The cost of Open Access
While the growth in open access (OA) (Piwowar et al., 2018) in recent years is a positive development towards making research more accessible, the OA landscape is complex and fraught by the academic publishing market, a profitable business controlled by an oligopoly of academic publishers, which consists of a few for-profit companies (Elsevier, SAGE, Springer Nature, Taylor & Francis, and Wiley). Since the beginning of the digital era, these companies have acquired small publishers and now control the majority of scholarly journal publishing (Larivière et al., 2015), generating profit margins as high as 37% (Aspesi et al., 2019). These profits stem largely from subscription fees and article processing charges (APCs) paid by the academic community to read and publish content provided for free by that same community. The oligopoly’s dominant approach to OA focuses on the author-pays model and often involves astronomic article processing charges (APCs) that create inequities and barriers that excludes many from publishing (Asai, 2020; Demeter, 2020).
Early OA manifestos – Budapest Open Access Initiative (2002), the Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing OA and the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and the Humanities (2003) – advanced the argument for the right to free, unrestricted and barrier free access to publicly-funded research and birthed the early beginnings of funder OA policies. To comply, many researchers choose publishing venues that require the payment of APCs. The author-pay-models commodifies knowledge, privileging the profits of large publishers over the equitable participation of all players in the scientific enterprise. This approach counters the BOAI 2022 recommendations to move away from the APC model to favour more inclusive forms of publishing that support an equitable and sustainable model for research (BOAI20, n.d.).
Although the majority of gold OA journals does not require authors to pay (73% of journals indexed in the DOAJ have no APCs), high APCs are common from prestigious publishers (Khoo, 2019; Siler & Frenken, 2020). For gold OA journals that do rely on APCs, previous studies estimate the average fees to be $1,800 (Jahn & Tullney, 2016; Solomon & Björk, 2016) Counterintuitively, hybrid APCs—subscription journals where individual articles are made freely available through APCs—are significantly more expensive (Pinfield et al., 2016, Matthias, 2018), with average estimates of $2,900 (Jahn & Tullney, 2016; Solomon & Björk, 2016). The main criticisms of hybrid OA are the high price point with APCs and the potential for publishers to double-dip—the practice of receiving two different sources of revenue for the same article (Eve, 2014; Matthias, 2018; Pinfield et al., 2016; Suber, 2012).
This study aims to estimate the total amount ($US) of APCs for gold and hybrid OA articles published between 2015 and 2018 and indexed in the Web of Science.