FAQs: Article processing charges (APCs) in Open Access publishing
Academic publishing costs money. Under traditional, subscription-based models, subscriptions and advertising provide revenue. Historically, such a financial model has been able to reap substantial profits for publishers and professional societies that owned journals. However, dissemination of knowledge remains controlled by, and thus largely confined to, a privileged few. It is structurally tuned to promote and perpetuate a non-diverse, unequitable and exclusive knowledge set.
Open Access (OA) publishing, on the other hand, disseminates research through the internet for free. Anyone, anywhere, with an internet connection, can access the material without being hampered by cost or other limitations. It is structurally engineered to promote and perpetuate an ever-more diverse audience, promote intellectual equity and be globally inclusive.
Nevertheless, the question of needing to manage publication costs remains. This article explores and clarifies article processing charges (APCs) in OA publishing and offers ideas on how to make APCs even more financially and structurally equitable to researchers worldwide – all in the form of frequently asked questions (FAQs).
Q. Why are there APCs in OA publishing – and what do they cover?
A. The intent of APCs is not to make the journal a profit. Costs are involved in every stage of the publication process, from peer review to copy editing, layout, typesetting and hosting of the final article on dedicated servers. APCs help pay salaries for editorial office and publisher staff.
Q. Isn’t the OA model essentially pay-for-publication?
A. Because the OA financial model is so different from the subscription model, many individuals and groups raised this concern in the early days of OA publishing. Change takes time to digest and accept. After a number of OA journals demonstrated success in terms of peer-review rigour, sustained high impact factor scores and editorial and financial integrity, the pay-to-publish perception has changed.
Q. How can economically underprivileged authors pay APCs?
A. Nature has an APC of €9,500 ($11,132) for each OA article it publishes! Other top-tier general and specialty journals typically charge less, often with a range of fees depending on the type and length of articles. Nevertheless, even ‘modest’ APCs of €2,000-€3000 per article represent an entire year’s salary for authors in many developing world countries, putting OA publication out of reach for millions of researchers.
Q. So, doesn’t the charging of APCs effectively benefit economically privileged authors from wealthy nations and institutions? How can this system be made more equitable and affordable?
A. Many journals offer discounted APCs to authors from emerging countries; sometimes those fees are waived entirely, often using the HINARI Access to Research for Health Programme (HINARI) list of countries. HINARI is developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and its partners to improve access to scientific information for health sector institutions in low- and middle-income countries. This programme provides high quality, timely and relevant biomedical and social science journals for free or at nominal prices.
Q. What are alternative routes of paying APCs, other than individual authors?
A. There are multiple alternative sources of funding for APCs, with more emerging on the horizon. Below are such sources which make the payment of APCs more equitable and open to a diverse, broad authorship pool:
- Academic departments budgeting for APCs: With increasing frequency, academic departments now make provision for APCs in their annual budgets. Departmentally paid APCs incentivises faculty to conduct and publish research in OA journals.
- Public grant-making and funding agencies: A great deal of research is sponsored by publicly funded sources and agencies. Agencies such as the Wellcome Trust and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) were among the first to insist upon OA publishing of results from publicly funded research. Hand in glove was their inclusion of APCs to publish those results. Hundreds of other funding agencies have followed suit.
- Library consortia: As more OA academic content is published, libraries have begun to shift budgets away from print subscriptions to sponsor online, OA offerings. Major university and health care centre library systems, along with major publishing houses, may be a source for sponsorship of APCs.
- Industry sponsorship: A great deal of scientific research is underwritten by industry sponsors. Because they want the results of their research published, industry sponsorship arrangements often make provision for APCs and publication of results in OA journals. Although such patronage may seem (and often has been) self-serving, conflicts of interest declarations, transparency and financial disclosures can help minimise bias and create ethically sound arrangements.
OA publishing promises — and delivers — the democratisation of academic publishing. There are multiple ways built into OA publishing that broaden the financial base and reduce the financial burden for authors. Ongoing development of avenues to pay for APCs will only continue to promote the diversity, equity and inclusion of authors regardless of nationality, discipline or ability to pay.
Read previous (second) in series: Current trends in the world of open access scientific and academic publishing
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