Informed consent in the context of open licensing: some questions for discussion

The purpose of this post is to encourage sharing of knowledge and ideas on the topic of modifying informed consent when working with human subjects to accommodate open licensing. Questions can be found at the end of the post.

Researchers who work with human subjects, as is common in disciplines such as health sciences, education, and social sciences, are expected to obtain informed consent from subjects prior to starting research for ethical and legal reasons.

To obtain informed consent, researchers must explain what will happen with the subject’s information and material (if applicable) and the potential consequences for the subject (beneficial and potential harm).

Consent in the context of traditional publishing meant consent to publish in one specific venue, typically under All Rights Reserved copyright. Policies and procedures for informed consent developed in this context will need to be modified in order for authors to publish using open licenses that actively invite re-use (and sometimes modification) through human and machine-readable licenses, in some cases for commercial use.

To illustrate the difference: an educational researcher might wish to obtain and use a photo of schoolchildren in a publication. In the traditional context, this permission involved publication in one venue (one journal or one book), with re-publication requiring permission from the copyright owner (publisher and/or author). Until recently, such material, while not forbidden to the general public, would usually only be found in an academic library. This is still the case with journals and books that are not yet open access. Open access per se expands access to anyone with an internet connection, but free access on the Internet is automatically covered by copyright in all countries that are signatories to the Berne Convention. Open licensing goes beyond expanding access to inviting re-use. In the case of Creative Commons licensing, the invitation is extended via a human readable form that is designed to facilitate easy understanding of permitted uses, a machine readable form that can be used by searchers to facilitate limiting searches to content by desired use, and a legal license that most people are not likely to read.

For example, publication under a CC-BY license would include traditional uses, and other beneficial uses such as re-use by another researcher building on the work of the original. CC-BY would also invite uses that could be harmful to the subjects, such as targeted commercial social media advertising or use of a modified photo in a video game (schoolkid becomes loser kid, perhaps target practice).

This does not mean that such uses would necessarily be legal, rather that open licensing is an invitation that makes such uses more likely to occur. The harmful uses described above are likely a violation of moral rights under copyright, privacy and/or publicity rights. There are potential legal remedies, but these can only be pursued after the harm is done and discovered by a subject with the means and incentive to pursue legal remedies.

The Chang v. Virgin Mobile case is an illustration of what can happen with sensitive material and lack of understanding of the implications of licensing. In brief, a photographer took a photo of a minor girl (family friend) and posted it to Flickr under a CC-BY license. Virgin Mobile interpreted the license as an invitation to use the girl’s photo in an ad campaign. The girl’s family sued Creative Commons (dropped this one) and Virgin Mobile. The case was eventually dropped for jurisdictional reasons (girl in Texas, company in Australia). Lawrence Lessig wrote about the case, arguing that Virgin’s interpretation of copyright was correct, but that the girl still has privacy rights as minor. A bit more on this here:

The Committee on Publication Ethics has published guidance for journals with respect to one type of particularly sensitive material, medical case reports. Excerpt of their General Principles on this topic:

  • Publication consent forms should be required for any case report in which an individual or a group of individuals can be identified. This requirement also applies when a report involves deceased persons. Examples of identifying information are descriptions of individual case histories, photos, x-rays, or genetic pedigrees. A list of 23 potential identifiers has been published in BioMed Central’s Trials.
  • Journals should not themselves collect the signed consent forms, because the receipt and storage of confidential patient information could subject them to cumbersome security requirements and potential legal liability under applicable privacy or patient information laws, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 in the USA.


These principles are designed to protect journals and their publishers, and only speak to one particular type of sensitive material. For me, this raises some questions. If anyone on the list has answers or ideas, I would love to hear them, on or off-list or as blog comments. If you reply off-list or on the blog and would prefer to be anonymous, please let me know. If warranted, I will summarize responses.


  1. COPE’s guidance is for the education and protection of journals. Is anyone aware of efforts for the education and protection of authors and their institutions on the topic of informed consent for open licensing?
  2. Do other publishers or organizations serving publishers have policies, guidance, sample forms, etc. to deal with informed consent and open licensing?
  3. Have any research ethics boards (or similar bodies) revised their guidance to accommodate informed consent and publication under open licenses?
  4. Is anyone aware of cases or analysis of potential implications of licensing for re-use for other types of material involving human subjects besides case reports?
  5. Do you have any other ideas or insights on this or closely related topics that I haven’t asked about?

Cite as:

Morrison, H. (2019). Informed consent in the context of open licensing: Some questions for discussion. Sustaining the Knowledge Commons / Soutenir Les Savoirs Communs. Retrieved from



Publisher: N/A, or the complexity of understanding “the publisher” (method notes)

This is a note on method arising from work on the OA APC longitudinal trends study that may be of broader interest to those studying scholarly communication and open access as it is important to understand the role of “the publisher”. A story approach seems the best means to explain. One publisher name in DOAJ is N/A. This is not an error; the publisher of the Journal of Peer Production is N/A, that is, there is no “publisher”, just the journal. There are many journals for whom the “publisher” is the title of the journal, the name of the editor, or the university that hosts the journal, even if there is no university press so no formal publishing by the university.

