Open access article processing charges (APCs)

OA APC longitudinal survey 2019

This post summarizes major analytic work for 2019, provides links to the open dataset and its documentation, and extends an open invitation to participate in an open peer review process until January 15, 2020.

The remainder of this post is incomplete as of December 6, 2019 as the post has not been updated for some time. I recommend starting with the data documentation, particularly the background and limitations sections which provides pointers to some of the other related approaches and initiatives.

OA APC dataverse


Walt Crawford’s analysis of journals in mathematics.

May 15 – 31 is the data collection period. We’ll post the occasional observation and example of good or interesting practices here as we go along as part of the open research approach.

APC pricing that depends on how much work is involved.

No cost found: of the 139 journals sampled last year from publishers with 9 or fewer journals charging APCs according to DOAJ, 25 or 18% either did not have any language indicating an APC, or in a couple of cases, language clearly stating that there is no publication fee.

Two-third of fully open access journals do not have article processing charges

Language editing

Negotiating authors and the loyalty discount

The subsidy model and APCs

Student discounts

APC waivers for outstanding quality

Temporary discounts and special offers

Hybrids: print plus OA okay with DOAJ, OA plus online subscriptions no. Is this fair?

Notable APC price increases

Negotiating authors and the loyalty discount

  • Two issues with one example: some great language strongly suggesting behind-the-scenes author negotiations for discounts and the loyalty discount, a variation that I’m just noticing this year

Pricing in more than one currency and differential pricing for local authors

Deals for members and journal as publicity for society: two options for society journals

Submission fee but no article processing fee: European Cells and Materials example

OA APC, page charges, and dilemmas for traditional journals

DOAJ added after March 2014, has charges: preliminary analysis

Libertas Academica: average APC price increases of 18% to 56%

2015 OA APC survey: work in progress (demonstrating the open research approach)

Which subjects are most likely to charge article processing charges? In brief, based on May 2014 data, some subjects are far more likely to charge APCs than others. Medicine accounts for 43% of the APC charging journals from our sample, but only 23% of journals. Humanities at the other end of the continuum accounts for 14% of the journals in DOAJ but only 1% of the APC-charging journals in our sample. For full details see Subject classification – data and documentation

How a flat fee with no price increase can be a 6% – 77% price increase
Results of the May 2014 DOAJ APCs survey are now available in MPDI’s Publications. The data behind the study can be downloaded from the dataverse. If you’re interested in the peer review process, you can check out the preprint of May 2014 DOAJ OA APCs survey: OA APCs DOAJ survey May 2014: article preprint

Title not found: room for improvement in maintaining access to journals and their content when journals cease publishing

One of the sub-projects of Sustaining the Knowledge Commons is a thorough in-depth analysis on the article processing fees charged by some open access journals (emphasis added).

Open access publishing is often confused with the article processing charge business model, and so I would like to start by setting the record straight.

Two-thirds of fully open access journals do not have article processing charges.

Update May 25, 2015: 64% of the journals added to DOAJ after March 2014 do not have article processing charges, while 36% have article processing charges. As of today, the total is 1,123 journals of which 720 do not have article processing charges (based on an ISSN count of journals with no charges supplied by DOAJ) and 403 have charges (from the DOAJ website / advanced search / journals / expand article processing charges). However, this does support the statement that two-thirds of fully open access journals do not have article processing charges.

The difference between the 26% with charges and 5% with conditional charges we found last year (total 31%) and this sub-sample could reflect differences in the samples and should not be considered indicative of a trend. This sub-set of journals includes journals recently added to DOAJ and journals that have gone through the DOAJ re-application process (only a minority of journals have done this, less than 12% the last time I checked). It is possible that journals with conditional charges, or old-fashioned print-based base page charges rather than OA APCs, would be less likely to fill out the new DOAJ form which forces a choice between Yes or No to article processing charges.

Calculations: of the 9,893 fully open access journals listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals as of July 8, 2014 only 2,575 or 26% have charges according to DOAJ and another 520 or 5% have conditional charges. That’s a total according to the DOAJ listing that either have charges or have conditional charges of 31%. 6,459 or 65% have no charges and 145 or 1% have no information available. To replicate the data, go to DOAJ and click on Advanced Search.

That’s the best data that we have, and it’s worth noting that this data is likely flawed – the last time I downloaded the DOAJ metadata (on May 15, 2014) the DOAJ information about publication charges had been deleted from the metadata; these fields were left blank. DOAJ staff responded to a question about this with an indication that the data had been removed as there were a number of errors, and that they expected to update and restore the fields later this spring after checking. The DOAJ data is still there – to gather this metadata for the May 15 – 31 census period, I did a screen scrape of titles under each category (from Advanced Search select journals, then publication type to replicate). Subsequent checking supports the DOAJ’s staff position that there may be errors in this data; for example, there were a number of journals where publication charges were indicated in DOAJ but the research team found none when looking on the publisher’s website. It is possible that some journals have changed policies since the last time DOAJ checked; our group found evidence that at least a couple of journals had abandoned APCs between a December 2013 pilot and the May 2014 census period. This is just one of the complexities of conducting quantitative research in this rapidly changing area, and that’s just the question of whether or not the journal charges APCs, never mind how much or the qualitative details (discounts, currency variations, etc.)!

