Paying for publication

For many researchers the first tangible interaction they have with open access is an acceptance email for an article they have written where the publisher states the author can ‘comply with funder mandates’ by taking up the option of paying an open access article processing charge to make their article open access. Given the variation in costs for this option, often in the several thousands of dollars, this can often result in a concerned telephone call from the researcher to the library or research office.

These pages aim to demystify some of the aspects of payment for publication, beginning with publication costs and a description of the hybrid model. Click through to find more about the cost of hybridaddressing double dipping, a discussion about whether open access funds support open access, and a look at what hybrid actually pays for. There is also an analysis of the membership model for open access publishing with a discussion of the attendant issues relating to managing article processing charges.

First, a note about what is actually required of researchers in Australia. The NHMRC and ARC open access funding policies are agnostic about the means by which research is made open

Some rights reserved by

Some rights reserved by

access. They support the deposit of the Accepted Manuscript of the work in an open access repository (all Australian universities and many other institutions have an open access repository). There is a list here of which journals and publishers permit this, and in most institutions the library is able to assist authors with questions.

Publishing in an open access journal (which may or may not charge an article processing fee) and publishing in a subscription journal which offers hybrid open access (for a fee) are also supported under the ARC & NHMRC mandates. Both the ARC and the NHMRC do allow some of their grant allocation to be directed to publication costs. Because project budgets and dissemination pressures vary funded researchers must decide which open access option is most appropriate for their circumstances.

Hybrid open access charges

So what exactly are publishers offering in these acceptance emails? Publishing an article open access by paying an article processing charge to publish in an otherwise subscription-based journal is referred to as ‘hybrid’ open access. Hybrid options first appeared in 2004 with the launch of Springer Open Choice and Wiley Online Open.

In 2005 Oxford Open was launched, followed in 2006 by Elsevier Open Access , Sage Choice  and Taylor & Francis Open SelectCambridge Open and Nature Publishing Group (NPG) Open both began in 2007. Even the youngest programs have existed for seven years, with early programs celebrating their first decade this year.

Despite the apparent maturity in the business model, it has yet to enjoy a large uptake. A 2013 comparison of these eight hybrid programs called Mining for gold (the presentation is available on YouTube here) lists the number of articles that have been published under these schemes as a percentage of the total publications over a given period. These range from 1 – 1.2% (Cambridge, Springer & Wiley Blackwell) to 10% (Nature, Sage and Oxford in the Life Sciences).

Indeed, according to their site, in 2013, Elsevier published 2,000 articles in “journals that publish both subscription articles and open access articles”. This represents only 0.6% of the over 330,000 new articles published that year. [Note correction to percentage 26 Feb 2014 -thanks to Leon Orsinski].

It appears longevity in the hybrid market does not translate to uptake.

However, the UK open access mandates appear to be having an impact on these figures. Wiley reported in October 2013 that “in the first quarter of this financial year, the number of open access articles published by Wiley was more than 4 times that at the same point last year”. While this statement does not identify whether this increase was in their hybrid journals or fully open access journals, a comment in July 2013 was that “Submissions to Wiley’s hybrid journals (Online Open) have tripled in the last year, and from informal conversations with colleagues at other publishing companies, they are seeing a similar pattern”.

Different publication charges

Some researchers object to the idea of paying for publication. This might be because it is seen as ‘vanity publishing’ – something which is frowned upon in scholarly communication. In other cases it is possibly because this is not something they have encountered to date. Payment for publication has existed in some disciplines for many years in the form of colour charges and page charges. These are still being charged in certain disciplines, for subscription based journals. This 2012 blog delved into this issue at a specific journal level.

Submission charges, where authors are required to pay a fee to cover the cost of peer review, is a relatively recent development. A 2010 study by Mark Ware Consulting looked into this and found that paying for the peer review process occurs in some open access and some subscription based journals. The fees that are charged in this situation are generally non-refundable and seem to range from $50 to $400 but hover about the $75 mark.

The rationale for charging to peer review is that it is a service provided to authors who want to be published. Authors are using a service when their article is reviewed (even if it is rejected). It seems fair that those who benefit from this service (authors, their institution or funder) should pay a portion of the costs. If an article is accepted for publication, additional services are used so additional article processing charges will apply.

Another study called “Open Access Publishing: What Authors Want” identified article processing charges as a barrier to open access publishing, but found researchers in disciplines which had a history of page charges were more accepting of the idea.

Not all open access journals charge an article processing fee. A 2011 study showed that, in 2010, fewer than 27% of all journals listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) charged article processing fees. This figure has not changed much in the past three years, as evidenced by this (toll access) 2013 study of over 9,000 journals in the DOAJ, concluding that only 28% charged an article processing charge.

Often this lack of cost to the author reflects the fact that a large number of open access journals are, once again, being published by universities with costs absorbed by the host institutions as a contribution to the global corpus of open access scholarly literature. Many Australian universities publish open access journals.

Where such subsidies are not available, or the journal is published by a commercial publisher, it is quite reasonable to expect authors to pay for the service; especially if the charge is not unreasonably high and the publisher is making the entire content of the journal open access.

Published 20 February 2014
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed by AOASG under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

4 thoughts on “Paying for publication

  1. I enjoyed reading this clear blog post. The given information is very helpful.

    I came across this miscalculation (a typo I suppose):
    “Indeed, according to their site, in 2013, Elsevier published 2,000 articles in ”journals that publish both subscription articles and open access articles”. This represents only 6% of the over 330,000 new articles published that year.”
    This must of course be 0,6 %.

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