Not-for-profit university and society publishing is very much evident in the open access landscape. As reported at ELPUB (Morrison, 2018), as of 2017 there were over 7,300 active fully open access journals published by universities or societies with no publication fees. This was the majority of the sample. The full sample includes journals with publication fees, journals for which publication fee status is unknown, and ceased journals. While 2019 full analysis will have to wait until data collection and quality analysis is complete, a visual check indicates that university and society publishing continues to be a large part of open access publishing.

Identifying a university “publisher” is more complicated than one might think. Universities may have a university press as well as another publisher such as a library outside of the press. University journals’ publishers may be indicated by names of regional campuses. A single University publisher may have two different names based on language. This is the case for my own University; both the University of Ottawa and Université d’Ottawa are listed as publishers in DOAJ.

Commercial publishers often have variations in names, sometimes simply name variations and at other times reflecting mergers and acquisitions or different brands of a single publisher. For example, SpringerNature’s open journals are listed under SpringerOpen, Nature, and BioMedCentral. DeGruyter publishes open journals under both DeGruyter and Sciendo. To understand the nature of such publishers, it is necessary to have some knowledge of the underlying business.

Many journals are published by societies, universities or governments, in partnership with commercial publishers. The nature of such partnerships (who does what) can vary, including attribution as publisher. The not-for-profit sponsor or the commercial publisher, or both, can  be identified as the publisher.

There is also journal publishing software and platforms whose functions are part of the publishing process, and to a greater or lesser degree. In Canada, érudit is closer to the classic definition of publisher while Open Journal Systems is an open source journal publishing software but also an organization also offers journal hosting and may be used as the publishing platform for another publisher.

Method notes (for 2019 dataset and analysis in progress)

To prepare for fall 2020 data collection from “publisher” websites, I created an excel pivot table of publishers from the OA Main spreadsheet.The purpose of this exercise is to determine publishers by size to make decisions on sampling.

This spreadsheet starts with and includes DOAJ metadata, but goes beyond. The purpose of the pivot table was to watch for duplication of publisher names. This can easily happen due to variation in publisher names, sometimes reflecting acquisitions (e.g. Medknow, Wolters Kluwer Medknow) and sometimes reflecting slight variations in the name such as presence or absence of accents, typos, inclusion or exclusion of an acronym. The original pivot table included over 8,500 publisher names. The method involves manual checking, a tedious process and sometimes uncertain as it is not always clear whether a variation actually reflects a different publisher. 407 duplications of publisher names were found and eliminated in this process. Errors in the remaining data are quite possible, with failure to identify duplicates (e.g. for reasons of language or lack of understanding of the nature of a university system in a foreign country) being most likely, and minor risk of incorrect duplication of separate publishers. It would be difficult to calculate an accurate count of the number of open access journal publishers from this data for the reasons explained above. The number is clearly in the thousands, but how many thousands would depend on how a publisher is defined and accurate identification of such “publishers”.

In this context, publisher: N/A is both a unique anecdote and an idea worthy of consideration. The idea that every journal has, or has to have, a “publisher” may be a myth.


Heather Morrison. Global OA APCs (APC) 2010–2017: Major Trends. ELPUB 2018, Jun 2018, Toronto, Canada. ⟨10.4000/proceedings.elpub.2018.16⟩. ⟨hal-01816699⟩

To cite this post:

Morrison, H. (2019). Publisher: N/A, or the complexity of understanding “the publisher” (method notes). Sustaining the Knowledge Commons August 22, 2019.

DOAJ: handmaiden to despots? or, OA, we need to talk

As any movement grows and flourishes, decisions made will turn out to have unforeseen consequences. Achieving the goals of the movement requires critical reflection and occasional changes in policy and procedure.The purpose of this post is to point out that the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) appears to be inadvertently acting as a handmaiden to at least one despotic government, facilitating dissemination of works subject to censorship and rejecting open access journals that would be suitable venues for critics of the despotic government. There is no blame and no immediately obvious remedy, but solving a problem begins with acknowledging that a problem exists and inviting discussion of how to avoid and solve the problem. OA friends, please consider this such an invitation.

As I posted recently, SpringerOpen is currently publishing 13 journals that are sponsored by the Government of Egypt, a government that has been criticized for numerous major violations of the human rights and academic freedoms of scholars (by “major” I mean consequences up to and including murder). These journals are listed in DOAJ.

In contrast, a number of journals that welcome global authors that would be suitable venues for critics of the Egyptian government (a number of the Global Communication Journals network journals and the International Journal of Communication) are no longer listed in DOAJ, in spite of the facts that these journals are fully open access and meet the quality criteria for DOAJ, as discussed here.

It seems very unlikely that anyone in the OA movement deliberately decided on a strategy of facilitating the inclusion of works sponsored by a despotic government and suppressing venues suitable for critique of despotic governments. But in effect this is what is happening. I do not know if this scenario is unique. There are reasons to think that it is not. As reported in previous posts on this blog, large commercial companies partnering with various sponsors is not unusual. A large company with dedicated staff and a number of open access journals is in a better position to ensure that their journals are included in DOAJ than a small one-off not-for-profit journal.

There is no blame and no instant remedy, but to achieve the vision of the global sharing of the knowledge of humankind, solutions must be found. The first steps in solving a problem are acknowledging that a problem exists and inviting discussion and brainstorm on potential solutions. OA friends, please consider this an invitation.

