How Much Does It Cost to Publish a Scientific Paper?

May 08, 2024

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(Estimate read time: 4-5 minutes)

The concerted shift to Open Access (OA) publishing in the scholarly community has created a new model under which authors now pay to publish, leaving readers free to consume their content at no cost. The cost of publishing scientific research in this model is simplified to a specific Article Processing Charge, or APC. However, the not-so-simple truth is that APCs vary substantially, and the manner in which they are paid means that the cost of publishing a paper is not so clear cut. This article breaks down the APC in an author-pays, OA-publishing model, how much the APC might be, and how researchers can get help covering the costs.

What are Article Processing Charges (APC)?

An APC is the fee charged to authors to publish their work in a pay-to-publish, OA model. This is an alternative to the reader-pays model, where universities and institutions pay subscription fees to access journal content. The APC means that authors must now consider the costs associated with publishing their work. The function and protocols of publishing do not differ from the reader-pays model. These include industry-standard implementation of peer review, editorial, production, indexing, data management and security, digital or print publishing, and discoverability and search optimization.

How much are APCs?

Article Processing Charges (APCs) in academic publishing are subject to a range of factors and can vary significantly, making current, standardized estimates difficult to identify. Reports of APC averages or ranges do not provide a clear picture of the expected scenario for authors. Generally, publishing experts suggest that APCs within the credible journal environment typically fall in the range of $1,600 to $4,000. Certain, name-brand journals such as Nature Communications certainly exceed this range; further, several journals operating under external funding and with a simplified publishing operation are able to charge only nominal APCs that are below this range. A reasonable APC for open-access journals remains a subject of ongoing debate, as the fees can vary widely depending on:

  • The quality, competitiveness, and perceived prestige of the journal (i.e. author demand);
  • The exposure the journal has via marketing, content production, and media relations;
  • Whether the journal is intended as a revenue generator either for a society or as a for-profit publisher
  • Whether the journal has external funding or other institutional support

These factors result in APCs that can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.

Journals with long standing reputations, extremely competitive submissions (i.e., high demand), and greater societal recognition and exposure tend to charge higher APCs. Journals with niche readerships, small society publications, and newly established journals might charge between $1,000 and $2,000.

A list of APC estimates from well-known journals:

You’ll notice in the above list that there is even wide variability between journals within the same publisher portfolio. Prestigious PLOS titles command fees in excess of 200% of those for other titles in their portfolio.

Hybrid journals generally arose as a response to the need for an OA publishing option for many authors, whether based on their own demand or external requirements of their funders. Because hybrid journals, including those from societies, were already successful publishing under their subscription model, they can charge slightly higher APCs for offering the option of OA in their journal.

A few highlights for fully open access journals:

  • The majority of IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) open-access journals have an APC of $1,995 USD.
  • AGU’s AGU Advances lists its APC at $3,150, and Geophysical Research Letters at $2,900.
  • ACS Omega charges $1,935 regardless of the open access license chosen

For hybrid/transformative journals, the APC pricing is:

  • IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers)’s hybrid journals have an APC of $2,495 USD.
  • AGU’s hybrid journals such as Journal of Geophysical and Radio Science have an APC of $3,880.

Do authors pay for APCs?

They often do, but they may use individual grant funds, or the costs might be covered by central funds managed by their institution and supported by funding agencies. In some cases, institutions prepay or arrange discounts through memberships, often coordinated through libraries.

What funding or support can I find for APCs?

Many universities have detailed information on their websites about open access policies, funding support available for APCs, and steps to apply for such support.

For example, the University of Cambridge receives block grants to cover APCs for papers that acknowledge a research grant from specific funders, including British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, and UKRI/RCUK, among others. However, it’s important to note that some funding bodies, like the European Union’s Horizon Europe, do not cover APCs for articles in hybrid open-access journals.

It’s beneficial for researchers to communicate with their institution’s library or research office to understand the specific open access initiatives and agreements in place.

In addition, many publishers provide fee waivers or discounts for students, researchers from low-income countries, or cases of financial hardship.

See the list below:

Taylor & Francis

100% APC waivers for corresponding authors primarily affiliated with low-income countries as defined by the World Bank, with a GDP of less than 100 billion US dollars.

BMJ

offering full waivers of the APC for authors based in low-income countries. They evaluate discount requests on a case-by-case basis for countries not on their list.

Oxford University Press (OUP)

waives APCs automatically in fully open access journals for eligible authors from developing countries. They also offer a limited number of discretionary waivers for authors in fully open access journals who cannot afford the APC.

MDPI

offer APC waivers or discounts and on average waive around 25%-27% of their content yearly. The waivers and discounts range from 15% to 100%, depending on the journal’s establishment and the field’s level of funding.

BioMed Central

offers APC waivers to papers whose corresponding authors are from low-income economies as categorized by the World Bank. They also consider waiver requests from authors in financial need on a case-by-case basis.

Hindawi

provides an automatic 100% waiver for APCs to authors based in certain low-income countries and a 50% waiver for authors from some lower-middle-income countries.

Springer Nature

APC waivers and discounts to authors based in low-income economies and a 50% discount to authors from lower-middle-income economies with a GDP of less than 200 billion USD.

What are some tools I can use to navigate the SCIE publishing landscape and APCs?

cOAlition S Journal Checker Tool: helps authors determine if a journal complies with Plan S, promoting open access.

SHERPA/RoMEO: helps researchers and librarians understand publishers’ open access policies and rights retained by authors.

LetPub: assists authors in finding the most suitable academic journals for their manuscripts according to impact factor, open access policies, and publication speed.

Peeref: the Journals database on Peeref is a full-feature search tool that allows academics to find, screen, and select the most suitable journals for their manuscripts. Scholars can access a wealth of journal information and metrics, all supported by a community-driven evaluation system that facilitates informed decision-making.

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