Scholarly Authors are Increasingly Experiencing APC Fatigue


APCs create a digital divide.

Article Processing Charges (APCs) are the fees charged to authors upon acceptance of their papers in gold (author pays) open-access journals, and authors are getting tired of paying these increasingly higher fees. This is called APC fatigue.

A recent letter to the editor appearing in the Journal of the College of Physicians and Surgeons Pakistan documented the increasing APC fatigue that authors are feeling. The grass-roots letter documents the divide that APCs create between well-funded authors and those lacking sufficient funding.

The letter, written by physiology professor Sultan Ayoub Meo, is entitled, “Open Access Journals: Open for Rich, Closed for Poor.” In the letter he describes journals with high article processing charges and asks,

In many developing countries still, the monthly salary of a senior science faculty (Professor) in public sector institutes is less than $1000 / month. How is it possible the researchers from the developing countries can publish their papers in such journals?

I regularly receive emails from people all over the world asking me about how they might avoid article processing charges. Many publishers claim to waive the charges for low-income countries, but most open-access publishers are in business to make a profit, so there’s little incentive for them to waive or discount their onerous fees.

Here are two examples of emails I have received:

Dear Jeffrey,
May I please have a list of journals that I can submit to. Because some of this high reputable journals like IEEE, Hindawi, Springe etc, their publication fees are too expensive. For a computer scientist
Makinde [surname redacted]

Here’s another:

Our group has written a mini review with over 200 citations on the links between infections and cancer we are finding only a few free inexpensive places to publish. Most are expensive requesting up to 2 thousand an article. Is their a free credible open source we can submit for medical content. Thank you for your recommendation, we are new to publishing. I enjoyed your comments and information on the subject.


Dino [Surname redacted]

As seen in the image below, some publishers are no longer offering waivers:

“Waiver policy is not applicable.”  Taken from here.

Gold open-access is the predominant open-access model, and there are hundreds of for-profit publishers using this model, with more appearing almost daily. The evidence shown here indicates that scholarly authors are weary of paying APC and are starting to experience APC fatigue.

Also, because most gold open-access publishers are for-profit companies, their first concern is profit, and many are becoming reluctant to grant discounts and waivers on article processing charges.



43 Responses to Scholarly Authors are Increasingly Experiencing APC Fatigue

  1. Harvey Kane says:

    There is nothing new about APCs and the complaints expressed regarding them were expressed by faculty in wealthy nations only some 50 years ago!

    At that time there were page charges and they were considered onerous. In response journal publishers either dropped page charges or they were negligible and increased subscription rates.

    As for APC charges now to quote Al Jolson: “You ain’t seen nothin yet!”

    • Harvey, APCs and page charges are different things, in my opinion. Page charges generally are made by tight-budgeted, non-profit scholarly societies. Most of the APCs I see eminate from greedy publishers wanting to exploit their customers (the authors) as much as they can get away with.

      • Harvey Kane says:

        Interesting comment. Page charges were just about universal some 40 to 50 years ago. The ACS had them and so did Elsevier.

        As for greedy publishers, you are saying that PloS as well as ACS is a greedy publisher – as is for that matter – any entity who has APCs such as the Welcome Trust.

        BTW non-profit does not mean profitless. Think not? Just look at the annual reports of the large societies and associations.

        Lastly, APCs are charged by those engaged in OA. Thus, if one does not want to pay an APC one can submit an article to a subscription journal.

        You see, the first law of economics prevails!

        There is no free lunch.

      • Narad says:

        Harvey, APCs and page charges are different things, in my opinion. Page charges generally are made by tight-budgeted, non-profit scholarly societies.

        Indeed. Having spent a great deal of time working for a nonprofit publisher on a society portfolio, I know for a fact in my case that (1) the society aggressively pushed to lower page charges while keeping subscription rates low (which wasn’t a great deal for staff salaries, but there were other benefits) and (2) the EICs had a dedicated budget for waiving page charges.

        So, yes, some of the better-funded authors’ page charges went to subsidizing those who didn’t have that luxury. I’m not aware of anyone having complained about this. Similarly, although the publisher was nonprofit, some divisions wound up subsidizing others, as well having funds going to IT development, etc.

        Right now, those page charges stand at just over $100 per page, which includes manuscript editing, and the subscription cost is under $3000 for print + electronic, for a large journal with a 6+ IF.

