A comparison of open access publication charges
27th Mar 2012
Having covered submission fees and other charges, it is about time I covered the main event, isn’t it? I’m talking about open access publication fees, also known as author publishing charges (APCs) and many other names. This is a fee for making your article free for readers to read, and usually for them to download, distribute and do whatever they like with as well.
What do you get for your money?
Before agreeing to pay a fee to make your article open access, make sure you check the licence. True open access (as defined by the Budapest Open Access Initiative) means that it should be equivalent to the Creative Commons Attribution licence (CC:BY), which allows others to copy, distribute and make derivative works, including for commercial purposes, as long as they attribute it to you. Some publishers have a similar licence but with a non-commercial clause (CC:BY-NC) – there is debate about whether the NC clause stops something being open access. Others allow reading for free but restrict other uses, which really can’t be called open access at all. If the rights of readers and re-users are restricted, you are getting less open access for your APC than if there is a CC:BY licence.
Surveys of APCs
To find journal open access charges you usually need to look on the website of the individual journal. However, several organisations have usefully put together summaries of licences and charges. The Wellcome Trust and the UK Medical Research Council (MRC) both have mandates that all research they fund must be made freely available within 6 months of publication, and they both have lists on their websites of journals that do and don’t comply with this mandate. The following lists are available:
- The MRC has a downloadable spreadsheet listing licences and charges of the most popular couple of hundred journals in which their authors publish
- The Wellcome Trust has a list of the top 200 journals used by their authors showing which are compliant with their mandate, but not including charges
- BioMed Central has a page comparing their APCs and licence with those of other publishers
- The University of California, Berkeley library collections have a similar comparison page covering many subject areas
- The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) provides information on charges, but this doesn’t seem to be searchable
- SHERPA/RoMEO has a list of charges by publisher
I have taken the MRC spreadsheet, converted the currencies and calculated some statistics, and the result is in a Google Docs spreadsheet here. Some journals have two different fees depending on whether the author is a member of the society that runs the journal (or has a discount for some other reason). Of the 209 journals that allowed open access publication of some kind (ie gold open access, not just allowing deposition in a repository, which is called green open access), the mean fee was US$2845.08 (£1793.60) for members or US$2881.93 (£1816.21) for non-members. The standard deviation of the fee was $729.17 (£459.71) for members or $687.09 (£438.60) for non-members. The median is $3000 (£1891.33).
Some notes on these figures. Firstly, they are from the MRC document last updated April 2011, with currencies converted using xe.com on 23 March 2012. Secondly, they cover journals in medicine and related fields, particularly biology. Thirdly, they include 8 BioMed Central journals, 10 BMJ journals, 52 Elsevier journals (including 11 Cell Press journals), 14 Nature Publishing Group journals, 17 OUP journals, 4 PLoS journals, 12 Springer journals and 48 Wiley/Wiley-Blackwell journals. The median charge is $3000 because non-Cell-Press Elsevier journals charge this amount and there are lots of Elsevier journals in the list.
The MRC list also includes journals in the Lancet stable (The Lancet, The Lancet Neurology and The Lancet Oncology, published by Elsevier ), which charge £400 ($634.47) per page. I’m not sure how many pages the average research paper is, but at 6 pages this would be £2400 ($3808.46) and at 10 pages it would be £4000 ($6344.70).
These fees may seem very high to some. Don’t forget that many publishers have waivers for those who cannot afford to pay the APC. PLoS offers a waiver for anyone who does not have funds to cover the fee (and I’ve heard informally that they ask no questions). BioMed Central gives an automatic waiver to authors from a WHO list of developing countries, and also considers waivers and discounts on a case by case basis. I haven’t researched all publishers to find out their policy on waivers – perhaps that’s for a future post! If you can’t afford the APC for a journal to which you would like to submit your paper, I suggest explaining this when you submit and asking for a waiver or discount.
Do you know of other sources of information on APCs for different journals or on average APCs? Have you spotted any errors in my spreadsheet?