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One of the main journals in my field has recently switched to 100% open access, and charges an article processing charge (APC) of about 2500 ($/€/£). For some researchers this is automatically covered by some agreement between their institute and the publisher, but for many others it is not. Over my career, I have worked with this journal both as reviewer and author (published most papers there), but am now pushed out as author by this change.

IMHO, the APC is not justified, in particular as reviewers get zero appreciation/compensation for their work, which arguably is the only important part of the article processing. The journal has just asked me for a review, but I am poised to turn down any further reviewing for this journal (until the situation has changed).

Is this a reasonable / justified decision or just stupid? What is the situation in your field of research?

Note that reviewers could be appreciated by giving them vouchers that can be used in lieu of (part of) an APC.

Added in edit I also like to point out that by charging APC the journal enters a conflict of interest between profit (accepting bad/borderline papers) and keeping the science clean (rejecting such papers), which in the medium/long term will inevitably result in a further reduction of the average quality of papers published, similar to the decline of standards of university degrees in the UK since the introduction of student fees.

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    I'm going to roll back the most recent edit, which substantially changes the question after multiple answers had already been written. But the new edit is a good edit, you may post a new question if you like, in which it is clear from the beginning that this particular journal's overcharging is the key issue.
    – cag51
    Mar 20 at 21:23
  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Academia Meta, or in Academia Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – cag51
    Mar 20 at 21:23
  • @cag51 I made the edit, because that the original question was not really what I meant to ask. So shall I instead ask a new question?
    – Walter
    Mar 21 at 9:42
  • Yes, better to do that.
    – cag51
    Mar 21 at 13:55

4 Answers 4

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Someone has to pay the costs of publication. In open access it isn't going to be subscribers. For lots of reasons it isn't going to be the government. So, unless there is an advertising model (yuch) there aren't a lot of possibilities other than authors.

(Professional society memberships often provide a partial subsidy for publication, of course.)

Note, however, that many authors, anticipating this, will get an item in grant funding for publication costs so that it isn't out of pocket for them. And, many such grants are, in fact, government funded. In principle, universities could pay publication costs, but they have other obligations for (often limited) funds.

Also, an author gets to choose where to submit. They aren't held at gunpoint to work with a particular publisher. And some publishers can, in some cases forgive some fees, though the money still needs to come from somewhere. And it is expensive, even for a non-print journal, to make an essentially-perpetual promise to keep things available. Things that aren't adequately funded tend to disappear.

So, yes, if you want to continue to see quality articles appear, I suggest that you at least think about improving the quality of such things. If only cruft is published we are all worse off. Think of reviewing as a service to authors, in this case authors who will pay a fee to make the work available to others. It seems like not a hard decision to me, actually.

Long term, perhaps, other possibilities exist for funding, but lunch still ain't free.


Theoretically, there is an advantage to authors in open access in that it makes the work more widely available to other (funds-limited) academics.

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    The charged APC is not cost of publishing. It is the cost of publishing plus an exorbitant profit margin. Academic publishing remains one of the most insanely profitable businesses.
    – TimRias
    Mar 18 at 20:16
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    @TimRias, that is a common view. Do you have information/data to back it up? Publishers also spend effort on things that don't get published. People review articles not to support a business model, but to support academic progress. And, journal subscriptions are also high, but paying gives you only access to a limited set of articles.
    – Buffy
    Mar 18 at 20:20
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    @Arno, I'll guess that only is the immediate cost, not the infrastructure cost and the cost of that perpetual (more or less) guarantee. Hopefully even clerical staff get a living wage. Not to mention the IT folks that keep the system running. If they publish 500 articles per year, I guarantee that they don't run the enterprise on £150,000 per year.
    – Buffy
    Mar 18 at 20:38
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    Were you asking a question here or fishing for the answer you wanted? You don't need to review. Not a problem. But you aren't acting as a professional if you withhold services that are essential to publishing.
    – Buffy
    Mar 18 at 21:29
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    Certainly there are completely free completely open access journals. Those are typically run as a labor of love by a small cadre of extremely dedicated people with major support from their universities (e.g., for IT support). What happens when the core people retire, or move to a different university who will not support this journal? Mar 18 at 21:55
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To summarize Bryan Krause's point:

If you think a journal is worth submitting to and paying the fees to publish in, then you should also think that it is worth reviewing for. You should review 2-3 papers per every paper you submit.

If you don't think a journal is worth submitting to nor paying the fees for, then you are not obligated to submit nor review for them. The logic cuts both ways. Asking others to review for you in a journal you believe to be of value while not doing reviews yourself would be potentially selfish. I, personally, review for the major professional societies I am a member of, Nature PG, AAAS (Science) journals pretty much exclusively for that reason.

You also have the ability to get on the volunteer publishing board/committee (which is different than the editorial board) of professional societies that run journals or run for or support a candidate for an officer position that believes fees are too high in order to lower them. I know people on those boards and officers of professional societies, and those volunteer professional societies can't lower fees and still provide the services they provide. The overwhelming cost is labor administering the review process, labor for IT maintenance for submission systems. Even the "executives" are volunteers. You are welcome to try to volunteer and lower costs, that's the beauty of volunteer professional societies - clever people can find a better way!

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  • This answer is logic, but the problem here is that the journal changed their model from being license funded to being APC funded. I guess in both cases the fees were/are quite steep, but in the license-funded model the authors don't realize that. So, as an author, I would like to publish there, but I am not able to owing to the APC (my institution/funding agency are not willing to pay that).
    – Walter
    Mar 20 at 6:20
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    @Walter I think if a journal changes policies and becomes somewhere you are no longer submitting to because of those policies, you can certainly decide that you would no longer review for them, either. The point I was alluding to, which sh314 turned into an answer that I agree with, is that these parts of the peer review system (submitting and reviewing) are intertwined, and if you choose not to review but still submit then you're putting the burden on other people rather than targeting the journal's policy.
    – Bryan Krause
    Mar 20 at 21:00
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I don't want to review for journals that use unpaid reviewers. All journals are making money either publishing open-source or behind the paywall. So, giving free service for journals to make money is not worthy. Yes, if all reviewers thinks same way, there will be few paper published. If all reviewers refuse to do free job, publishers will allocate some money to pay reviewers. It's better for them to save their business by paying few hundred dollars to reviewers.

If all reviewers are paid for the job they do, everyone will benefit--reviewers are willing to provide better service and become happier for the job they are doing. If unpaid, I only review papers if I am extremely interested, want to add new journals in my resume, or received request from known editor.

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    You aren't required to review, of course. But this seems selfish.
    – Buffy
    Mar 18 at 20:59
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    @Buffy Not selfish really. Who is profiting from this? Business houses and publishers for reviewers "being generous". It's business and let's make it a business--there is nothing selfish about it and there is no need to be generous about it too. Mar 18 at 21:03
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    The rest of this conversation has been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Academia Meta, or in Academia Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – cag51
    Mar 19 at 0:41
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Journals need money, and have to charge someone. Charging authors is better than charging readers, not only because this makes the results of research universally accessible (and reusable), but also because this makes the costs more apparent. This pushes researchers to ask the very sensible question of whether the prices are justified. Of course we should also ask this for subscription journals.

If you remove profits, lobbyists, inefficiencies, etc, the incompressible cost in a scalable, professional electronic journal seems to be about 500$/article. (Example: SciPost.) It is up to you to decide which journals in your field are reasonably priced.

If a journal seems overpriced or otherwise unethical, declining to review is a very sensible attitude. Finding good reviewers is usually a big headache for journals. Choosing to review only for 'good' journals helps them a lot in the competition against 'bad' journals.

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