      • Harvey Kane says:

        $100 per page plus $3K for the subscription seems like a very profitable endeavor. I was a VP at two non-profits and would have very much enjoyed having a journal that generated that kind of cash flow. With only 500 subscribers, and I am sure you had more, that was a $1.5 million journal without page charges.

      • Dana Roth says:

        I disagree with Harvey Kane. The major attraction for authors to submit papers to commercial publishers was the lack of page charges.

      • Narad says:

        With only 500 subscribers, and I am sure you had more, that was a $1.5 million journal without page charges.

        And, apparently, magically without expenses. The only thing left to pare from that budget was manuscript editorial, which, done properly, is more than moving commas around. And, of course, the publisher’s upper management itself, which ain’t going nowhere.

        A quick glance at a recent Form 990 puts the society (fee-for-service) expenses at just over $800,000. For about 30,000 pages. Subscription revenue goes to the society. There aren’t many people getting rich here.

      • Harvey Kane says:

        They are dropping over $1mil to the bottom line! They are rolling in money from just this one journal. I would bet their payroll matches that of for profit concerns.

        I cannot think of any commercial subscription based journals that have page charges.

        It appears that the society is taking from both ends.

      • Narad says:

        They are dropping over $1mil to the bottom line! They are rolling in money from just this one journal. I would bet their payroll matches that of for profit concerns.

        Define “payroll.” I’ve got the 2012 Form 990 right here. Total publication expenses were $5.8 million, and total publication revenue was $8.1 million. All told, the society came out ahead by $1.8 million on the year. Average for-profit revenue per paper in 2011 was $5000. I’m getting $2040 for this portfolio in 2012.

  2. I would be interested in seeing your list of OA publishers that are for-profit and what their profit margins are, if you have one. I have been concerned that those of us whose institutions offer author support to pay an APC are also paying a hefty profit to just such publishers. BioMed Central (aka Springer) and Hindawi are two large for-profit OA publishers, but PLoS and Frontiers, also major players, state they are non-profit.

    Recent articles have pointed out that unless APC awards are restricted in some way to encourage (or indirectly force) authors to “shop around” for a better deal to publish, we are merely supplanting one high journal cost for another. That is, we are not supporting one goal of the open access movement–to reduce or inhibit spiraling journal costs.

    Some institutions subsidize any APC, even if it is paying twice for the same content (i.e., the library pays for subscription and they pay an APC for immediate, free access to anyone with Internet connectivity).

    I am considering the possibility of implementing a tiered subsidy where an author receives the full amount for an APC charged by a non-profit OA publisher but only a portion charged by a for-profit publisher. We will continue not to support optional OA fees by for-profit publishers.

    My questions are: Should this profit margin be our concern or should we support any quality OA publication regardless of the fee? Is the primary goal to make peer-reviewed research free to all or is it to disrupt the fee structure of for-profit publishers? Is it an increasing trend that non-profit OA publishers are recalling their original option to waive an APC?


    • Harvey Kane says:

      Dear Claudia:

      Non-profit does not mean they do not make money. It is a tax code designation. PLoS has its financials on line as does most other publishers. Springer does not because it is a privately held company, but it is in all likelihood about the same as everyone else.
      However, you have to see what the publisher owns and how it makes its money. Some publish scholarly journals, trade advertising based magazines too, and other properties so their profit picture would look different than just a STM publisher.

      I would look at:

      Wiley and Elsevier
      ASM and Amer Soc of Micro as well as FASEB


      When looking at PLoS see if you can break out PLoS one from the start ups.

      • Thank you for your response, Harvey. I realize that money is being made by non-profit groups. However, those funds are typically funneled back into programs and services for the recipients they are serving, so to speak. Their non-profit status dictates, to a large degree, how they can use their money.

        I am not opposed to supporting a for-profit company. However, I am opposed to what library customers, as major consumers of journal subscriptions, consider excessive, unfair, and unsustainable profit margins. A tiered system of support would not be to “punish” individuals who choose to publish with a for-profit publisher; it would be one means of continuing to offer financial assistance but perhaps ensuring a mutual responsibility for paying an APC or an OA option. Sure, it’s important what faculty “think,” which is, I guess you mean, the value they place on their journal choice.

        Regarding your comment about censorship, I think that is not applicable in this context. An individual can publish wherever they want and provide access to their content to whomever they want (although, using your definition, they are censoring their own work when they publish behind a pay wall or sign away their copyrights).