Links to posts referred to:

Cite as:

Morrison, H. (2019). DOAJ: Handmaiden to despots? or, OA, we need to talk. Sustaining the Knowledge Commons / Soutenir Les Savoirs Communs. Retrieved from

SpringerOpen pricing trends 2018 – 2019

by Heather Morrison


270 SpringerOpen journals were studied. 33 (12%) have ceased publication, 15 have been transferred to another publisher, and 7 are now hybrid. Of the 215 active journals published by SpringerOpen, 54% charge APCs. The average APC was 1,212 EUR, an increase of 8% over the 2018 average, 6 times the EU inflation rate for June 2019 of 1.3%. 58% of the 96 journals for which we have 2018 and 2018 data did not change in price; 5% decreased in price; and 36% increased in price. Price increases for journals that increased in price ranged from 3% to 109% (double the inflation rate to double in price). Journals with the highest volume of publishing were the most likely to have increased in price. This will amplify the effective percentage of articles with price increases for APC payers. 40% of the journals are sponsored by a university, society, government, or other not-for-profit partner, and have no publication fee. The sustainability of these sponsorships is not clear. 12 journals appear to have recently switched from “no APC” to “now APC”, with APCs only slightly below the SpringerOpen average. The affordability of the SpringerOpen partnership approach is called into question. SpringerOpen’s average APC does not compare favorably either to average academic salaries in a low to middle income country (with Egypt as an example) or to OJS Premium journal hosting services (the break-even point is 2 articles per year, i.e. a journal that publishes 3 articles per year saves money with OJS Premium as compared to SpringerOpen). Even a sponsor based in Germany only pays half the APC, raising a question about whether SpringerOpen sponsorships are sustainable anywhere.


PDF Springer Open Pricing Trends 2018_2019

Table 1: 2019 SpringerOpen Journal Publication and APC status summary

2019 SpringerOpen Journal Publication and APC status summary
Status * # Journals Percent
APC 117 43%
No publication fee 85 31%
Ceased publication 33 12%
Transferred to another publisher 15 6%
No cost found 13 5%
Now hybrid 7 3%
Total ** 270 100%

* status data is found in “2019 APC publisher website original currency” column

** total excludes 1 predecessor title and 12 journals previously listed under Springer now listed under BMC

Pricing trends 2018 – 2019

Of the 270 journals total:

  • 13 titles are new in 2019 (included in 2019 overall analysis but not 2018 – 2019 trend analysis)
  • 33 are ceased, 7 now hybrid, 15 transferred to another publisher: these titles are not included in the price trends analysis

Total journals included in price trend analysis:

  • 2019 overall: 215
  • 2018 – 2019 comparison: 202

Of the 215 titles, as illustrated in the chart and table below, an APC amount is confirmed for just over half the journals (54%). 40% are confirmed as having no publication fee, while for 6% of the journals it was not possible to confirm whether or not a publication fee is charged.

Chart 1: % of SpringerOpen active times by APC status (has APC, no publication fee, no cost found)


Table 2: SpringerOpen active titles 2019 by APC status

Springer Open active titles 2019 by APC status
Status Number Percentage
APC 117 54%
No publication fee 85 40%
No cost found * 13 6%
Grand Total 215

* No cost found = we could not identify whether or not there is a publication charge.

Of the 85 titles with no publication fee in 2019, 73 were published in partnership with a university (31), society (17), government (17), or not-for-profit organization (8).  Many of these journals’ websites indicate that there is no publication fee due to sponsorship, for example “…agreement between Springer Nature and the Specialized Presidential Council for Education and Scientific Research (Government of Egypt), therefore author-payable article-processing charges do not apply”. 7 of these titles are new to the Springer Open website in 2019. This suggests that either Springer Nature is actively soliciting sponsoring partners, or that not-for-profit publishers are actively seeking commercial partnerships.

APC Model, currency and some notes re data collection

SpringerOpen uses a straightforward per-article article processing charge. A SpringerOpen APC list that includes pricing for Springer, BioMedCentral, and Nature journals was downloaded from the Springer website on July 16, 2019. Pricing is listed in 3 currencies for each journal: EUR, GBP, and USD. EUR was selected for analysis as this was the currency included in the 2018 OA Main spreadsheet, hence the best for comparison (because Springer is based in Germany, it was assumed that this was the “primary” currency).

For some journals the SpringerOpen APC list states “see website” for pricing. Pricing information for these journals was taken from the SpringerOpen website.

Information about waivers etc., and pricing information for hybrid journals, was not gathered as outside the scope for this project.

APC information from the Jan. 31, 2019 DOAJ metadata forms part of the main spreadsheet. Originally, I had hoped to be able to rely on this data, at least for journals added to DOAJ in 2018 and 2019, at least for journals that do not charge APCs. However, after a quick check I realized that there are a number of journals that indicated no publication charge in DOAJ that currently have a publication charge in the SpringerOpen APC list or website. For this reason, DOAJ data is not used as a basis for 2019 information.

Table 3: 2019 and 2018 SpringerOpen APC central tendency in EUR

2019 and 2018 APC central tendency in EUR
2019 2018 % increase
Average 1,212 1,128 8
Median 1,155 1,035 12

The table above provides the central tendencies for all SpringerOpen titles with an APC for either 2019 (117 journals) or 2018 (104 journals) in EUR. There has been an 8% increase in the average APC and a 12% increase in the median APC.

Price changes 2018 – 2019

There are 96 journals for which we have an APC amount in both 2018 and 2019.

