May 2014 survey of DOAJ journals charging APCs

Just published in MDPI’s Publications!

For further background on this suite of research projects see the Sustaining the Knowledge Commons project page.

Abstract: As of May 2014, the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) listed close to ten thousand fully open access, peer reviewed, scholarly journals. Most of these journals do not charge article processing charges (APCs). This article reports the results of a survey of the 2567 journals, or 26% of journals listed in DOAJ, that do have APCs based on a sample of 1432 of these journals. Results indicate a volatile sector that would make future APCs difficult to predict for budgeting purposes. DOAJ and publisher title lists often did not closely match. A number of journals were found on examination not to have APCs. A wide range of publication costs was found for every publisher type. The average (mean) APC of $964 contrasts with a mode of $0. At least 61% of publishers using APCs are commercial in nature, while many publishers are of unknown types. The vast majority of journals charging APCs (80%) were found to offer one or more variations on pricing, such as discounts for authors from mid to low income countries, differential pricing based on article type, institutional or society membership, and/or optional charges for extras such as English language editing services or fast track of articles. The complexity and volatility of this publishing landscape is discussed.

Citation: Morrison, H.; Salhab, J.; Calvé-Genest, A.; Horava, T. Open Access Article Processing Charges: DOAJ Survey May 2014. Publications 2015, 3, 1-16.

The dramatic growth of BioMedCentral open access article processing charges

The average article processing charge for BioMedCentral journals requested from the University of Ottawa (uO) Library’s author’s fund increased 27% from 2010-11 to 2012-13. The 15% increase from 2011-12 to 2012-13 is 10 times the rate of inflation. 

The data indicates that this reflects increases in journal prices rather than changes in which journals uO authors publish in. For example:

Globalization and Health (a BMC journal)

  • 2010-11: uO paid an APC of $1,300 US. Assuming this reflects a BMC membership rate in effect at this time (15% discount, that’s still less than $1,500 US.
  • 2011-12: uO paid APCs at 2 different rates: $1,425 US and $1,715 US
  • 2012-13: uO paid APCSs at $1,670 and $1,715 US
  • The BMC rate listed on BMC’s own website as of Feb. 27, 2014 is $2,155 US from:

An increase in APC from $1,715 US to $2,155 US in the last year is about a 25% increase in the APC for this particular journal. Currency fluctuations could account for about one-tenth of this increase (see below for calculations), and the modest inflation rate would account for about a 1.5% increase. This still leaves more than a 20% increase in price above and beyond currency variations and inflation.

Currency variations UK pound sterling to USD, based on Bank of Canada daily and 10-year currency converter.

  • UK pound sterling to USD conversion rate:
  • Jan. 2011: 1.5586
  • Jan. 2012: 1.5654 (.0043 increase over 2011)
  • Jan. 2013: 1.6254 (.0383 increase over 2012)
  • as of Feb. 27, 2014: 1.6691 (.02688 increase over 2013)
  • Total increase in value of UK pound sterling in comparison with US dollar 2014 / 2011: 7%

Public Library of Science (PLoS), by contrast, has kept prices for their journals at exactly the same rates during this time frame. PLoS’ achievement of a 23% surplus during this time frame indicates that this was done without financial sacrifice. While I continue to call on the not-for-profit PLoS to actually lower their prices to facilitate the transition to open access, the remarkable contrast between PLoS’ holding the line on prices and while BMC raises their prices at rates far above inflation is worth noting.

Thanks to Jeanette Hatherill and the University of Ottawa Library for posting the Open Access publication rates in the uO institutional repository. This dataset contains the amounts paid for through the library’s author’s fund for open access article processing charges from 2010 – 2013. Watch for further calculations and release of my calculations spreadsheet as part of the open access article processing charges series.

This post also illustrates the value of open data. By posting this data for open access in the University of Ottawa’s institutional repository, uO is making it possible for me to conduct research like this that could be useful to uO’s own decision-making processes in future. Let’s hope this post inspires others to follow uO’s lead and share their data, too. 

