Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

Finances of the Publishers of the Most Highly Cited US Medical Journals* (EC)

Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

Finances of the Publishers of the Most Highly Cited US Medical Journals* (EC)

Article excerpt


The open access model, defined here as free access to scholarly publishing, has emerged alongside the traditional, subscription-based model for publishing medical journals [1-3]. The open access model was developed largely in response to rapidly rising subscription prices [4, 5], which raised concerns about access to scientific research, especially that funded by public entities [2]. In 2003, Public Library of Science (PLoS) launched a nonprofit scientific and publishing venture producing open access journals with no charge for access and, other than appropriate citation, no restrictions on use [6]. Funders of biomedical research, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), also pushed for open access to research they support. In 2007, the NIH public access policy was signed into law, requiring that all investigators funded by NIH have an electronic version of their final manuscripts publicly available within twelve months of publication [2].

Despite the emergence of open access, knowledge of the finances of medical journal publishers is limited [4]. Published reports have surveyed open access journals, described their business models, and reported their finances [1, 7] but have been limited by their scope or have been disproportionately weighted away from for-profit publishers [I]. This study therefore sought to increase understanding of the finances of the publishers of the most highly cited US general and internal medicine journals by examining the tax status, revenue, expenses, and operating margins in order to inform public debate and policy.


Journals selected for evaluation

Twenty of the most highly cited US medicine, general and internal, journals and their publishers were identified using data from Thomson Reuters ISI Journal Citation Reports for 2008 [8].

Organization and tax status of the publishers

A financial database [9]; journal and publisher websites [10-13]; and publicly accessible Form 990 database, which contained annual information for tax exempt organizations [14], were used to determine publishers' profit or nonprofit tax status. The financial analysis was restricted to organizations with a journal ranked in the top ten in 2008.

Financial evaluation of nonprofit publishers

For nonprofit publishers, Internal Revenue Service Form 990 was used to determine financial data directly related to publishing. Each year was defined as the year in which the publisher's fiscal year ended. Revenue was calculated using either the "Analysis of Income-Producing Activities" or "Statement of Revenue" sections of the form, if the organization itemized publishing-related revenues. "Publishing," "advertising," "printing," "reprint activities," "subscriptions," and "publications" revenues were considered to be publishing related. If the organization itemized their publishing-related expenses in the "Statement of Functional Expenses," those figures were used to determine expenses. "Printing and publications," "publishing," "publication production and distribution," and "editorial services" were considered pubhshing-related expenses. Total publishing revenue was the sum of publishing-related revenues, and total publishing expenses were the sum of the publishing-related expenses. Operating income was calculated by subtracting total publishing-related expenses from total publishing-related revenue. If the publisher did not specifically itemize publishingrelated revenues and publishing-related expenses for each year of the analysis (PLoS and Annual Reviews), total revenue and expenses of the whole organization from part I of the form were used.

Operating margin was defined as operating income (pre-tax profits) divided by total revenue. To determine the operating margin of all nonprofit publishers, the ratio of expenses to revenue was calculated and subtracted from one. For example, if a publisher in a given year had revenue of $100 and expenses of $80, the operating margin (l-($80/$100)=0. …

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