Table 4: SpringerOpen price changes 2018 – 2019 (96 journals)

Direction of change *
Price decrease 5%
No change 58%
Price increase 36%
* Note: does not include change to / from no publication fee

As illustrated in the Table 4 above, a majority of these journals (58%) did not change prices in EUR from 2018 to 2019, while more than a third (36%) increased in price and a few (5%) decreased in price.

The 2018 prices of journals with price increases ranged from 630 EUR (well below average) to 1,750 EUR (well above average). The 2018 average price of these journals was 1,160 EUR, above the 2018 average of 1,128 EUR. The median was 1,100 EUR, above the 2018 median of 1,035 EUR. In other words, while some journals with below-average APCs increased in price, a majority of journals with price increases had above-average APCs in 2018.

For the 35 journals that increased in price, the increases in percentages ranged from 3% to 109% (slightly more than double in price).  According to the European Commission (2019), “Euro area annual inflation was 1.3 % in June 2019, up from 1.2 % in May 2019.” All prices increased were more than double the inflation rate. 23 journals had price increases of 14% or more, more than 10 times the current inflation rate.

All of the 5 journals with APC price decreases had above-average APCs in 2018 (from 1,050 to 2,035 EUR).

Volume of publishing and direction of APC price change

Volume of publishing per journal was calculated using Walt Crawford’s (2018) Global Open Access Journals. The number of articles published per year was summed to get a total # of articles published per journal from 2011 – 2018. A few journals for which no such data was available were excluded. Not surprisingly, volume of publication appears to correlate with APC pricing trend. As illustrated in the table below, journals that decreased in price had on average fewer articles than journals that did change in price, with the highest volume of publication noted for journals with price increases.

Table 5: average SpringerOpen articles published 2011 – 2018 by APC trend

Average # articles published* 2011 – 2018 by APC trend
Price decrease No change Price increase
Average # articles 118 162 674
Median # articles 41 115 243
* from Walt Crawford’s Gold Open Access Journals (2018)

Table 6: 2018 -2019 price changes and # of articles by journal title

Journal title 2019 APC (EUR) 2018 APC (EUR) 2019 – 2018 # 2019 – 2018 % WC # articles total 2011 – 2018
Environmental Sciences Europe 2,040 975 1,065 109% 216
Environmental Systems Research 1,690 885 805 91% 150
Injury Epidemiology 1,465 930 535 58% 176
Agricultural and Food Economics 1,000 650 350 54% 136
Chemical and Biological Technologies in Agriculture 1,570 1,085 485 45% 135
EJNMMI Research 2,170 1,600 570 36% 609
Intensive Care Medicine Experimental 1,870 1,425 445 31% 1,351
Progress in Earth and Planetary Science 1,300 1,000 300 30% 244
Heritage Science 1,180 930 250 27% 276
Boundary Value Problems 1,180 930 250 27% 1,532
Advances in Difference Equations 1,180 930 250 27% 2,523
Journal of Inequalities and Applications 1,180 930 250 27% 2,786
International Journal of Corporate Social Responsibility 1,000 800 200 25% 37
Annals of Intensive Care 2,170 1,750 420 24% 581
Nanoscale Research Letters 1,570 1,300 270 21% 4,038
EURASIP Journal on Information Security 760 630 130 21% 91
Applied Adhesion Science 1,180 1,000 180 18% 119
Journal of Big Data 1,180 1,000 180 18% 161
EPJ Quantum Technology 1,290 1,100 190 17% 54
EURASIP Journal on Audio, Speech, and Music Processing 1,290 1,100 190 17% 200
The Journal of Mathematical Neuroscience 1,290 1,105 185 17% 104
Pastoralism 1,290 1,105 185 17% 190
Rice 1,990 1,745 245 14% 335
Journal of Cloud Computing: Advances, Systems and Applications 860 800 60 8% 419
EURASIP Journal on Image and Video Processing 1,290 1,200 90 8% 475
EURASIP Journal on Advances in Signal Processing 1,290 1,200 90 8% 1,035
EURASIP Journal on Wireless Communications and Networking 1,290 1,200 90 8% 1,962
Critical Ultrasound Journal 1,870 1,745 125 7% 241
Crime Science 990 930 60 6% 107
Fixed Point Theory and Applications 990 930 60 6% 1,181
European Transport Research Review 1,200 1,150 50 4% 270
International Journal of Bipolar Disorders 1,790 1,745 45 3% 162
Sports Medicine – Open 1,790 1,745 45 3% 171
AMB Express 1,790 1,745 45 3% 851
Botanical Studies 1,690 1,745 -55 -3% 355
European Journal of Hybrid Imaging 1,570 1,745 -175 -10% 42
Mechanics of Advanced Materials and Modern Processes 690 1,050 -360 -34% 40
CVIR Endovascular 1,060 1,745 -685 -39% 35

Table 6 above lists all Springer journals with APC changes from 2018 – 2019 in descending order by % change, with the total number of articles published from 2011 – 2018 from Crawford (2018)

“No APC” to “Now APC” journals (12 journals

As of July 26, 2019, there are 12 journals listed in DOAJ where DOAJ indicates “No” Article Processing Charges (APCs) that have APCs according to the Springer Open website. For example, DOAJ information on Brain Informatics is as follows


Article Processing Charges (APCs): No.

Submission Charges: No.

Waiver policy for charges? No.”

