What at first seemed to be an odd April Fool’s joke turned out to be real–the Journal of Visual Explanations (JOVE) has gone from an open access publishing model to a closed access subscription model. No official statement was made, but on Noah Gray’s blog, JOVE’s Moishe Pritsker made the following statement:

“We (JoVE) are changing our model, and from now will provide our content under subscription. Until now it was all for free.

The reason is simple: we have to survive. To cover costs of our operations, to break even, we have to charge $6,000 per video article. This is to cover costs of the video-production and technological infrastructure for video-publication, which are higher than in traditional text-only publishing. Academic labs cannot pay $6,000 per article, and therefore we have to find other sources to cover the costs.

As much as I would like to continue to provide our content for free, JoVE has to survive. I believe the world would be a better place having a video-publication under subscription than not having a video-publication at all.”

More details can be found on this Friendfeed thread:

“…we are indeed closing access. Not an April Fool’s joke. We’ve been trying to get universities to subscribe to us, but nobody seems to be taking us seriously and, given our situation, being free is just not sustainable.”

I can’t say I’m terribly surprised. JOVE set themselves a monumental task, trying to break ground with a new type of science publishing AND at the same time trying to do so with an unproven business model. Doing both together was perhaps a bit too ambitious. I can think of several reasons why open access wasn’t going to cut it for them:
1) their insistence on high production values–the only journals I know that are sustainable/profitable using an author-pays open access model are those that emphasize high quantities of publication and minimal editorial oversight and support. By striving for high production values, JOVE added significant editorial overhead and costs.
2) A large number of JOVE’s publications are demonstrations of techniques. As the editor of a methods journal, I’m painfully aware of the “second-class citizen” attitude most scientists take toward writing up methods. Obviously data papers are the bread and butter of the working scientist–that’s where they’re going to advance their careers. Methods papers are a nice addendum, but they are not a priority. It’s hard to get scientists to write up methods, and much of my time is spent trying to commission articles. At CSH Protocols, we go so far as to pay our authors a royalty as an incentive for writing up methods for publication with us. I find it hard to believe that there will be very many willing to not only spend the time to put together a video of a method, but willing to pay JOVE’s costs to do so.

And so the economic realities seem to have hit home. I wish the best to JOVE, the folks I’ve met from the journal are all smart, nice people and their experiment is an intriguing one. I worry though, that so much of their support and hype came from the small but very vocal group of open access proponents so prevalent online. This shift in business models may not be taken very well by that community.