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I am a researcher a few years out of PhD competing in a field where there are very few jobs. I have a sole author paper coming out which received very good reviews.

The journal is Hybrid Open Access, meaning an Article Processing Charge (APC) must be paid if I choose to publish Open Access (otherwise, it will appear behind a paywall). Due to a change in rules in my country, which occurred after I submitted to the journal, the journal is no longer eligible for APC funding from my institution or grant.

Should I consider paying my own APC to ensure that my paper gets the most amount of attention possible? I do not want the lack of OA to be an obstacle for readers and, at this stage in my career, it is pivotal that this work receives attention, citations, etc.

So far the paper, which has not yet come out, has generated some interest. 5-6 colleagues already e-mailed asking me for a copy. The journal is a not top tier but senior colleagues have assured me that it is very well-respected as a small journal, and in our field a good paper is often much more important than a good journal. One of the reviewers actually asked for their identity to be disclosed so that they could congratulate me on the paper, keep in touch, and advise me to "aim much higher than this journal in future - aim right for the top". I do not have a lot of money but could sacrifice a couple of years of holidays for this. I am really desperate to build a competitive CV before my postdoc finishes.

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    Definitely not!
    – user126108
    Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 13:33
  • 15
    Take a careful look at the journal's rules for what you're allowed to do if you choose green open access and therefore don't pay the APC. You may be surprised how permissive they are, and you may find you can do everything you need to do to get your paper attention within those rules. Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 13:36
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    Are you the only author of the paper? Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 14:32
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    If the journal is hybrid open access, then there's an option to publish non-open access, which would remove the APC.
    – Allure
    Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 15:25
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    Are you allowed to share a preprint of your paper in a way that people can easily google it? (In my corner of academia the answer is essentially always yes.) If so, open access will make very little difference to the visibility of your result. "I do not have a lot of money but could sacrifice a couple of years holidays for this maybe..." This would be an absolutely insane thing to do and it is not difficult to guess that you will end up being very bitter and unhappy about it if you make a significant personal sacrifice like this but it will turn out not to have much of an effect on anything. Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 21:10

10 Answers 10

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One way to reason about this is to ask: What is the expected utility to yourself of having the paper published under an open access license? Is it really larger than the utility of keeping that money for some other purpose, or spending it on something else? Do you expect the possibly slightly higher expected number of citations to have tangible career effects that offset the cost of paying the APC? (Note that there is some controversy in the literature regarding the citation advantage and its magnitude, so I'd suggest using a conservative number in your estimates.)

I'd argue that this is unlikely, especially if you can make use of green open access options as outlined in the other answers and comments, or sending the article directly to those interested. The next consideration would be the expected utility to the readership. Given that researchers are familiar with how to access green OA articles, one might surmise that the benefit would mainly be to the public. Unless your work is of significant public interest, there are likely more effective charitable causes to spend a couple of thousands on, even if you were personally wealthy.

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  • While I fully agree with your answer on moral grounds I fear that if OP chooses not to pay the fee that means they have to retract their paper from the journal and then need to find a new journal where they can submit their paper without fees. The paper seems sufficiently good so that this will be successful but it can easily take another year and this delay in publication could easily cause more harm to their career than the minor difference between officially open access and pay-to-read publication.
    – quarague
    Commented Dec 11, 2023 at 7:42
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    @quarague I thought that "Hybrid Open Access" meant that the journal has a mix of articles, some open, some not. The author can choose whether to pay the APC to make their submission open access, or pay nothing and have the result restricted to subscribers. Is that not how it works?
    – TooTea
    Commented Dec 11, 2023 at 8:56
  • @TooTea If that is how it works, then my fear is unfounded. I don't know the exact details of the journal rules either.
    – quarague
    Commented Dec 11, 2023 at 9:32
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No. Open Access is a relatively new concept enabled by the internet that is still having the bugs (like your problem) being worked out. Most researchers have some way to get access to paid-access articles, and their citations are just as good (if not better). As long as the journal allows it, do submit to ArXiv, ResearchGate, or whatever your field's repository is, and feel free tell people at conferences that you can send them a copy (again, as long as the journal allows it, but I'm not aware of any that forbid individual distribution). If you had enough personal wealth it could be OK, but in that case you would not be asking. Nobody will think worse of you personally or professionally for not paying for OA.

