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Article Processing Charges – who paid how much?

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According to the Key Challenges of Research Communication De Gruyter Open Author’s Survey , the frequency of paying Article Processing Charges decreases with career level, while its average amount increases. The state of the APC market also seems to be completely different among various disciplines. Researchers from the global periphery pay APCs as frequently as their colleagues from rich countries, but seem to target cheaper journals.

Article Processing Charges, paid by a research funder, institution hiring an author, or by an author herself/himself as a fee for making an article open access, have become a common thing in Medical and Life Sciences. However, they are still rare in other fields. According to some estimations, Article Processing Charges (APCs) were paid for more than half of newly published open access papers, which is probably the result of the spectacular success of several open access mega-journals operating in the field of Life Sciences. These mega-journals developed an APC based model and dominated the OA landscape both in terms of number of works published and influence on debate about the future of the publishing industry. Meanwhile APCs seems to still be extremely rare in the Humanities and Social Sciences. What is more, when researchers in these fields pay APCs, they pay significantly less than their STEM colleagues.

In our survey 630 authors declared to have published a gold open access paper in the last 3 years. 150 of them (23.8%) declared that an Article Processing Charge was paid for one or more of these articles.

The smallest publication fee paid recently for an open access article was declared to be 28.09 euros (sic!). The maximum declared value was 30,000 euros and it is likely a mistake, so it was excluded from the analysis, together with the value of 20,000 euros. The third highest value was 3,000 euro.

The mean for the whole sample after exclusion of these two inflated values mentioned above is 722,9 euros. The median is 500 euros, and 30% of researchers who know the amount of their recent APC claimed it was 206 euros or less. The top 30% of declared APCs were 1,000 euros or above. As you can see, there is a big diversity in the amounts paid, which is well known from previous research. The lower mean of APCs paid by our respondents than may be found in other work, is a result of overrepresentation of humanists in our sample. As you will see, higher amounts of APCs are widely accepted in Medical and Life Sciences but not in Arts and Humanities.

The global periphery use cheaper journals

In my previous post on this topic I wrote that according to our research, authors based in the peripheral countries (with GDP per capita less than 20,000 USD) are not less likely to publish paid open access works than their colleagues from the richer regions. This might be seen as surprising. However, they simply seems to target cheaper journals.

64 of the authors who gave an exact amount of their recent APC were based in the core countries, 41 worked in the periphery. There is a huge difference in medians for both groups. When researchers from the core countries paid on average 1,100 euros, the median for those from the peripheries is 300 euros.

Is this a result of waiver policies or price oriented selection? This has to be determined in further research, but the second is more likely. And keeping in mind that researchers from peripheral countries publish more in open access, it may suggest that price reduction might be good for revenues of some open access journals.

Disciplinary differences

Only 8 researchers from the field of Social Sciences declared to published open access articles that APC was paid for in the last 3 years. This is 5% of academic authors working in this field and 7.8% of open access authors in Social Sciences. 4 of them said that they do not know the amount of APC paid for the recent paper, 4 of them paid accordingly 28,09, 120, 700 and 3 000 euros; the maximum value for the whole sample. One did not answer this question.

In the case of Arts and Humanities, 11 authors have author-pays papers in a portfolio of their recent works, which is 16.6% of authors of open access papers in this field, and 6.5% of all academic authors in Arts and Humanities. 4 declared to not know the amount that was paid. 7 paid fees ranging from 50 to 500 euros, with 150 euros being a median for the group.

In Science, Mathematics and Engineering 60 researchers published at least one author-pays open access paper recently, which is as much as 30.4% of authors of open access articles and 20.6% of all academic authors in this disciplinary group. 23 of them did not know the amount of APC paid for them, 42 were able to provide us this information. The median APC in this group is 500 euros. 25% paid 185 euros or less, 25% paid 1,180 euros or more, with maximal value of 2,500 euros.

It comes as no surprise that the author-pays model is the most popular among researchers dealing with Medical and Life Sciences. 33 respondents from this group claimed that they had published an open access article that APC was paid for, which is as much as 34.3% of all academic authors and 39.7% of authors who published open access article in this group. This group is also used to paying relatively big amounts in APCs. 25 respondents were able to provide us the exact amount, and numbers vary from 80 to 2,200 euro, similar to the situation in Science, Mathematics and Engineering, but with median of 900 euro. 12 researchers from this group paid more than 1000 euro.

Career level

Amount and frequency of APCs vary also according to career level. Frequency of paying APCs decreases with career level, while its average amount increases.

Among these 89 students in our sample who already became academic authors 26 (29.2%) declared to have paid an APC for at least 1 work. This is also as much 37.1% of students who published gold open access article. 12 of them do not know the amount, 14 others paid from 28.09 to 2 500 euros, with a median of 250 euros.

Among 182 academic authors who are Early Career Researchers, 34 published an author-pays open access article, which is 18.6% of all authors and 27% of authors of gold open access papers in this group, so significantly less than in the case of students. 14 ECRs did not know the amount paid for their article, 2 did not answer the question, and 18 paid from 50 to 2,500 euros with 425 euros being the median.

There are 539 estabilished academic authors in our sample, and 395 of them published at least one gold open access paper in recent years, but only 93 paid an APC in the analysed period (23.5% of those who published gold OA work and 17.2% of all authors on this career level). Therefore, established researchers are the group who pay publication fees less frequently, but at the same time spend the biggest amounts on this goal. For 67 established researchers who gave an exact amount that was paid, the median is 500 euros, the maximum value for the whole sample (3,000 euros), was paid by social scientists from this group. 26 did not know the amount.

Other analysed factors do not seem to influence the subject matter.

I am about to publish the whole dataset with beginning of May. Stay tuned.

Image Credit: 5 dollars by Emilian Robert Vicol, licensed under CC-BY 2.0.

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