Image Credit: Pexels
Image Credit: Pexels

Many academic publishers are adopting article processing charges (APCs) to fund the publication of open access (OA) research in their journals. Yet, as some of the burden of paying for article production shifts from library subscription fees to author-side fees, insight into how it’s affecting authors is somewhat limited. How are authors paying for APCs? Do they have access to the funds that they need? And what is the author’s experience with APCs like? These are just some questions to be addressed on a wider scale as the shift towards OA publishing continues.

A 2017 white paper by Knowledge Exchange titled, “Financial and administrative issues around article publication costs for Open Access The author’s perspective,” is one of the first reports to explore APCs from the author’s point of view. In order to compile the report, Knowledge Exchange surveyed 1,069 researchers from 6 participating libraries across Europe about their experience publishing articles in Gold OA journals or hybrid OA journals in 2015. In this blog post we’ve compiled 5 key findings from the report to help you get a quick look at the results.

Authors receive varied APC funding options with some uncertainty

Among researchers surveyed, the Knowledge Exchange report found that all received different types of APC support. While some authors have access to a designated APC fund at their institution, for others, APC support is wrapped into general research funding and can sometimes be distributed from multiple budgets. Among options for receiving APC funding were block grants, central registration, and case-by-case funding.

The institutions of surveyed researchers also approached hybrid OA differently, with some allowing research funds to be allocated to hybrid OA journals and others forbidding it. In general, institutions that denied support to authors publishing in hybrid OA journals did so because hybrid publications require the academic community to pay for research two times - once for the APCs for OA articles and once for the subscription fees to access paywalled content.

APC financing options available to authors include:

  • APC-funds managed by libraries/universities
  • APC-funds managed by research funders
  • Research grants
  • Research group budgets

The Knowledge Exchange survey found that availability of APC funding had a direct impact on authors’ journal choices. Survey respondents said that if they did not have access to APC funds they would look to publish their article in journals without APCs, because they did not have an alternative means of paying for publication. Conversely, authors with access to APC funding were more likely to publish in APC-OA journals.

There were some instances of authors privately paying APC fees found in the survey. This was reported by 6.5% of researchers surveyed in Helsinki, Finland; 2.9% of those surveyed in Göttingen, Germany; and 4.2% of researchers surveyed in Inria, France. Some authors also noted that they accepted APC-OA journal offers with some uncertainty surrounding their access to funds, taking on a personal risk.

Administrative work around APCs poses challenges for some authors

One area of APCs that’s less widely discussed is the administrative work associated with applying for APC funding, for authors, and distributing APC funds, for institutions. According to one study on processing APCs at UK institutions, it took an average of two hours to process an APC per article, which included some time spent by authors. Authors spent anywhere from a few minutes on processing APCs for their articles to an hour. The varied APC funding options across institutions and different institutional channels to request funding have created complexity for some authors. Using one hour as a threshold for an acceptable amount of time for authors to spend on processing APCs, the Knowledge Exchange surveys found that the average amount of time authors spent on administrative tasks for APCs was much too high.

Authors prefer publishing in OA journals for various reasons

The Knowledge Exchange report found that many authors are now favoring OA journals. Among researchers surveyed who prefer publishing in OA journals, many said publishing OA is a way to ensure their research reaches as wide an audience as possible and helps to boost its impacts beyond academia, such as leading to increased usage of medical findings among practitioners. In the UK, in addition to authors’ desire to publish their research in journals that will give them as much exposure as possible, the Research Excellence Framework’s (REF) emphasis on the impacts of research beyond academia is a key factor in many author decisions to publish in OA journals. The REF is the UK’s system for assessing the quality of research conducted in publicly-funded UK universities. It favors research that has wider impacts beyond academia in society, public policy, the economy, and so forth.

In the UK especially, funder mandates have also had a big impact on journal selection, as many funders like Wellcome Trust require that research be published in an OA outlet and check to ensure academics are following this mandate when issuing funding.

Other reasons authors preferred publishing in OA journals were having the ability to freely republish and distribute their articles. Additionally, researchers surveyed said that they publish in OA journals for ideological reasons, because they believe research should be made as accessible as possible.

Authors surveyed prefer Gold OA

In selecting OA options, the majority surveyed said that they prefer Gold OA, though some said Green OA is an alternative that they use. Respondents who said they prefer Gold OA consider Green OA less desirable because it takes longer to verify copyright allowances with publishers and deposit research into a repository. Some also said that they believe that scholars prefer published versions of articles, so they do not see Green OA as a sure means of increasing readership and citations for their articles.

While libraries are becoming a source of information on APCs, authors still rely on publishers

Another finding of the survey was that while libraries are becoming more actively involved in OA publishing services at their universities, authors still rely heavily on publishers for APC information. Many researchers listed journal websites as a primary source of information on OA publishing practices. As a result, it’s important for journals to provide explanations for all of their OA policies and how they relate to wider OA developments and mandates.

There is still yet to be a central communication channel for researchers to get information on all of the OA publishing options available to them. Also, the variety of terms for OA publishing options (sometimes created by publishers) can cause confusion for authors. In order to improve authors’ experience publishing in OA journals, the report recommends publishers and institutions adopt more shared language and explanations of available OA options.

You can read the full Knowledge Exchange report here. What are your thoughts on authors’ experiences with APC funded journals from your perspective as a journal publisher, researcher, or both? Do you think authors have adequate support for publishing in APC-OA journals, and how do you think authors feel about this OA funding option? We’d love to know your thoughts - share them in the comments below or on Twitter by tweeting at @scholasticahq!

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