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Short answer: NO!

Long answer: No, you have several alternatives.

  1. If the journal is hybrid open access, you can (as allure pointed out), just not opt-in open access and you will not need to pay. This may limit article visibility, but keep in mind that interested readers can ask you a pdf of the paper and you are authorized to post an unedited version of the manuscript on sharing sites such as ResearchGate. I suggest you double-check journal policies, but some publishers explicitly authorize sharing of Author's Original Manuscript. (https://authorservices.taylorandfrancis.com/research-impact/sharing-versions-of-journal-articles/).
  2. As leonos pointed out, you may ask to the publisher for a fee waiver. It is not uncommon that journals waive fees in case you cannot pay. However, this often requires that you do not acknowledge any grant, otherwise they will tell you to use grant money to pay.
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[updated after a comment pointed out that OP asked about paying for Open Access, not just publication]

I would certainly advise against paying the publication fees by yourself. There are many other options, even if your funder will not pay them:

  1. Directly ask if your institution or funder could still pay, given that the change in rule is recent and you submitted there before the change;
  2. see if the journal could waive the fees, given the circumstances;
  3. retract your submission and submit in a full Open Access journal where your funder would cover the fees (ask the original journal to transfer the reviews);
  4. Do not pay the open access fees and publish the article in “closed access”, if that is an option.

I understand the concern that less people will be able to access the paper if it is not open access. For this reason, and given the comment of your reviewer, I would prefer Option 3 here. However, if you go for option 4, you can quite easily compensate for the lack of open access by uploading your author manuscript (that you can format as you wish) to other places: your website, blog, your university library, and of course send it to anyone who requests a copy. In addition, you can advertise it on social media and link to your version to make sure people know where to access it.

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  • "many people will still not have access to it." Are you sure? What proportion? If you don't know, you shouldn't make this claim.
    – toby544
    Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 19:07
  • @toby544 “Open Access” means anyone can access the article. Without it, only those who are affiliated to a university (or equivalent) subscribing to the journal will have access. That’s a lot less people. The APCs (Article Publication Charges) are not for open access (otherwise they’re called Open Access charges) which means the OP is in the second situation.
    – user126108
    Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 19:22
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    "Without it, only those who are affiliated to a university (or equivalent) subscribing to the journal will have access." Only under the assumption that the OP is absolutely not allowed to share a preprint of the paper in any way, shape, or form. Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 21:02
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    @AdamPřenosil agreed, and please see my updated answer. Also if the author has not posted a preprint prior to submission to the journal, it will depend on the journal whether they can post a preprint after the manuscript being accepted for publication. They don’t generally allow this.
    – user126108
    Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 21:09
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    @toby544 Many researchers might be interested in the paper and not currently be affiliated to a uni (e.g. if you’re between jobs); many universities, possibly more so in low-income countries, may not have the funds to pay for the journal subscription; members of the public, journalists etc. might be interested in the paper. More generally, our role as researchers is to communicate our findings to the public, who in turn funds most of the research. Hiding those findings behind is paywall is not the best way to do this.
    – user126108
    Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 21:16
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I don't know the journal nor your field, but if your judgement is that it will enhance your career, then yes, consider paying the fee if you are able. Such things are pretty expensive, though.

However, longer term, make sure you understand the consequences (financial and otherwise) of submitting to any journal you consider; both the reputation and the fees. Make sure you are comfortable with that before you submit. If any thing feels like a negative, such as cost in this case, consider a different venue. And, if rules are subject to change, you might need to try to get a commitment from the institution on fees before you submit. They have an interest in your work, just as you do.

If you were caught after submission by a change in rules, you might be able to make an appeal to your institution to cover at least a part of the fees. You will need to appeal to someone in authority, of course. You might also try, maybe with low likelihood of success, to ask the journal for a reduction in fees, based on the change of rules after submission.

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    "if your judgement is that it will enhance your career, then yes, consider paying the fee if you are able." I think part of the question is that the OP is not sure to what extent this will enhance their career, so encouraging the OP to rely on their judgment is not great advice here imo. Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 19:39
  • @AdamPřenosil, my reading is different. The OP recognizes the value and is specifically asking about the money. And, I don't want to substitute my judgement for theirs. A minor paper might not be worth paying for. This one has "generated interest".
    – Buffy
    Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 20:34
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I am a marketing consultant with decades of experience in publishing, so I have a slightly different vantage point. I agree with all the advice of those who say no to paying OA fees yourself. More ideas to add to the other 'No' commenters.