        As part of a partially state-supported public institution, we are accountable for spending funds the public and our institution entrust to us in the most responsible way possible. If denying support for an APC that results in double-spending is censorship, then we are guilty. One could even argue this is “triple spending” because faculty authors are being compensated with state funds, in our case, to conduct research & write articles, which are then either given freely to, or one pays, a publisher to publish. There is definitely something wrong with that model.

      • Harvey Kane says:

        Dear Claudia:

        I see you feel that commercial publishers are achieving excessive profits. I wonder what excessive profits are? Do you feel the same about say Apple, Google and Microsoft and are you prepared to put a limit on these companies in some way for instance boycotting them and forbidding more than say 9 months of access to Google?

        BTW I believe Wiley makes about 8% profit and T&F about 9%. Is that too much? If so, what should it be?

        On the other hand a top science researcher brings in a lot of money and the University takes much of it in the form of administrative fees, etc, should that researcher be paid the same as one who does not bring in the grants?

        Although a society/association is limited on what they can spend their money, aren’t they spending it on their membership’s agenda? And, isn’t a member just another word for shareholder?

        When one publishes behind a pay wall there is access if one is willing to go to the library or has an account. A pay wall is not in any way manner or form censorship. It may be an inconvenience but it does not stop someone from accessing the information. To say so is a canard.

        I would suggest that possibly you ask those faculty who are complaining about excess profits just what they are talking about and get some numbers from them.

        We are seeing the price of OA publishing going up and up. The reason is because it is expensive to publish, especially when one realizes the rather small size of the market for the vast majority of that which is published.

        Lastly, go to the faculty and ask which of the subscription journals would you be willing to do without so that we can award more money to OA journals?

        If memory serves the goal and reason for OA was to provide a venue to those who desired to have their articles available freely and openly. It was not to find some funding source to do so!

    • Harvey Kane says:

      I would look at more than just the profit part of the equation. OA is not a profitless endeavor regardless of who is the publisher – for profit or not for profit. I would think the most important part of the equation is what the faculty thinks. By instituting a tiered system based on “profit” one has to determine what profit means.

      Also, any system that penalizes with whom to publish is a form of censorship and I would hate to think a librarian would be involved in that kind of activity.

  3. ‘Gold open-access is the predominant open-access model’ I was wondering if you might clarify what you meant by that? Did you mean it terms of “prestige” journals being mainly gold OA? If you did mean in terms of all journals I was wondering if there is a study you could point me in the direction where you got that fact from? I was under the impression that free was dominate because DOAJ (while not an all encompassing source) has free OA to gold OA journals almost 2 to 1 (6447 free to 3094 charging).

    But, would love to find a study that has looked at that issue beyond my simple back of napkin numbers. If you know of any.


    • Hi, Apologies if my first comment was not clear. I am really interested in if anyone has any data on the different models of OA. I would like to know what the breakdown of OA models are– Gold vs. free. If you can point me in the direction of any data/publications I would appreciate it. My own searches have turned up very little. Thank you.

  4. Jeff Shrager says:

    OTOH, a libertarian (or a purest economist, neither of which describe me, BTW) might argue that the system works correctly. There are plenty of good free (to the author) journals, as well as good enough and ethical OS journals (PLoS, e.g.) that will actually drop the APC, so if your paper isn’t good enough to get into a “real” journal, then you have to decide what it’s worth to you.

  5. Fabrizio Molteno says:

    I am a post-doc in Computer Science in a developed country. Still I do not have a budget for paying publications. Still, I never had any problem to publish in more-than-respectable CS journals without paying anything. As far as I know, no CS high-ranked journals is completely open-access and, hence, it does not require APCs (unless you want to, for journals having an open-access option). To “Makinde [surname redacted]” I would suggest to look at most IEEE’s journals (the IEEE Transactions, in particular), or to SIAM’s ones, or to ACM’s ones, and so on..

    • Stan Ustymenko says:

      Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research and Journal of Machine Learning Research are both open access and high ranking. They also do not charge any APC. IEEE is launching several new open-access journals (and I believe plans to charge the author fees).
      But yes, there is no shortage of subscription-model venues. So it is not like OA journals take away some opportunities otherwise avaliable.

  6. ashok says:

    Dear Jedi I think you are vary free person I think you have no famali plz work don’t east your time

  7. kheops says:

    Dear Jeffrey

    Does the presence of a waiver policy for APC make an OA publisher credible?