(Screen scrape from DOAJ website July 26, 2019)

An investigation was conducted to answer the following questions:

  • Are these errors in DOAJ or an actual change from non-charging to charging?
  • What are the characteristics of these journals (age, country of publication, journal license, current APC, society / institution partnerships, timing of switch from non-charging to charging)

Information to answer these questions was drawn from DOAJ and the APC project (data gathered from the publishers’s website) for 2014 – 2019.

Of the 12 journals, 9 are confirmed as having had no publication fee as of 2016, the first year we began systematic gathering of data from the SpringerOpen website. 1 journal listed as “no cost found” in 2016 is listed as “no publication fee” in 2015 and “0” in 2014 (reflecting a change in data collection practices). The remaining 2 journals were identified as “no publication fee” in 2018. Therefore, it was confirmed that all 12 journals were at some point between 2015 and today “No publication fee” journals, that is, journals that had wording on the website clearly indicating that there is no publication charge.

10 of the 12 journals (83%) have a society or institution listed in DOAJ as of Jan. 31, 2019. This suggests two possible reasons for the change from non-charging to charging: 1) the society or institution may have provided interim sponsorship to cover Springer APCs but did not obtain ongoing funding or 2) Springer may have offered an initial low or no-cost deal then raised prices (a common business strategy). The two reasons are not mutually exclusive, and it is possible that other factors are involved that I am not aware of.

Country of publication of no to now APC journals

As illustrated in the table below, 11/12 (92%) of the journals are published in the EU/UK, suggesting a regional trend. 8/12 (two thirds) of the journals are published in Germany, the home country of the ownership and management of parent company SpringerNature (see Who owns SpringerNature? Section below). Does this hint at a direction the company expects to take with all sponsored journals in future?

Table 7: Country of Publication of SpringerOpen “no” to “now” APC journals

Country Journals
Germany 8
Netherlands 1
Singapore 1
United Kingdom 2
Grand Total 12

First calendar year journal provided online Open Access content (no to now journals)

The DOAJ metadata element “First calendar year journal provided online Open Access content” for Jan. 31, 2019 was used a surrogate for age of the journals, with the following results.

Table 8: First calendar year of open access (from DOAJ)

Year Journals
2008 1
2012 1
2013 2
2014 4
2015 1
2016 1
2018 2

The table above indicates a fairly wide range of dates of first online content, with some clustering in 2014. These results are not sufficient to draw inferences about age of journal and tendency to shift from charging to non-charging.

Timing of switch from non-charging to charging

APCs were first found on the SpringerOpen website for these journals as follows:

2017:   1

2018:   3

2019:   8

This data suggests a recent increase in tendency to switch from non-charging to charging. This makes sense in the context of funder push for transition to OA via APCs (OA2020, PlanS).

The APC amounts for these journals are very similar to the overall pattern for SpringerOpen journals, as is illustrated in the following table:

Table 9: SpringerOpen APC no to yes APC v. all

SpringerOpen APC 2019 (EUR)
No to Yes APC only All
Average 1,089 1,212
Median 1,000 1,155
Mode 1,155 885
Range 800 – 1,745 510 – 2,480

Table 10: SpringerOpen Transferred publications

Journal title Transferred to
Bandung: Journal of the Global South Brill
China Finance and Economic Review A new publisher
IZA Journal of Development and Migration Sciendo (de Gruyter imprint)
IZA Journal of Labor Economics Sciendo (de Gruyter imprint)
IZA Journal of Labor Policy Sciendo (de Gruyter imprint)
Journal of Open Innovation: Technology, Market, and Complexity MDPI
Pacific Journal of Mathematics for Industry World Scientific Publishing
Scientific Phone Apps and Mobile Devices APD SKEG Pte Ltd
Strategies in Trauma and Limb Reconstruction Jaypee
Video Journal of Education and Pedagogy The Association of Visual Pedagogies

Of the 10 journals that were transferred to other publishers, 8 were transferred to other commercial publishers, 1 was transferred to the association partner, and 1 simply indicated “new publisher”. 3 of these journals were picked up by deGruyter imprint Sciendo.


One of the goals of the Sustaining the Knowledge Commons project is to assess the sustainability of approaches to open access. This analysis of Springer Open as of summer 2019 raises some concerns. APC price increases far beyond inflationary rates, particularly when correlated with journals with higher volume, raises questions about the sustainability of the APC approach. The following section focuses on questions about the sustainability of the SpringerOpen partner-sponsor approach that currently accounts for 40% of SpringerOpen journals.

Journal and partnership sustainability

SpringerOpen is a relatively new entrant into open access journal publishing. SpringerOpen appears to be growing through a combination of starting new commercial journals and partnerships with societies, universities, and other not-for-profits that appear to start out with sponsorship approach. In this context, a 12% attrition (“ceased publication”) rate is a concern, particularly when ceased journal titles are no longer listed on the SpringerOpen website or DOAJ, as explained in detail in Morrison (July 22, 2019).

The sustainability of sponsoring partnerships needs further examination. 12 journals that formerly had no publication fees, now have fees. A glance at the list of new sponsoring journals raises questions about sustainability. One of the sponsoring agents is the Government of Egypt. This raises concerns about academic freedom as the Government of Egypt has been described as actively directing academic research and major abuses of the human rights of students and faculty, as discussed in detail elsewhere (Morrison, Aug. 7, 2019). This section will focus on the question of the economic sustainability of this approach.