OA has been around for over 20 years, so I wouldn't say new, but yes, it is constantly evolving (and confusing!) such as your funders policy change. Consider your own institution's metrics for research evaluation. If it all cones down to citations, 'everyone' doesn't need access, but those most likely to cite do. There are many ways to get visibility for your work, at no cost to you...some ideas are below..

There is evidence that publishing OA gets more opportunity for views and downloads earlier and possibly earlier citations, but consider the nature of the audience most likely to cite your work. Are they likely to be at subscribing institutions to that journal? How much relevance to the science interested public (who benefit from reading, but won't be helping with citations, though if your institution looks for other metrics of impact this may be relevant) or researchers in Middle / low income countries?

Since you've gotten early peer reviews, perhaps just depositing your author approved final version on your institutional repository and reaching out to the network of most interested research groups pointing them to the free access link is sufficient to attract early citations.

Explore every avenue for sources of 'gold OA' funding (immediately available on journal platform) to all if there is a wide interdisciplinary audience.

Talk to the research subject librarian at your institution. They will probably recommend depositing the authors approved files on the institutional repository. Include the DOI and ask the librarian about discoverabity on the institutional. Repository and promote that link.

Talk to your department chair, and ask the peers who have given you strong reviews for ideas on sources of funding OA fees. Do also go back to your funder to verify due to the timing and their policy change. If you are in a Low / Middle income country the fees may be waived if the publisher participates in the Research for Life program, as an example.

Consider going 'green OA' open access after journal embargo period, depending on journal and field this may vary. If in medical, does the publisher deposit on PubMed on your behalf and when?

Consider writing a Plain Language Summary and posting on Kudos (free to academics I think and partners with institutions and publishers.... Most people just want to read the abstract anyway... https://libguides.stir.ac.uk/kudos/explain

You can also create a graphical abstract to share on your web site/socials... Dr Andrew M Ibrahim has many free resources on research communication and preparing a visual abstract that apply to any discipline https://www.surgeryredesign.com/

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Just one point that hasn't been mentioned in the other answers so far: Your write

I do not have a lot of money but could sacrifice a couple of years of holidays for this.

Academics tend to be over-worked and to have a very unhealthy work-life balance. It might be better for your productivity and thus for your career advancement (let alone for your personal well-being) if you spend the money on holidays instead of open access charges.

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I ran into the exact same problem recently when I discovered my funding organisation would not pay for a Hybrid Open Access Journal APC, after the article was published.

Try contacting the journal and explaining your situation. I got the open access fees waived (50% discount). Also your university might have a special fund to fill the gaps, so make sure you ask them for help.

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I would say yes, it allows for publications to appear quicker and easier, freeing up more time for research, and quickly progressing your career (if you have the money). Lots of excellent high impact factor journals have APC's, and if your institute won't pay, you can bite the bullet and pay yourself, though I've seen $4000 for example required in some cases (usually more like $1500 though). I can't afford it so haven't done this so far.

Try to avoid those journals if possible, though they are looking to accept your paper easier I think given the profit from it. But these days if it helps you improve your c.v., reasonable minds could agree that this is a worthwhile expense in some cases.

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  • "quickly progressing your career" [citation required] Commented Dec 11, 2023 at 0:26
  • I suppose it just makes publication a bit easier, so you can move a bit faster.
    – apg
    Commented Dec 11, 2023 at 20:19
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You wrote that the APC would require to "sacrifice a couple of years holidays". A general advice for success in any business or relationship: Never act desperate even if you are!

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    This is questionable life advice, but also it does not answer OP's question (should they pay APC fees out of their own pocket?). Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 19:01
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    The principle is not so much "never act desperate" (who is even going know that the OP "acts desperate"?), it is "do not sacrifice an important tangible thing for an entirely speculative possibly-maybe benefit of uncertain magnitude in the future". Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 19:35
  • @AdamPřenosil The OP wrote "I am really desperate". Commented Dec 12, 2023 at 15:50

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