  8. Marco says:

    Sorry, don’t know where to submit a journal for you to consider, so I just place this here:
    I think this one fits just about all your criteria of a predatory OA journal

    Pretty cheap, but they sent me a message promising a 4-day review procedure…

    • Marco, Thank you — I had not heard of this journal before. Now I have analyzed it and added to my list here. In addition to the problems you observed, it also makes prominent use of bogus metrics, claiming it has an impact factor when it does not. Again, thanks for letting me know about it.

    • Guido B says:

      Apparently this “International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Business Management” “covers all areas of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Business Management and other fields as well”. It seems they just randomly took two popular research fields and pasted them together…

  9. Nils says:

    Recently, Retraction Watch mentioned the web site Journalguide:

    The site offers information on fees, indexing, etc. Since the site is quite new, the information is often still incomplete, but in time it might become a valuable ressource for finding a place where to publish. I checked some journals I know, and the information on them was accurate.

    Of course, the best way of selecting a journal remains to carefully survey where serious fellow scientists of your field publish.

  10. Riaz Uddin says:

    Though it is not my field I have published an article which is closely related to this topic (please follow the link: When you are from a low-income country and yes you earn only 300/400 USD a month it sounds like a luxury to publish in an open access journal. But, sometimes, you need to be tricky, may be keep your eyes open (this is important for “poor researchers” like me- I don’t care if you think I am taking chances). One of my colleagues published 2 articles with Hindawi Publishing Corporation without paying any APC. If you keep your eyes open you will notice they offer complete APC waiver sometimes.

    For major well reputed OA publishers there is an APC waiver policy. I have good experience with OA model and I have seen my colleagues to publish in OA journals for free. So, sorry I can’t agree with the notion “Open for Rich, Closed for Poor”! But, I do second all OA publishers should have a waiver policy for authors who are from low income countries.

    Thanks and regards.

  11. Staffsci1 says:

    journals like IEEE, Hindawi, Springe etc

    Hindawi reputable? On what planet?!?!?!

    • Riaz Uddin says:

      Well Hindawi is reputable for many reasons, I think. Firstly, they demand they are reputable (!), secondly, if you follow a recent research published in Science by John Bohannon (if not, please follow the link: it is clear that the peer review policy of Hindawi is functional and smoothly working, third and finally, I tried to publish with them but failed for 5 times.

      It is not because I failed, it is because I have seen their quality of review. One of my manuscript was reviewed by 6 peers (its brutal, pathetic, inhuman) and got rejected on 2-4 votes!

    • Istvan Mohacsi says:

      I believe Hindawi is changing it’s business model. With a new predatory “pay & print” open access publisher popping up every week, the “low-end” is getting crowded. I guess they are trying to raise themselves above this OA swamp.

  12. Benno von Bormann, MD says:

    We have no ties to any OA publisher, but for certain reasons we will use OA publishing in the future more frequently. “Open for Rich, Closed for Poor” is nonsense. There is no free lunch and somebody has to pay – always. Are subscription journals for free? Of course not. They are indeed very expensive; add the OA option nearly all of them offer nowadays, it can become astronomical. The matter is WHO pays. If you are not affiliated to an academic institution with sufficient financial resources you have to pay for each single article.
    The most important issue, however, is the spread of knowledge. This is limited in subscription journals but not in OA. In worst case you proudly publish your prime paper in a high ranked traditional Journal, and it vanishes forever behind subscription walls. But don’t we foremost do research and publishing to share knowledge?
    Avoiding scams and predators is no book of seven seals. Main criteria are 1. Listed in PubMed, 2. Comprehensible prizing (e.g. membership per author as in, 3. Adequate Peer Review, 4. What authors are publishing, and 5. Editorial board (you can contact the respective members, to find out if they are for real).
    We don’t agree that fast peer review’ is a negative criterion per se. Of course you can’t do it within one week, but 4 weeks should be the limit. We are just in the review process with one of the worldwide leading Medical Journals. The 1st Peer Review was done after 3 (three!) months. Publication was held out in prospect after substantial revision. We re-submitted within 20 days including a 16-pages covering letter, answering the many (frequently petty) questions of the three reviewers. Since then another eight weeks have passed and we are still waiting not knowing if we’re published at all. It’s the arrogance of the reputable Journals that will drive researchers into open access, which is on the long run optimal for readers and scientists. We will publish a medical paper in PeerJ the next days, after the Journal perfectly matched all the criterions mentioned above.
    There will be less APC Fatigue in the future but fatigue with obscure and biased review processes of traditional publishers.

