personally paid the article processing charge (APC) to enable their research to be published in SAGE Open. Author declarations further show that less than 15% of all articles published across SAGE’s Humanities and Social Sciences portfolio in 2012 had allocated funding.

In a post on the SAGE Connection blog, Bob Howard, Vice President, US Journals at SAGE is asked about the impact this announcement will have on the type of research published in SAGE Open.

SAGE is committed to the publication of high quality, peer reviewed research, and this will not be compromised by a change in price. All SAGE Open articles will receive the same high quality peer review, copy editing, typesetting and electronic delivery that have been present since the journal launched in 2011, maintaining the quality you would expect of SAGE as a leading independent publisher for the social sciences.

Howard recognizes that demand for open access is increasing, and SAGE apparently views it as an astute investment move to be a player in this publishing space. His expectation, however, is still heavily weighted on subscription journals.

We view this change as an investment in the future of OA publishing in the social sciences, and we will continue to adapt to our evolving landscape in order to better support HSS scholars. …

While we expect much of social science research to continue to be published in traditional subscription journals, and that remains SAGE’s core business, open access publishing and the demand for it is increasing.

According to the news release, “SAGE Open has received more than 1400 manuscripts, and more than 160 articles published” since it was launched in 2011. That works out to roughly an 11% acceptance rate, and roughly $64,000 in revenue since launch (assuming all accepted articles were charged the $395 introductory rate). Neither the press release nor the blog post gave any indication if SAGE Open is or was designed to be financially self-supporting. It is at least provocative to consider the implications of Howard’s “no compromise” claim in the face of an 86% per article decrease in revenue (assuming the standard rate of $695). How much does it really cost SAGE to publish an open access journal article on its platform? A volume proposition might make it sustainable. Clearly, the aggressive pricing is designed to make this venue more attractive to scholars.

It appears the space for open access journal publishing for humanities and social science scholars is (at last!) starting to heat up, especially in view of Dr. Martin Paul Eve’s recent proposal that interested parties get together to launch a non-profit PLOS-style mega journal for the humanities and social sciences.

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Posted in Commercial Publishing, Economics & Business Models, Interviews (Publishers), Open Access, Peer Review, Publishing Platforms
3 comments on “Article processing charges reduced to $99 on SAGE Open humanities and social sciences “mega journal”
  1. Interesting – thanks for including some of the numbers, Gary. Let’s think a little bit about the work involved and how this might relate to costs. 1,400 article submissions over the course of a year, assuming 200 business days per year, amounts to 7 article submissions per day. 160 published articles means .8 articles completed per day.

    How long would it take a managing editor to process 7 article submissions per day? Some would be immediately rejected as out of scope or so clearly of poor quality that they aren’t worth sending out for peer review. With an automated submissions process, there is some work involved up to the decision point, then often the rejection can be completed with an automated e-mail reply.

    Less than one published article per day, even with a high rejection rate, should not be a huge task for a PLoS ONE-like publish-if-it’s-good-research and DIY copyediting approach.

    At $395 / article = $64,000 / year, this should be a fair amount of money for staffing and overhead – it’s not even clear to me that this kind of volume would be a full-time position.

    If Sage OPEN were to increase its acceptance rate – perhaps by adding staff capable of dealing with a wider range of subjects, disciplines, languages – then it could benefit from cost efficiencies. If the acceptance rate were 1,000, at $99 / article, that’s just under $100,000 per year. Publishing 5 articles per day, when the publisher’s staff is not actually doing any of the editing, peer review, copyediting, etc., seems quite doable. Hire a Managing Editor with some academic background (perhaps a Master’s Degree?) at $50,000 per year, a junior assistant at $20,000 per year to deal with invoicing, factor in 25% overhead = total costs of $87,500, for a profit of $12,500 or an operating profit margin at 12.%.

    I’m not saying what this costs, but it does look like the idea of attractive profits at $99 processing costs per article is something we should be having a close look at.

    As a final note – I find this interesting because of the PRICE, however because Sage OPEN uses CC-BY which I consider to be frequently inadvisable in the social sciences and humanities due to concerns about research ethics, third party rights, and reasonable concerns about accuracy and author reputation when derivatives are allowed, I would NOT advise anyone to publish in Sage OPEN. If they open their minds about licensing alternatives I’d be much more interested.

    • Gary F. Daught says:

      Thanks for your comments Heather. My revenue estimate was for the entire period from the launch of SAGE Open in May 2011. So we’re dealing with about 18 months here, not 12, for that $64,000. That cuts into your margin estimate by quite a bit. Still, you have provided a scenario for showing how the $99/article APC is doable. In any event, I’m sure they have this costed-out on a razor’s edge, and they are also leveraging all the efficiencies their experience and network infrastructure can provide.

      I don’t have any information concerning the composition of the SAGE Open management/staff team. However, I spoke with a publisher at SAGE last year who indicated that they had a dedicated group working on this project. In other words, they aren’t drawing editors or managers from other journal departments. This page lists subject editors and advisory editorial board currently in place.

      I don’t doubt that SAGE intends to make a legitimate go of this. SAGE Open could be a great venue for promoting open access in HSS. It certainly doesn’t hurt these days to be seen as supportive of open access “as an option.” Still, it is hard to resist the impression that SAGE sees this as something of a “downmarket” economy product geared to a less demanding author-customer. Maybe they’re hoping for some cross-over traffic–a loss-leader to get scholars affiliated with the SAGE brand. I am not at all suggesting that the scholarship submitted for publication in SAGE Open will be of a lesser quality. I am referring rather to all the traditional trappings of journal product packaging and association that purport to convey prestige. The expectations of their more discerning/more demanding customers will still largely be focused upmarket where the high prestige, top-tiered journals can fetch higher prices (from subscribers). Although SAGE concedes growth in OA, they are banking confidently on a continued future with subscriptions. VP Bob Howard said as much in the blog interview I referenced above.

      • 6 staff dedicated to Sage OPEN does suggest a loss leader but not necessarily in the sense of planning to increase costs later on – rather having sufficient staff to get the new journal to the point where revenue covers costs. Once you get there, there are the economies of scale I talk about. In the commercial sector, it is considered normal for a new subscriptions journal to take 7 years to get to the point where it actually makes money.

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