When the Public Library of Science, a non-profit organization based in San -Francisco, California, and other publishers popularized article-processing charges (APCs) in the mid-2000s, scholarly publishing in Latin America was already embracing open access (OA) using a different model: instead of charging authors, academic institutions published journals edited by faculty members. The approach is a type of ‘diamond OA’, which works without fees for readers or authors.
Over the same time period, APCs have become ubiquitous in the global north, embraced by for-profit journals and encouraged by many leading European and US funders. The vibrant publishing ecosystem in Latin America (and elsewhere in the global south) will not be left unscathed.
I know this ecosystem is vibrant and diverse because I’ve spent 15 years working at the Public Knowledge Project (PKP) — based at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada — and I am now co-scientific director of this initiative to make research publicly available. I have met hundreds of journal editors who work hard, often in challenging conditions, to bring the knowledge discovered by their communities to the rest of the world. An incredibly diverse set of journals now uses Open Journal Systems, free software developed by PKP, to manage, publish and index their work (S. Khanna et al. Preprint at SciELO preprints https://doi.org/jgbz; 2022). My and my colleagues’ work shows that many non-academics frequently access this content. Many titles focus on locally relevant issues, such as rural development, local histories and Indigenous cultures. There are, of course, journals of broad global interest as well.
Yet many Latin American scholars still seek to publish in well-funded journals in Europe and North America, which are seen as more prestigious and get more international attention. And many research-evaluation systems favour journals indexed in databases such as Scopus and Web of Science, which contain a tiny fraction of the journals found in the global south. As more journals charge APCs, more Latin American institutions are pressured to pay them.
In Colombia alone, APC payments are estimated to have grown by 18-fold since 2019. The amount is expected to increase after some five dozen institutions signed Latin America’s first ‘transformative agreement’ (a contract to pay APCs to subscription-based journals that are changing business models) late last year. At least 120 journals in Latin America have begun charging APCs in the past 5 years, although this model inherently links publication to authors’ (or their funders’ or institutions’) ability to pay.