Shifting from a scholarly publishing system funded largely through journal subscriptions to one that is open access will involve a transition of funding support from purchase to support for production. Article processing fees is one model for providing this support, a model already successfully used by a number of journals and publishers. However, every model has its advantages and disadvantages, and APCs are no different. For example, if the power of the impact factor (or similar but newer metrics) continues in an open access environment, the market forces that resulted in a dysfunctional subscriptions environment could easily continue to operate. This dysfunction is described on the Resource Requirements page. One alternative model for open access publishing is supporting independent scholar-led publishing, an alternative that has become much more feasible due to the ease of publishing on the internet.

Status update

In December 2013 a pilot project was conducted, looking up article processing fee information for journals listed in DOAJ, with random sampling used for some of the large number of publishers that have only one, or only a very few, journals that use this approach. Thanks to research assistants César Villamizar and Emily Tennant for their help with this gathering of data.

This pilot was used to develop a larger sampling designed to form the basis for an annual census of open access article processing charges, from May 1 – May 15, 2014. Thanks to my colleagues Tony Horava (University of Ottawa) and Stephen Pinfield (University of Sheffield) for their help in designing the project and to volunteer (now research assistant) Jihane Salhab for assistance with data collection.

In keeping with the open research approach, the data will be released along with observations on sub-sets as soon as possible. If anyone wondering why the data has not yet been released, this is because currently this is not one spreadsheet, rather a whole suite of spreadsheets and other types of data such as captured html pages describing article processing charges at a particular point in time and data in the form of spreadsheets supplied by a number of people. A special thank you is in order to Bo-Christer Björk and David Solomon for sharing the data behind their 2012 JASIST study. There is a lot of work to do to collate and check this data from various sources, or even to make subsets of the data collected to date comprehensible.

One early observation is that the questions about article processing charges asked by the new DOAJ application form, while the helpful intent is obvious, appear to be deceptively simple questions that at best will force incorrect answers and at worst could distort developments in open access publishing, and not necessarily in a helpful way. Let me explain:

The DOAJ application form asks:

13) does the journal have article processing fees? (APCs)

Response options are yes or no. This is a required question. Based on the current DOAJ category of “conditional charges” and research to date which suggests that “it depends” is a very common answer, for many journals and publishers this question forces an incorrect answer, or a change in the journal’s practice. Some examples of why it may not be a good idea to push journals away from “it depends”: whether article processing fees apply may depend on such variables as whether there is an institutional membership, whether the author is from a developing country or unable to pay for other reasons, whether the author is an active member of the society that publishes the journal, and so forth. I recommend that DOAJ add a conditional option to this question, to avoid errors and avoid accidentally discouraging potentially useful experimentation in these early days of open access publishing.

If the response is Yes to this question, two required fields appear: Amount and Currency. Again this forces incorrect answers and/or changes to journal practice. Many journals offer a wide variety of discounts. Hindawi has an interesting approach of making some of their journals available for free, with the specific journals that are free changing from time to time. A number of journals and publishers have APCs in several different currencies. For example, BioMedCentral, one of the largest publishers using this method, has a list of fees with 3 different currencies. To avoid errors I recommend omitting these questions and replacing them with a request for a URL for where to find information about APCs.

Similar issues are likely to arise with the DOAJ question about article submission charges.

I’ll post more information and data as soon as it’s ready for public consumption.

Other emerging initiatives in this area that I’d like to highlight:

University of Ottawa library has an author fund and publishes their data on open access article processing fees – see this entry in the IR by Jeanette Hatherill.

Ulrich Herb’s doctoral research was in this area; he is releasing data and analysis here.

Watch for more pointers to research completed and in progress.

Posts in this series:

Discounts for quality and students, extra charges for long articles (thanks to Ian Song)

Publishers using open access article processing charges are either big or small (skewed distribution)

Introducing the open access article processing charges dataverse

OA APCs DOAJ survey May 2014: article preprint

Series on impact of article processing charges in various regions and in light of currency fluctuations

Who is served by for-profit gold open access publishing
? A case study of Hindawi and Egypt, by Jihane Salhab and Heather Morrison.

If citing this page (as opposed to the individual posts linked here), cite as:

Morrison, H.  et al. (2014). Open access article processing charges (APCs). Sustaining the Knowledge Commons. Retrieved from

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