In order to select a suitable open access journal in which to publish, it can be helpful to understand what it is that you are paying for with your author fees. In this context, we find it useful to think about the economics of scholarly publishing.
Academic journals require one or more revenue streams to cover their costs and turn a profit. There are three basic sources of revenue to which a publisher can turn: (1) author fees and page charges, (2) sponsor support, and (3) subscription charges. Publishers regularly employ each of these sources, sometimes in combination[*]. For example, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (PNAS), charges authors by the page and charges subscription fees to university libraries. The PLoS family of journals charge author fees, and receive grant funding from agencies including the Sloan foundation and the MacArthur foundation.
Open access has increased in popularity over the past decade but at present the majority of scholarly journals still require paid subscriptions for access to their content. In particular, most journals produced by for-profit publishers derive all of their revenue from subscription charges. As a result, authors in just about any field of scholarship will have numerous venues in which they can publish for free.
Yet for decades authors have been willing to pay page charges to society-published journals and, more recently, author fees for open access. Some authors do so because of a desire to support their scholarly societies or from a commitment to the principles of open access publishing. Beyond these ideological motivations, there are additional important incentives. To keep matters simple, here we will focus on two: prestige and readership.
Of course prestige and readership are not independent of one another. Journals become prestigious in part because they are highly read, and prestigious journals are highly read in part because their prestige allows them to attract the top papers in a field.
When you pay open access author fees, not only are you paying to make your work freely available to anyone in the world--you are also paying for the prestige and the readership that you will gain by publishing in a particular journal. When choosing among alternative venues, you would like to get as much possible for your money. Our aim with the Eigenfactor Index of Open Access Fees is to help you do just that.
In order to quantify what you get for your author fees, we note that both prestige and readership translate into scholarly citations. In particular, we expect that authors will be interested in the relative number of citations that their work is likely to receive in a given journal. We measure this quantity as the Article Influence score of the journal. Of course, authors with larger research budgets may be willing to pay more to attract additional citations, but with all else equal, we imagine that authors would prefer venues with higher Article Influence scores and lower costs over venues with lower Article Influence scores and higher costs.
To show how different open access venues stack up, we quantify cost-effectiveness of open access journals by the metric (1000 * Article Influence / author fees). The Eigenfactor Index of Open Access Fees provides this information for the major open access journals, and within each research area we list open access publications ordered from the most to the least cost effective with respect to author fees.
At present we are able to compute Article Influence scores only for those journals listed in Thomson-Reuters' Journal Citation Reports (JCR). While this list includes over 10,000 total publications and 190 open access publications, some newer open access journals and many lesser-known ones are not included in this list. We have tried to provide partial information for these journals where possible, though potential authors may wish to think carefully about the prestige and readership to be gained from publishing in journals not included in the JCR.