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Last week we got an article accepted into PRL (Physical Review Letters). As is standard, they afterwards sent out an email saying

To help defray editorial and production expenses, APS, a not-for-profit, society publisher, expects authors of manuscripts to pay appropriate publication charges; publication charges are contributions from authors' institutions to the cost of disseminating research results and should be regarded as an essential and proper part of their research budget. You are requested to make a payment of $765 toward the cost of disseminating your research results. However, the inability to pay this charge will not affect the publication process of your manuscript.

So they say they expect us to pay, but at the same time they say the publication process continues independently of whether this happens.

What is the 'proper'/'sensible' thing to do? What is commonly done?

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    It seems to me that they are making an exception for "poor" researchers and institutions (e.g., in the developed world). I think, assuming you're funded, they expect you to pay and charge this to your project(s). – Dr. Thomas C. King Dec 20 '17 at 18:20
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    @ThomasKing: That’s an answer. Please post it as such. – aeismail Dec 20 '17 at 18:34
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    @aeismail This is really an opinion question. It is clear you do not have to pay, and many groups, even with funding, do not. See also: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/89880/… – user71659 Dec 20 '17 at 18:36
  • IEEE is also a not-for-profit, but I see no reason to pay them. – user2768 Dec 20 '17 at 18:49
  • @user2768 If everybody thinks the same way, the research dissemination venues wouldn't improve, I suppose. If the author is funded, then why not use it. – Coder Dec 20 '17 at 19:34
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What are your options? You can pay or delete the email.

If you pay, your group will have $765 less. That's the only difference in outcomes. These charges are completely voluntary and have no effect on anything if you choose not to pay. In my experience, you'll never hear about this again. You will not have to justify your decision.

What do most people do? From my observations, the majority of groups simply don't pay voluntary charges, regardless of available funds.

What should you do? This is a matter of opinion. You (or the PI with the money) should decide whether APS deserves a $765 donation for the purposes they state, or whether it can be put to better use at your institution.

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Yes, you can pay or not pay, it is entirely up to you. But you should remember that someone must pay for the journals to exist. On the one hand, if you think that journals are useless, don't pay, end of story. Maybe the future is in the arXive? But even for the arXive to exist, someone pays - check their web page. On the other hand, if you think that journals are useful, think twice if may be, may be, it is worth paying anyhow. Today, journals are under enormous pressure financially, they have to remodel their financing to accommodate (perfectly justified) requests for open access and departures from paper. And, hey, never ever pay any Elsevier journal - these guys turn up huge profits by exploiting unpaid labour of authors, referees, and editors.

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The funding budgets have various heads of accounts such as student fellowship head, equipment head, printing, traveling, journal publication or conference contingency.

Assuming that your project also has such division of heads, you could spend your money for publication. Plus, you could ask for a waiver from the publication venue citing suitable situation. They listen (most of the time).

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