This post is part of the Open access article processing charges research series

Scholarly journal article publishing: profits at below 30% of current revenues

Thanks to Mark Ware, Michael Mabe and the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM) for releasing the 2012 STM report as open access.

Based on data from the Executive Summary, we can calculate that the current average revenue per scholarly journal article published globally is approximately $5,000 US. BMC is making a profit charging an average APC that is 37% of this amount, and PLoS is bringing in a 23% surplus at less than 30% of this amount.

This is based on Ware and Mabe’s report of:

9.4 billion in revenue for english-language STM journal publishing
1.8 – 1.9 million articles published per year in 28,100 actively scholarly journals
=  approximately $5,000 in average revenue

BioMedCentral average of $1,874 is based on data downloaded from the BMC website as part of the open access article processing fee research project

The average article processing fee for an article in the profitable BioMedCentral journals is $1,874 US – that’s profit-making at an average of 37% of the current average revenue. PLoS is now enjoying a 23% profit rate, charging $1,350 per article for PLoS ONE – that’s a high profit rate at 27% of the revenue of the current average.

It should be noted that PLoS was not originally designed to be a model of publishing efficiency, but rather a combined advocacy and publishing organization meant to compete primarily at the high end of the scholarly publishing market. PLoS’ costs reflect this original mission: well-paid professional staff and headquarters in one of the world’s costliest real estate markets, San Francisco. 

This is yet an another indication, as I have argued elsewhere, that high quality scholarly publishing can be accomplished for a small fraction of existing spend – something that every faculty member and university administrator in today’s tough economic times ought to know.

Forthcoming research: tracking open access article processing fees

In the interests of open research, here is a project that I’m considering for the near future. To avoid any confusion, please remember that the vast majority of open access journals do not charge article processing fees. The purpose of this research is to track the fees themselves for those journals that do, to note evidence of competition (e.g. new low-cost approaches), reactions of publishers to substantive surpluses (such as PLoS’ apparent comfort with retaining current prices in spite of a 23% surplus, and to establish a benchmark for existing article processing fees and to track these over time, similar to the Library Journals Serials Price Survey, to keep an eye out for unwarranted price increases. 

 At this point in this process, it would be most helpful to know:

  • is anyone else already doing this?
  • is anyone considering doing this (if so, are they interested in collaborating?)
  • tips to make this work of obtaining lists of article processing fees easier
  • links to information about article processing fee levels

Comments welcome. Please note the IJPE commenting policy: this is a scholarly blog. Comments must be attributed (get in touch with me off-blog if you have a substantial comment and a good reason to request confidentiality), and any potential conflicts of interest must be noted. For example, if you are involved with a publisher / journal that charges OA article processing fees, this should be stated in your comment.

This post is part of the essential efficiences series.

Should we protect high cost subscription scholarly journals? Why not support scholars instead?

Dana Roth on the GOAL open access list has raised a question about whether subscription journals like the ‘Journal of Comparative Neurology’, with a subscription price of $30,860, would be sustainable with green open access. The subject line is Disruption vs. Protection. Following is my response:

A journal publishing 234 articles per year charging $30,860 for a subscription SHOULD be disrupted, on the basis of price. At this rate it would cost 7 times more to provide access to only the medical schools in North America than to provide open access to everyone, everywhere with an internet connection, even at the rates of a for-profit professional commercial publisher’s very high impact journal. At the rates of The Journal of Machine Learning, aptly described by Shieber as an efficient journal, all of the articles published in this journal could be made open access for a total cost that is less than 10% of a single subscription.


The Association of American Medical Colleges accredits 141 medical schools in the U.S. and Canada alone. If each one of these schools purchased a subscription at $30,860, that would add up to revenue of $4.3 million per year.

$4.3 million would be sufficient to pay open access article processing fees for 1,657 articles at the rates of the professional for-profit BioMedCentral’s very-high-impact journal Genome Biology (U.S. $2,265).

Shieber describes the approach and costs (average $10 per article) of the Journal of Machine Learning on his blog The Occasional Pamphlet:

The question should be how we can protect and sustain high-quality scholarly publishing in an open access environment – not how to protect such mind-boggling inefficiency as journals that charge over $30,000 for a subscription!

