Paying for Open Access – The author’s perspective

As the discussion around journal subscription prices and conditions of open access was the only thing that has been hot in Finland this summer, due to the Elsevier boycott, the recently published Knowledge Exchange study enlightens another aspect to money flows regarding open access (OA) publishing.

When authors select a journal to publish their article, they have plenty of choice: there are about 34,500 scholarly peer-reviewed journal titles, one third of which are now Open Access (OA) journals. So, do open access aspects play a role in the authors’ selection of journals? And if so, for which reasons? And if Article Processing Charges (APCs) apply, a fee paid to the publisher to make an article freely available online, how does the author pay for these costs?

Digging into OA publishing reality

To share a better understanding of authors’ perspectives on APC payments, KE has carried out a study among authors of six research organizations. The aim of the study “Financial and administrative issues around article publication costs for Open Access – Author’s perspective” was to support the development of an optimal communication and administrative strategy to encourage the use of existing APC funding mechanisms by authors.

A total of 1,069 researchers participated in online surveys regarding their articles that were published either in OA journals or in so-called hybrid journals in which some of the articles are open access. The focus was on the results of three large, multidisciplinary universities with rather contrasting OA policies: the Universities of Helsinki, Göttingen and Glasgow.

This report gives a good overview of the outcomes of the surveys. Two pragmatic reasons were on the top of the list for OA publishing; more exposure for the article was the top reason, followed closely by the complete freedom to reuse, republish, and distribute your article.


"Two pragmatic reasons were on the top of the list for open access publishing; more exposure for the article was the top reason."


Another outcome was that APC funds do stimulate and facilitate OA publishing. Authors prefer using the APC fund instead of their own discretionary funds, which are chiefly used to pay for APC’s if there is no APC fund available or if such a fund does not finance OA articles in hybrid journals.  

Where the support pays off?

The outcomes of this study also point to three areas where more and more streamlined support for authors is needed. These three areas are:

Financing APCs: Different rules and complex conditions can make it difficult for authors to find ways to fund the APC for their article, even if there is funding available. Stakeholders, such as libraries, can play an important role here, as demonstrated by the popularity of APC funds they manage.

Administrative procedures for APCs: Considerable percentages of researchers stated that their administrative efforts to pay APCs took them more than one hour. Clearly, more streamlined administrative procedures within the research organizations would greatly help the authors involved.  

Communication about OA publishing: Another result shows that authors use a mixture of communication channels about Open Access and the use of terminology often differs greatly among the various channels. Again, we see here a specific task for libraries to provide clear communication to authors and to take the lead in the development of simple, harmonized terminology on Open Access.

The study was commissioned by the Knowledge Exchange Open Access Working Group and country specific information was provided by Arja Tuuliniemi from the Finnish National Library. The aim of this abridged report is to provide a bird’s eye view of the study outcomes. The complete results of the study – including references to relevant literature – are published in a separate report.

Writers: Riina Salmivalli (CSC – IT Center for Science) and Melanie Imming (SURF) are members of Knowledge Exchange Representative Group. The Knowledge Exchange (KE) partners are six key national organizations within Europe tasked with developing infrastructure and services to enable the use of digital technologies to improve higher education and research: CSC in Finland, CNRS in France, DEFF in Denmark, DFG in Germany, Jisc in the UK and SURF in the Netherlands.



Riina Salmivalli

Riina Salmivalli

Writer is specialized in matters of open science, data and open access publishing in international research environment. Twitter: @riinavalli.

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