As we noted a few years ago (Salhab and Morrison, 2015), as of 2015 it would have taken 3 months’ salary for a full professor in Egypt’s public university system to pay an APC of $1,500 USD. The current average APC rate is 1,212 EUR for Springer, equivalent to 1,357 USD (as of August 8, 2019 according to XE currency converter).

As of July 2019, SpringerOpen publishes 13 journals supported by “Specialized Presidential Council for Education and Scientific Research (Government of Egypt), so author-payable article-processing charges do not apply.” The titles are listed below. This arrangement appears to be in growth mode as 5 of these titles are new to the SpringerOpen list in 2019. In addition, The Journal of Basic and Applied Zoology, is published by an Egyptian society.

Table 11: Egypt sponsored SpringerOpen journals, July 2019

Ain Shams Journal of Anesthesiology
Bulletin of the National Research Centre
Egyptian Journal of Biological Pest Control
Egyptian Journal of Forensic Sciences
Egyptian Journal of Medical Human Genetics
Egyptian Journal of Neurosurgery
Egyptian Journal of Radiology and Nuclear Medicine
Egyptian Pediatric Association Gazette
Journal of the Egyptian Public Health Association
Middle East Current Psychiatry
The Cardiothoracic Surgeon
The Egyptian Heart Journal
The Egyptian Journal of Neurology, Psychiatry and Neurosurgery

I hope that the salaries of professors in Egypt’s public university system have improved substantially since 2015. However, if this is not the case, this raises questions about the sustainability of this kind of sponsorship. If the Government of Egypt were to pay SpringerOpen average APCs (1,212 EUR or 1,357 USD) for a small journal publishing 40 articles per year, this sponsorship would cost 54,280 USD per year. If the salary rate for a full professor is still about 6,000 USD per year (1,500 for 3 months x 4), then the cost for sponsoring just one journal with SpringerOpen would be equivalent to the salaries of 9 full professors.

Optimistically guessing that the salaries of professors have doubled in the last few years, sponsoring just one small journal of 40 articles per year would cost the equivalent of the salaries of 4.5 full professors. Egyptian authors would be eligible for a 50% SpringerOpen discount because Egypt is listed as a lower-middle income economy by the World Bank (2019) (SpringerOpen, 2019). Assuming that the discount is applied to the sponsoring partner (the Government of Egypt), this still leaves the situation where a 40-article-per-year journal costs the equivalent of 4.5 full professors’ salaries. Assuming these waivers are applied and are not simply absorbed by a SpringerOpen profit rate of 50%, if the sponsor did not pay the full cost, who does?

Are these sponsorships affordable in the long run even for wealthy countries? The following statement of partial coverage of the 1,155 EUR APC of one of SpringerOpen’s journals may be relevant here as it suggests that SpringerOpen’s business plan involves charging sponsors similar amounts to their average APCs, and raises a question about whether a relatively well-funded research organization based in the same country as SpringerNature can afford to maintain this sponsorship model on an ongoing basis: “50% of the Article Processing Charge for Geothermal Energy is covered by Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ, Helmholtz Centre Potsdam – GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology” (from SpringerOpen website, July 2019).

There are other options for a country like Egypt that are more sustainable and a better fit with the original goal of the Budapest Open Access Initiative (2002) to “lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge”. As an initial step, I recommend developing a national open access repository or a system of institutional repositories, including an approach such as LOCKSS for preservation purposes, and developing a policy requiring Egyptian researchers to deposit their work for open access in these repositories. This is important to ensure that Egypt (and any other country) does not risk losing access to its own funded research. Relying for access on servers and suppliers in other countries is not wise in the long run because wars (military and trade) and natural disasters could result in temporary or permanent loss of access.

For publishing, there are significant advantages to a local approach, such as hosting local journals using the open source Open Journal Systems (OJS) and hiring local academics, technicians, and administrative assistants to do the work of publishing. OJS is just one example that I use, partly due to familiarity and partly due to open posting of their pricing. In the short term, this provides the immediate benefit of the lower and more predictable costs of local wages. In the long term, this approach cultivates the development of local expertise (technical and academic) and prepares Egyptian researchers for a larger role in international research. As an interim step, the Government of Egypt could contract with OJS for hosted systems at a cost of 850 USD – 2,700 USD per journal, depending on the level of service preferred. Assuming a 40-article per year journal and premium OJS service at 2,700 USD, this would save 51,580 USD per year as compared to publishing with SpringerOpen. Assuming SpringerOpen only expects half due to Egypt’s income status (27,140 USD), this still saves 24,440 USD per year.

Multiplying by 13 journals would result in an estimated cost savings of 317,720 USD – 670,540 USD per year. Assuming 2015 salary figures are still fairly accurate, this sum would be enough to pay the salaries of 55 – 110 full professors.

If half of this amount is redirected to hiring local staff (e.g., pay part of the time of a full-time professor to oversee academic quality, a librarian shared among several journals to look after journal hosting, a part-time administrative assistant), the Government of Egypt benefits from both cost savings and building of local expertise and leadership, and is developing the expertise to benefit even further down the road as this approach is good preparation for eventual further savings from downloading and hosting the software, eliminating the hosting fees. Aside from cost savings, this approach helps us to move towards equity – equal participation – and away from the charity model of APCs with waivers.

