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Eliminating author fees can help open access journals make research available to everyone

Open Access (OA) journals are peer-reviewed academic journals that are free and available for anyone to read without paying subscription fees. To make up for lost subscription income, many journals charge author fees to researchers who wish to publish in them. These fees can reach thousands of dollars per article, paid for by publicly funded research grants.

This costs Canadians millions of dollars a year and lines the pockets of major publishers whose profit margins rival Pfizer’s. However, thousands of OA journals do not charge author fees, proving that publishing in open access journals does not have to be so expensive.

I work as an academic librarian at McGill University and am an expert on open access publishing on campus. According to research by myself and a colleague, Canada is home to almost 300 free and open access journals. This is important, as author fees serve as a barrier to many researchers making their work available to anyone interested.

publication cost

Typical costs of publishing an academic journal include the salaries of style editors, typographers, and translators, and fees for technical infrastructure such as web hosting and submission systems. There are also costs associated with running non-OA magazines, such as managing paywalls, subscription payment systems, and sales staff salaries.

Publishing a journal requires money, but that’s only 10 to 15 percent of what publishers charge authors to make their work open access. Authors’ fees are disproportionate to publication costs and correlate with the journal’s prestige, impact, and profit model.

In this environment, author fees will continue to rise as long as someone can afford them. It also means that open access publishing privileges a certain group of researchers.

A case study

The McGill University Library supports a free OA science journal called seismicwhich publishes peer-reviewed research in seismology and earthquake science. seismic represents an alternative to rising author fees, such as NatureThe controversial open access author fee of over $10,000.

A community of nearly 50 international researchers and scientists make up seismiceditorial team of . McGill Library covers the technical costs of seismicincluding DOI registration, preservation, web hosting, and manuscript submission platform management.

Volunteer work provided by the seismic The team handles journal operations: soliciting reviewers, reviewing submissions, and publishing accepted manuscripts. The journal is also responsible for creating its own guidelines for authors, updating its website, and promoting itself. seismic provides authors with pre-formatted templates to reduce time spent on design and production.

McGill Library is one of many Canadian libraries that support journals in this way. Of the nearly 300 free Canadian OA journals we researched, 90 percent were supported in some way by academic libraries.

community value

Journals are not just about publishing articles; to be successful, they must be recognized and valued by the community. A seismic, significant efforts and resources have been invested in building grassroots communities. In a publish or perish culture, launching a new magazine is not enough: it must be valued and respond to the needs of its community to attract submissions.

Editors and reviewers contribute their time to journals as part of the service to their profession. Some researchers and editors are not satisfied with providing volunteer work to publishers that generate millions of dollars in profits. Free journals run by academics offer an attractive alternative; this has certainly been a motivating factor for the editorial team of seismic.

seismic is unique as a free OA science magazine. Our research identified that Canadian STEM journals were nearly 40 percent less likely to be open access than journals in other disciplines. This is also true globally. One study found that humanities and social science journals accounted for 60 percent of free OA journals, compared to 22 percent in science and 17 percent in medicine.

Additionally, science and medical journals make up the majority of paid OA journals. This is probably because these journals were early adopters of the pay-per-author model; researchers publishing on them also had larger grants available to pay these fees.

Future publishing models

As author fees charged by big publishers skyrocket, libraries, universities and funding agencies should encourage alternative publishing models. Free OA journals can meet this need, but can be precarious and require support.

Canada, for example, has a grant to support journals in the social sciences and humanities, but there is no such grant at the federal level for scientific and medical journals. Canada has also been a leader in launching a cooperative funding model for open access journals.

The focus here has also been on the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Canadian libraries, universities, funding agencies and non-profit publishers must continue to work together to ensure a sustainable and affordable publishing system for all disciplines.

Author fees limit affordable open access for researchers, particularly those without grants. Supporting free OA magazines is one way forward.