AGU Has Switched To Publication Units

With the new look for AGU PDFs has come a sweeping change in the way authors are charged for publications.  The cost of publication is no longer dependent on the pages in a printed version of the journal.  That’s right:  the number of PDF pages is no longer a direct factor in determining the cost of publication.

It’s about time, too.  For many years now, the online HTML version of the journal has been the archival version of record.  The only reason to continue charging authors based on the length of the “paper version” was because AGU continued to print and distribute a paper copy of the journal.  The old cost model when printed issues were the norm was for the author and the subscriber to split the cost of printing the hardcopy edition.  With the shift to electronic publishing and the massive decrease in print subscriptions, the cost model was getting out balance.  It was time to drop the hardcopy version of the journal and I support AGU’s decision to do so.  It took another year, but AGU has finally finished the conversion of the cost model, as well.  Charges to authors are now no longer based on printed pages.

Instead, publication costs will now be based on the number of “publication units” of the paper.  The full publication fee description is here:

The short story is this:  JGR-Space Physics articles will now cost $1000 for papers that are 25 publication units or less in length.  Each pub unit over 25 will cost an additional $125.  Open Access will cost $3500, allowing anyone (with or without a subscription) to view and download the paper.  The issue of open access publication will be the topic of later posts.

The question that I know you are asking is this:  what is a Publication Unit?  Each pub unit is equal to either 500 words, one figure, or one table.  By “words,” AGU is only counting the abstract, main article, and captions, not the title, authors, affiliations, or references.  The new “length limit” for JGR-Space of 25 pub units (before extra fees kick in) is roughly equal to the old limit of 10 double-column pages.  I am not sure what it works out in the new single-column format for the journal, but it really doesn’t matter.

In addition, you can calculate the pub units yourself, meaning that authors will now know exactly what the eventual publication cost will be at the time of submission (even before!).  This is a huge improvement over the old system, when authors were sometimes surprised by an excess page fee during the production phase.  That will no longer be the case; you will know in advance if your paper is over the limit.  I think that this is a beautiful development.

As a parting tidbit, we should all acknowledge the obvious joke:  AGU has downgraded a picture from being worth a thousand words to being worth only five hundred.

14 thoughts on “AGU Has Switched To Publication Units

  1. How are PU’s calculated though – on the uploaded version or the type-set version? Is there still a PU calculator available that we can upload a PDF to for checking? That’d be very useful if so.

    But… the old calculator of a few years ago was awful – I once shrunk a paper to be submitted by 3 PU (according to said calculator) simply be removing tab indents for paragraphs and using margins instead, removing blank lines between paragraphs, replaced all double spaces with a single space, saving the PDF from Open Office rather than Word (turns out there were many hidden characters the calculator was including) and other such tricks that had no bearing on the actual words in the paper – which I did not change at all. Yet shrunk 3 PU.

  2. I agree that the old calculator a few years ago was not very good and could be dramatically off, because in the end it was PDF pages that mattered, not “publication units.” That site has been pulled from operation and a new one is not online (yet, ever, I don’t know).
    The exact formula:
    — A figure is equal to 1 PU
    — A table is equal to 1 PU
    — 500 words in the abstract, main text, and figure captions is equal to 1 PU
    — Words in the author list, affiliations, and references do not factor into the PU calculation (AGU does not want to penalize authors for long author lists, long affiliation names, or extensive referencing of other work)

    As for calculating PUs for a manuscript, the “Word Count” feature in MS Word should work just fine.

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  4. What about equations within the main text ? Do they count for 1 word (that would be nice) or 1 PU (that would be painful) ?

    • I can definitely say that they are not treated as a figure and equal to 1 PU. I am not sure, however, about their exact conversion to word count. That’s a good thing to check on…I’ll let you know what I find out.

    • The official word from AGU HQ: equations are freebies! Like the title, author list and affiliations, and reference list, equations are not included in the word count toward Publication Units.

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  9. I realize that the last reply on this page dates of a few years back, but I was wondering about the inline citations? Do they count in the word count?

    • Yes, inline citations count in the word tally. So, “Smith et al. (2018)” is 4 words. The Reference list does not, so the bibliography entry for Smith et al can be as long as it needs to be without penalty towards the word count.

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