A simpler way to express the difference in affordability of the 2 approaches: 2 APCs at 1,357 USD (SpringerOpen average) = 2,714 USD. OJS premium journal hosting is 2,700 USD. The break-even point for a journal using OJS hosting as compared to partnering with SpringerOpen is 2 articles / year. Any journal that publishes 3 or more articles per year saves money with OJS’ premium service.

Perhaps this model would be helpful to institutions like Helmholtz in Germany, too? This basic approach (support local publishing) is a popular model in North and Latin America.

Who owns SpringerNature? According to the SpringerNature website:

“Springer Nature is organised as a German partnership limited by shares…which combines elements of a German stock corporation…and elements of a German limited partnership…  Shares in Springer Nature are held by entities controlled by the Holtzbrinck Publishing Group and funds advised by BC Partners.

The management …is undertaken by a “general partner” (or “GP”)… For Springer Nature the GP is a German stock corporation held by entities controlled by the Holtzbrinck Publishing Group and funds advised by BC Partners….” Screen scraped from July 26, 2019 (German omitted).

Raw data  in excel: (Springer portion of main spreadsheet). Caution: this is a working document without documentation and does not include analysis.



Budapest Open Access Initiative (2002). Read the initiative. Retrieved August 8, 2019 from

Crawford, W. (2018). Gold Open Access Journals 2013 – 2018. Retrieved July 29, 2019 from

European Commission (2019). Eurostat statistics explained. Retrieved July 29, 2019 from

Morrison, H. July 22, 2019. SpringerOpen ceased, now hybrid, and OA identification challenges. Sustaining the Knowledge Commons.

Morrison, H. August 7, 2019. SpringerOpen, Egypt, and academic freedom. Sustaining the Knowledge Commons.

Salhab, J. & Morrison, H. (2015). Who is served by for-profit gold open access publishing? A case study of Hindawi and Egypt. Sustaining the Knowledge Commons

SpringerOpen (2019). APC waivers and discounts. Retrieved August 8, 2019 from

World Bank (2019). World Bank country and lending groups. Retrieved August 8, 2019 from

Cite as: Morrison, H. (2019). SpringerOpen pricing trends 2019. Sustaining the Knowledge Commons August 13, 2019

No-fee inclusive journals, and disappointment with DOAJ

by Heather Morrison


This post highlights two living models for inclusive, no-fee journals. One is a global network of not-for-profit journals that are diverse in language and content (the Global Media Journal network). The other is an English language journal with content that is global in scope (the International Journal of Communication, IJOC). These two examples were selected because the journals are fully open access, inclusive, have no publication charges, and are the journals that I would recommend irrespective of OA and fee status. They are in my discipline and I am acquainted with some of the members of their highly qualified editorial boards and have discussed with them their involvement in these journals. I am disappointed to find that most of these journals are no longer listed in DOAJ. If journals like these are not included in DOAJ, in my field, another list is needed. Recommended actions for sustainability of not-for-profit no-fee inclusive journals like these: re-direct financial support from the large for-profit commercial publishers to provide support for these journals (library journal hosting, a common practice in North America, can be part of the solution); reach out to understand their needs, recognizing that a small not-for-profit no-fee journal has no funds to send staff to OASPA or lobby on their behalf; include in listings like DOAJ for maximum dissemination of their works; and find examples of journals like these and make them a priority in open access education.

PDF version: Morrison_No_fee_inclusive_journals_2019_08_13


This post is inspired by the useful information provided by an anonymous Egyptian scholar.

Two points raised are that publication charges in international journals are a barrier for scholars in a country like Egypt, where scholars must pay out of pocket. Even the 50% waiver provided by a publisher like SpringerOpen for authors from a low to middle income country like Egypt still leaves a very substantial cost for the author. Aside from cost, another barrier is that international journals often do not welcome authors from outside the developed world. This post features examples of two no-fee, inclusive approaches to journal publishing.

These and similar journals can provide an immediate solution for some scholars. A major limitation is that a tendency to welcome authors from around the world may vary depending on discipline, sub-discipline, region and among particular communities of scholars. In the field of communication, many scholars and journals welcome submissions from authors around the world. My own research is global in scope, so it is not surprising that this is reflected in the journals published by scholars in my communities.

Global Media Journals Network

The Global Media site describes the network as follows: “Founded by Dr. Yahya R. Kamalipour, in 2002, the Global Media Journals network includes the following independent open-access peer-reviewed editions. Published in many languages, each edition is hosted by a major university and has its own managing editor and advisory board”.  I first met Dr. Kamalipour at a 2014 Global Communication Association conference in Ottawa, Canada, hosted by scholars at St. Paul University, with which the University of Ottawa has a long-standing relationship. I was very favorably impressed with Dr. Kamalipour, the Global Media Journals network, the conference, and the Global Communication Association (also founded by Dr. Kamalipour). I have discussed the journals with some of the editors, respected scholars including scholars associated with my own University.

