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.

Your experience

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?


13 Comments on “A comparison of open access publication charges

I just read an interesting article, “Pricing principles used by scholarly open access publishers,” that relates to what you write here.


Pricing principles used by scholarly open access publishers
Authors: Björk, Bo-Christer; Solomon, David
Learned Publishing, Volume 25, Number 2, April 2012 , pp. 132-137(6)

–Jeffrey Beall

sharmanedit says:

Thanks for pointing this out, Jeffrey. The link doesn’t actually work for me, but it looks like you are referring to this article: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/alpsp/lp/2012/00000025/00000002/art00007. Unfortunately it isn’t open access (perhaps ironically), so I can only read the abstract (though I might well contact the authors for a copy). Could you give a brief summary, eg the average charges they quote?

dsolomonmsuedu says:

You can get the green version here:


sharmanedit says:

Thanks David, that’s really helpful. I note that of your sample of journal publishers, half of the larger publishers (18 publishers each publishing at least 10 journals) had waivers. The article doesn’t give details about which publishers are in which category, though, so I can’t look specifically at the biomedical journals as I would like to. Have you considered making your dataset for this and your other papers available?

sharmanedit says:

Via Twitter, Iain Cox (‏@iaincox_451) has alerted me to an unpublished article by the same two authors: http://www.openaccesspublishing.org/apc2/ (A Study of Open Access Journals Using Article Processing Charges, preprint available from the same URL). They find an average of $906, which I think is lower than my average because I have focused on biomedical journals (which they say have the highest charges) and on journals that are popular with authors funded by the MRC.

I have an APC & licence list of full & ‘hybrid’ OA publishers here: https://sites.google.com/site/rossmounce/misc/a-survey-of-open-access-publisher-licenses

The focus for this was more to determine and distinguish between BOAI / BBB-compliant OA publishers (good), and #fauxA publishers (bad, misusing the OA label) but I think the data collected would be just as useful to you (if not split up to the individual journal level).

sharmanedit says:

That’s really useful, Ross. Thanks.I was intending to try compiling something along these lines myself, but now I don’t have to! This is the place to go for anyone wanting to check the licence for their journal (as long as they know the publisher).
For reference, the biomedical publishers offering CC:BY licenses according to this spreadsheet are BioMed Central, International Union of Crystallography, Molecular Diversity Preservation International, OMICS publishing group, Pensoft Publishers, PLoS, Royal Society, Society for General Microbiology and Springer.

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Mike Taylor says:

I would be very interested to see how the numbers change when you exclude hybrid journals from your sample, and include only wholly Gold-OA journals. My sense (not backed up by any analysis) is that you’d get a much lower average, perhaps indicating that many hybrid journals don’t actually want to do OA but feel obliged to make some kind of offering.

[…] journals with respect to their speed (of review and publication), impact metrics and charges (for open access and other things), so I will be doing updated surveys on these and other features of journals […]

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