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I was preparing to submit a manuscript to a journal when I made a fatal realization: the journal publishes everything as open access and the author(s)/institution/funding agency must cover the cost ($500). This was a solo side project that I undertook on my own time with no co-authors nor outside funding. I was not expecting to publish this as open access as I was unaware of this policy. In fact, when I initially targeted this journal I thought that some articles were open access and others were not. Upon further inspection this is not the case. I'm clearly at fault for not being diligent enough about the journal's policies.

Now this situation would not be such a big deal except that

  1. I'm a third year doctoral student and will be on the job market soon (I need pubs ASAP!);
  2. I was planning on submitting this article and subsequently switching my focus to the dissertation;
  3. It would take a significant re-work to tailor this paper to another journal as it is somewhat niche: the journal focuses on software publications across a range of disciplines, requires a fairly specific format, and limits articles to 3,000 words or fewer (note: I am not in a traditional STEM field, so I feel that my options for target journals are quite limited).

Am I crazy for wanting to just submit the paper and pay the open access fee out of pocket? $500 does not seem exorbitant compared to other journals' fees. Unrelated to my current situation, a few weeks ago I spoke with my advisor about creative ways to fund open access, but he stated that our university does not have options for funding - this must come through grants. It doesn't seem right asking him to cover the fees as he was not involved in the project and is not a co-author.

In this question, @ff524 suggests seeking funding through PLOS or a fee waiver through the journal/publisher. Other questions on Academia SE result in answers suggesting that authors request funds through the university, library, etc. When is it appropriate to ask for a waiver and/or seek funding from an outside source? Prior to submission, during submission, or after a paper is accepted? It seems like a massive waste of time to seek funding from multiple sources only to have a paper be rejected outright. At the same time, it would seem like withholding relevant information to wait until after a paper is accepted to ask for a fee waiver.

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    I have zero experience with open access fees, but if it's a student-only paper you could ask the publisher if they have student discounts. If there are multiple authors then bring it up with all of them and see if you can split the cost N-ways. At $500 nobody is going to want to rework and resubmit someplace else. Also, look at the contract or call the publisher and make sure the fee is actually mandatory. Some journals have a quirky system where they have an expected but not mandatory fee. – David Jun 13 '17 at 1:07
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    Assuming it is a good quality publisher, $500 is a good deal. You can ask for a fee waver before submission, it might work. I have seen fee wavers happen sometimes. – Anonymous Physicist Jun 13 '17 at 1:13
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    @ShakeBaby If I am to submit to this journal, I don't have a choice: all publications in this journal must be published as open access and hence incur the fee (see the first paragraph). – haff Jun 13 '17 at 5:25
  • @haff Would you mind sharing the name of the journal? – asquared Jun 13 '17 at 8:40
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    If one of my students performed research by themselves and submitted a sole-author to a journal, I would still (probably) pay for it out of my lab budget; so it may be worth asking your supervisor if you have a good relationship. If the paper was wildly off-theme, like a history paper from a biology lab, I probably wouldn't, but even a history-of-science paper I'd give it thought. My role as supervisor is to help the student succeed, and paying $500 to help my student succeed is part of the job. – iayork Jun 13 '17 at 13:50
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I don't think you're crazy at all. From a purely economic point of view, although $500 sounds like a lot of money, it is quite insignificant (in a US context) compared both to your future earnings once you graduate, and to the present potential earnings you are foregoing by attending graduate school in the first place instead of working at a "real job". Thus, if you truly think that paying the fee will help you get on with your other research projects and graduate faster and/or with a more impressive publication record, then, assuming you can afford to pay the fee without sacrificing other important or crucial things at least, it seems to me that paying the fee is a reasonable decision.

With that said, I think a note of caution is also in order. My main concern is that a good proportion of the journals that charge open access publication fees are predatory journals, and given that you are a graduate student and new to publishing, there is a risk that the journal you are considering publishing in could be one of those. I would therefore suggest not paying any fee until you have made absolutely certain, by consulting your advisor or other experienced researchers, that the journal in question is a reputable one and that publishing in it will actually further your career and goals. Good luck!

  • I really appreciate this advice. If I land an academic job then $500 would certainly be worth it. And this price seems very low compared to other OA fees. I hadn't thought about "predatory journals." I found out about this journal through a very well-respected figure in the field - I heard him speak a conference and he recommended this journal for software type publications (he is also on the editorial board). I don't know this figure personally, however, and the journal is pretty new (2ish years). Any thoughts? Does it smell fishy? I'll consult profs. in my dept. per your recommendation – haff Jun 13 '17 at 6:21
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    It doesn't smell anything. Could be fishy or not fishy, I have no way of telling, beyond the general fact that to me all open access publication fees (or any other kind of publication fees) seem fishy and I have never seriously considered paying them. But that's a luxury I can afford, being in an area with many options for publication. Anyway, do try to get reliable information about this journal before you commit. – Dan Romik Jun 13 '17 at 6:26
  • @hsff Open access fees that we have paid for reputable journals are in the range 2000-3000 USD. If its business model allows this journal to charge only 500 USD it does smell to me like they could be sloppy somewhere along the publication path. I'm not saying this is a predatory journal, but there sure are signs to be suspicious and have a close look. – Miguel Jun 13 '17 at 6:32
  • @DanRomik So is Trans. LMS. fishy? – Jessica B Jun 13 '17 at 6:32
  • I would concur that $500 is worth paying from the job point of view. I paid more to go to an interview. You should definitely investigate whether the journal is reputable. But the specific nature of it you describe makes me think it may well be legitimate. A colleague had a subject-specific journal in their area that did open access with no fees (until recently). – Jessica B Jun 13 '17 at 6:35

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