GMJ Editions Status Hosts/Sponsors
Global Media Journal: Arabian Edition Active Amity University Dubai
Global Media Journal: Canadian Active University of Ottawa
Global Media Journal: Chinese Active Tsinghua University
Global Media Journal: German Active Freie University Berlin/Germany and the University of Erfurt/Germany
Global Media Journal: Indian Active University of Calcutta
Global Media Journal: Malaysian Active University Putra Malaysia
Global Media Journal: Mexican Active Texas A & M International University and Tecnologico de Monterrey at Monterrey
Global Media Journal: Persian Active University of Tehran
Global Media Journal: Russian Active Pyatigorsk State Linguistic University
Global Media Journal: Turkish


Active Yeditepe University


Global Media Journal: Australian Active Western Sydney University


Browsing through the URLs on this list, I found that 7 of the 11 journals exhibit publishing activity in 2019, and an additional 3 in 2018. Only one, the Malaysian journal, may be inactive, having last published in 2016. The URLs for the Malaysian and Persian versions do not work, but the journals can be found here: Malaysian: and Persian:

As of August 12, 2019, only 3 of the 11 journals are listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals. In previous years, it appears that all were listed.

International Journal of Communication

The International Journal of Communication (IJOC) was founded by scholars at the University of Southern California – Annenberg, and USC-Annenberg hosts the journal. There is no fee for publication. How is this possible? In North America, it is common for academic libraries to provide journal hosting services for journals faculty are involved with. It makes sense for universities to provide this kind of technical support for services needed by faculty members, just as universities provide facilities for advanced computing, word processing, statistical analysis, bibliographic management and pedagogical tools, to name a few examples. The infrastructure (hardware, software, staffing) requirements are very similar. To learn more about this North American approach, I recommend starting with the website of the Library Publishing Coalition:

Although IJOC is published exclusively in English, a quick glance at the Table of Contents for the most recent issue (Volume 13, 2019) illustrates global diversity in topics. Articles covering U.S. based issues are intermingled with articles focused on China, South Korea, the EU, Africa, Afghan Media, and Chile. There is a special section on East Asia, and one on Extreme Speech in different countries that directly addresses questions of growing social exclusion in the broader society of which academic exclusion is just one example.

As of today, IJOC is no longer listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ)

Recommended actions for sustainability of these inclusive not-for-profit examples of open access:

  • Re-direct economic support (library budgets) from large for-profit commercial publishers to support journals like this. This can be accomplished at significant cost savings to libraries – see my 2013 First Monday article for an explanation:
  • Library journal hosting can be part of the solution, but journals need some financial support for academic and support staff time and incidentals; the SSHRC Aid to Scholarly Journals program provides one model of this type of support, and in addition provides a model for journal-level peer-review, ensuring academic quality:
  • Reach out to journals like these to understand their needs; recognize that a small not-for-profit no-fee journal does not have funding to send staff to conferences like OASPA or to lobby (unlike large commercial publishers).
  • Include the journals in major lists and indexing services such as DOAJ to increase dissemination for the journals and their authors.
  • To encourage not-for-profit inclusive journals like these ones, find examples like these and make them a priority in open access education.

Comments are welcome. Exceptions to the commenting policy requiring attribution can be made if public commenting is a risk to the author.

Cite as:

Morrison, H. (2019). No-fee inclusive journals, and disappointment with DOAJ. Sustaining the Knowledge Commons August 13, 2019.


SpringerOpen, Egypt, and academic freedom

SpringerOpen 2019 and the Government of Egypt

by Dr. Heather Morrison

SpringerOpen is currently publishing 13 journals sponsored by the Government of Egypt. This is an opportunity to discuss some issues of relevance to the goals and sustainability of open access, starting with academic freedom. As described by Holmes and Aziz (2019) there are very serious problems with academic freedom in Egypt, ranging from tight government control over what is studied and published to extrajudicial killings of 21 students in the last few years. The University of Liverpool considered, then rejected, a lucrative offer to set up a campus in Egypt due to concerns about reputational damage. This raises some interesting questions. Academic freedom is critical to any kind of meaningful open access. Nothing could possibly be more in opposition to open access than a dead student whose research was destroyed because of what was studied. Why is SpringerOpen partnering with the Government of Egypt? Should academics boycott SpringerOpen because of this partnership? What, if anything, can academics do to support academic freedom in a country like Egypt? Some believe that the Creative Commons license CC-BY (attribution only) is the best for open access (I don’t agree, but this is a separate topic). If your research could get you killed, attribution might not be a good idea. Today, some of us might assume that these kinds of problems would never happen in our own countries; but times change, and it has happened that places that enjoyed freedom at one point in time came under the control of a dictator.

Following is the list of titles which state on the SpringerOpen site that they are supported by the “Specialized Presidential Council for Education and Scientific Research (Government of Egypt), so author-payable article-processing charges do not apply”.

Journals supported by the Government of Egypt published by SpringerOpen as of July 2019
Ain Shams Journal of Anesthesiology
Bulletin of the National Research Centre
Egyptian Journal of Biological Pest Control
Egyptian Journal of Forensic Sciences
Egyptian Journal of Medical Human Genetics
Egyptian Journal of Neurosurgery
Egyptian Journal of Radiology and Nuclear Medicine
Egyptian Pediatric Association Gazette
Journal of the Egyptian Public Health Association
Middle East Current Psychiatry
The Cardiothoracic Surgeon
The Egyptian Heart Journal
The Egyptian Journal of Neurology, Psychiatry and Neurosurgery

Holmes, A. & Aziz, A. (2019). Egypt’s lost academic freedom. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Retrieved August 9, 2019 from

Cite as: Morrison, H. (2019). SpringerOpen, Egypt, and academic freedom. Sustaining the Knowledge Commons / Soutenir Les Savoirs Communs. Retrieved from