Those who think that it is important to sustain scholarly journals so that a surplus can assist with things like education might want to consider whether medical schools should immediately cancel this journal and offer a medical student a $30,000 scholarship instead.

Comparing OA article processing fees with academic salaries

Update September 12: data added from Ayalew’s (2012) research indicating that gross annual salary for an associate professor in Ethiopia is 56,400 Ethiopian birr, or approximately $3,400 US (ETB 16.6 = U.S. $1.00). Assuming that at least the equivalent of $400 is paid in tax, that means that a scholarly publisher charging $3,000 for an open access article processing fee is paying a sufficient amount to cover a full-time salary for an Associate Professor in a country like Ethiopia. My recommendation is that research funders supporting work in the developing world should consider carefully before supporting gold open access article processing fees. Do the math. Instead of paying publishers like Elsevier and Springer $3,000 to make a single article open access, why not require green open access archiving and use the funds to support a full-time academic in the developing world instead? 

My advocacy interests include both open access and sustainable scholarly publishing. One area in need of further attention is the impact of publisher costs (whether subscription or open access) on resources to support academics (salaries and research funding).

One concern that I have with the push for payment of gold open access article processing fees (the RCUK approach) is that publishers are likely to set standards based on the UK approach which then impact scholars around the world, because scholarly publishing is global in nature.

One area of research in need of attention is comparison of open access article processing fees with academic salaries. This is particularly needed in the developing world, but even in the developed world it is worth noting that the $3,000 OA fee charged by some scholarly publishers is more than many adjuncts in the US are paid to teach a course (see for example this table by the American Psychological Association):

Considering the high percentage of voluntary labour involved in scholarly publishing (unpaid writing for research articles, peer review and much of the editing), it is possible to publish using models that involve extremely low dollar costs. See, for example, Shieber’s post An efficient journal detailing how the Journal of Machine Learning publishes at an average of $10 per article. Valuable as open access is, the research and writing needs to be done and we academics should be asking ourselves whether we want universities and research funders to be paying a $3,000 article processing fee, or whether we would prefer DIY at $10 or so per article and directing the funds to support academic salaries and research grants instead.

Results of a research collaboration by the “Laboratory for Institutional Analysis (LIA) from the Higher School of Economics (HSE) in Moscow, Russia, and the Boston College Center for International Higher Education (CIHE) in the United States in collaboration with experts from 28 countries around the world” links here finds that even after adjusting for differences in currency using the purchasing power parity (PPP) method, the local equivalent of $3,000 is more than a month’s salary for an academic at the top rank for 7 of the 28 countries studies (25%), and more than a month’s salary at 11 of the 28 countries studied (more than a third). Even the PLoS ONE fee of $1,350 is more than month’s salary at the PPP equivalent at the top academic rank in 3 countries (China, Russia Federation, and Armenia). Method: go to Quantitative Data, download the data for academic salaries (only PPP provided), sort by rank (I used top rank and rank 3).

This is very preliminary data, shared in the spirit of open research and also as an illustration of the kind of research that is needed before global approaches to paying for open access are even considered. This data would appear to suggest that at some countries, not necessarily even the world’s poorest countries, even local equivalents of open access using article processing fees at the rates of PLoS ONE or Springer would cost more than a month’s salary for a top ranked academic.

As a next phase, I’m thinking of looking into the actual data not adjusted for currency differences to compare the actual academic salaries with open access article processing fees.


Ayalew, E. (2012). Salary and incentive structure in Ethiopian Higher Education. In: Altbach, P. ; Reisberg, L.; Yudkevich, Ml; Androushchak, G., and Pacheco, I. , eds. Paying the professiorate: a global comparison of compensation and contracts.  Routledge: New York and London, 2012. [Note: I have access to a copy of this book through the excellent collection at the University of Ottawa’s library. How many academics in less affluent areas would have ready access to a work like this?]

Academically appropriate comments are welcome.