Waiving author fees can help open access journals make research accessible to all

Content of the article


This article originally appeared on The Conversation, an independent, nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

Content of the article


Author: Jessica Lange, Scholarly Communications Librarian, McGill University

Open Access (OA) journals are peer-reviewed academic journals that are free and accessible to anyone without paying a subscription fee. To compensate for lost subscription revenue, many journals instead charge an author’s fee to researchers who wish to publish there. These fees can run into the thousands of dollars per paper, paid for from publicly funded research grants.

Advertisement 2

Content of the article

It costs Canadians millions of dollars annually and fills the pockets of large publishers whose profit margins rival those of Pfizer. However, thousands of open access journals do not charge author fees, proving that publishing in open access journals doesn’t have to be so expensive.

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

Publication cost

Typical costs of publishing an academic journal include salaries for editors, typesetters, and translators, as well as technical infrastructure costs such as web hosting and submission systems. There are also costs associated with operating non-OA journals, such as managing paywalls, subscription payment systems, and sales staff salaries.

Advertisement 3

Content of the article

Publishing a journal takes money, but that’s only 10-15% of what publishers charge authors to make their work open access. Author fees are disproportionate to publication costs and correlated to the prestige, impact and profit model of the journal.

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 open-access scientific journal called Seismica, which publishes peer-reviewed research in seismology and earthquake science. Seismica represents an alternative to rising author fees, such as Nature’s controversial over $10,000 open access author fee.

Advertisement 4

Content of the article

A community of nearly 50 international researchers and scientists make up Seismica’s editorial team. The McGill Library covers the technical costs of Seismica, including DOI registration, preservation, web hosting and management of the manuscript submission platform.

Volunteer labor provided by the Seismica team takes care of the journal’s operations: soliciting reviewers, reviewing submissions, and publishing accepted manuscripts. The journal is also responsible for creating its own author guidelines, updating its website, and promoting itself. Seismica provides authors with pre-formatted templates to reduce layout and production time.

The McGill Library is one of many Canadian libraries to support journals in this way. Of the approximately 300 Canadian open access journals we studied, 90% were funded in some way by academic libraries.

Advertisement 5

Content of the article

Community value

Journals are not just about publishing articles; to be successful, they must be recognized and valued by the community. At Seismica, considerable effort and resources have been invested in strengthening the grassroots community. In a publish-or-perish culture, launching a new journal is not enough — it must be valued and responsive to the needs of its community in order to attract submissions.

Editors and peer reviewers devote their time to journals as part of their service to their profession. Some researchers and publishers are not satisfied with providing pro bono work to publishing houses producing millions of dollars in profit. Free academic-run journals offer an attractive alternative; this has certainly been a motivating factor for the Seismica editorial team.

Advertising 6

Content of the article

Seismica is unique as a free open access scientific journal. Our research found that Canadian STEM journals were nearly 40% less likely to be open access than journals from other disciplines. This is also true globally. One study found that journals in the humanities and social sciences accounted for 60% of free open access journals, compared to 22% in science and 17% in medicine.

Additionally, scientific and medical journals make up the majority of paid open access journals. This is likely because these journals were the first to adopt the author fee model; researchers who published there also had larger grants to pay for these costs.

Future Post Templates

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

Advertising 7

Content of the article

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

Here too, the emphasis was on the arts and the humanities and social sciences. Canada’s libraries, universities, funding agencies and not-for-profit publishers should continue to work together to ensure a sustainable and affordable publishing system for all disciplines.

Author fees limit affordable open access for researchers, especially those without grants. Supporting free open access journals is one way forward.


Jessica Lange received a grant from the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) – Research Library Grant.


This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Disclosure information is available on the original site. Read the original article: https://theconversation.com/removing-author-fees-can-help-open-acces https://theconversation.com/removing-author-fees-can-



Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively yet civil discussion forum and encourages all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments can take up to an hour to be moderated before appearing on the site. We ask that you keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications. You will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, if there is an update to a comment thread you follow, or if a user follows you comments. See our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

Lola R. McClure