Should Journals Collect Charges to Publish Research Works?


Last year, I was to supervise a group of Ph.D. scholars. Most of them came from developing countries and living off their student jobs to survive. When it comes to their research, they relied on public funding and research grants to get ahead.

But there is a problem!

When it comes to publishing their research works on journals, these scholars face the huge challenge of finance.

Why? Well, because most impact journals require what is called “Article Processing Charges” or APC to get their research published. Some of these charges range from as little as $200 to as high as $5000. In the end, most of them settled for free Open Access because they could not afford these fees. But I could tell you one thing for sure; they weren’t happy about it!

Paying Article Processing Charges to Publish Research Work

Since the introduction of Open Access in 2000, there has been a huge debate whether authors should pay to have their work published or settle for free journals.

While some were of the opinion that the research works are mostly done with public funds, therefore it should be free to the public, others are of the opinion that publishing research works cost money and therefore there is a need for authors to pay some charges. However, there is a third group that agreed that there is a need for payment but disagreed on the amount to be paid.

Separating the Facts From Fictions

While it is easy to get emotional and say research works should be free for authors, the fact is there will always be a cost for publishing any research work. There is no such thing as a free journal. Every journal costs money. Even those journals that publish research works for free depend on donations from organizations to survive.

Let’s take Open Library of the Humanities for example. This peer-reviewed journal is completely free and you are not charged to publish your work. However, the publisher estimated that they need at least $320,000 to sustain operation on its first year.

The truth is that there will always be cost and you need to pay for these services if you need them.

Journals that don’t charge APC depend on reviewers and authors who work on a volunteer basis. But even if these people are not paid, there are still costs to publishing these works. Like the journal we mentioned above, they have 3 full-time salaried staff members that receive a total of about $246,000. Apart from paying these people, there are still other costs such as platform maintenance, typesetting, server costs, digital preservation, and more.

How Much Does It Cost To Publish In Open Access?

There is no doubt that Journal is now a big business with some of these journals making a profit that is almost the same size as that of tech giants. The popular claim is that these charges (APC) are for reviewing, copyediting, layout, and online hosting and archiving. However, there is no denying that these charges are most times outrageous and discourages excellent researches from being published in impact journals.

In 2011, publishing industry generated revenues of $9.4 billion and published about 1.8 million articles, according to a data obtained by the consultancy firm Outset based in California. A little calculation puts the cost of one article at $5000.

In 2010, Elsevier’s scientific publishing reported revenue of over £2bn and £724m in profit. This figure is 36% higher than profit posted by Google, Apple, and Amazon the same year.

The largest publishers of Open Access – BioMED Central and PLoS charged between $1,350 and $2,250 to publish peer-reviewed articles. But in some cases, this figure can go up to $2,700 or even $2,900 for one article when published in more renowned journals.  Cell Reports, another popular journal charges $5,000 to publish one article.

Should You Pay To Publish in Impact Journals or Free Ones?

This debate always comes down to where to publish your research. There are certain considerations and trade-offs to be made. When it comes down to it, publishers are more concerned about the sustainability and profitability of their business in the Open Access Universe while authors have other concerns.

The fact is that high impact journals that charge excessive fees spend a lot of money to ensure your article is available in places you want them to be. Moreover, people take these journals more seriously compare to free ones. Despite these outrageous prices, your research won’t get published in impact journals if the quality is poor. People tend to have high confidence in these types of journals.

Most of the time, free journals have reviewers with little experience leading to low-quality works being published in these journals. But it is not all bad for free Open Access, there are still a bunch of them that publish works that are comparable to the journals that charge high APC in terms of quality. But we humans are wired to think that costlier things have the most value.

Most authors agreed that there should be charges to offset the cost of maintaining the website and other logistics but not as high as thousands of dollars. Personally, I think most authors will be comfortable paying a fee around $50 to $100 without complaints.

The following table shows the cost of publishing in some renowned journals:

Journal Title Article Processing Charge (US$) Publisher
eLife No charge Howard Hughes Medical InstituteMax Planck SocietyWWellcome Trust
PLoS ONE 1350 Public Library of Science
PLoS Medicine 2900 Public Library of Science
Journal of Medical Case Report 960 BioMed Central
Archives of Public Health 1730 BioMed Central
Cancer and metabolism 2285 BioMed Central
Nucleic Acid Research 2770 Oxford Journals
PeerJ 99-299 PeerJ
PNAS 75 per page US National Assembly of Sciences
Cell Reports 5000 Cell Press
Neuron 5000 Cell press
Nature Communication 4800 Nature Publishing Group
Physical Review Letters 2700 American Physical Society
Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research 790 Associação Brasileira de Divulgação

Decision! Decision!

Now is up to you? Let’s hear your opinion. Do you think researchers should pay outrageous charges to publish in impact journals or should they settle for free journals? Alternatively, do you think there is a need to have a body that regulates charges to be paid to publish research works on these journals?