    • Harvey Kane says:

      It seems to me that the need for accuracy in a medical paper far outstrips the quest for rapid publication. People’s lives could be at stake. I would guess that is why the care was and is being taken by the leading medical journal. In fact, I would guess that is why that journal is a leading journal.

      • But, Harvey, using your logic, the longer a paper takes to be reviewed, revised, and re-reviewed, the more worthy the journal! I agree care should be taken in any peer-review process but presumably timeliness is as crucial, as is making one’s data available for replication purposes.

        I believe we all would agree that there is no free lunch. Someone has to pay either with $ (e.g., author, subscriber, funder, institution) or in-kind service (e.g., editorial, review, institutional). Publishers do offer a valuable service and should receive compensation. The question is, how much is considered fair or reasonable?

        Btw, Harvey, here’s a blog post ( that might interest you regarding the “purpose” of the OA movement. The problem, as detailed in this Bernstein Research report, is the movement is not as focused as it should be. Consequently, we are not realizing the impact we had hoped for.

        As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us!”

      • Harvey Kane says:

        I was in Frankfurt when OA was first proposed behind closed doors.

        Those in the sciences who really need to know the results of a paper know about it way before the paper is even penned. I don’t know of any top scientist who waits for a paper to be published to get his/her data out there to be verified. The community is so small that e mail and a phone call really suffices in the transmittal of the information.

        If a medical breakthrough is achieved, and that seldom happens, it is known ASAP. Accuracy in the published paper is more important than timeliness.

  13. Benno von Bormann, MD says:

    Harvey I get your point, but lazy reviewers are not automatically good reviewers; and some of them are lazy, simple as that. I’m doing reviews myself and I do it with greatest diligence. When I accept, it means it will be done within 4 weeks maximum. Nowadays with the Internet at hand, this is more than enough; either you’re an expert in the field or you’re not. People arguing they are snowed under with duties should reject the job, which would be fair towards the authors. But experts jump at the chance to be reviewer for high IF Journals, not always to enhance scientific quality but their own reputation.
    The case I’ve explained above means that an actual randomized trial with a new therapeutic approach in perioperative pain management (which may benefit the patients) already lost > half a year; outcome unknown. Interestingly none of these ‘leading’ Journals (for me, there is no such thing) care about conflicts of interest, something that can be much more dangerous for patients. Authors declare it, and that’s it. Consequences – None! I fully agree with J. Ioannidis that at least 90% of the medical literature is flawed and contaminated with heavy bias.
    It’s the experience of our own group: Scrutiny regarding reliability of data incl. submitting the raw-data, ethical concerns, funding from ‘interested groups’ was much more thorough in PeerJ compared to Journals with IF 51, 37, 18, 14, 6, 5, and 3 respectively. Again, we have zero ties to any publisher, but in the future we will care less about IF, and more about the availability of our data.

    • Harvey Kane says:

      I can appreciate your position and in many respects it reflects reality. Unfortunately, finding reliable reviewers is a onerous task. Everyone means well, but it seems things get in the way of completing a task. We will not discuss your particular situation, but in general publishers for profit and not try to get papers processed ASAP.

      I would guess that your data was shared way before you began writing your paper. Was it?

      I have seen the rapid transmission of findings and then the penning of a paper. The paper is simply a verification of what one has done in a more public venue.

      When I started in publishing one used the postal system and the lag time between submission and acceptance and then actual publishing was from 6 to 12 months.

      I would hope you would not ignore the imprimatur of a journal. What it does is in many ways make sure your article is read and reviewers concerns addressed thereby making for a better paper.

      In short, I do not believe you would publish in one of the journals on Beal’s list simply because it would have it available 2 days after submission! I would hope you would choose your publisher with the same care you choose a course of action for a patient.

    • Harvey Kane says:

      Dr. Bormann:

      I have enjoyed our conversation and agree with many of your contentions. I am not too sure the blame for late publication or the publication of “false” information lies with the publisher. The publisher performs the role of issuing information presented to it after review. The publisher has no expertise.

      J. Ionaides(?) article is most interesting because it points out that folks find out what is false and thus seems to point out that the system is working. On a most basic understanding of science it is my notion that everything is false and to be challenged until proven not so.

      Perhaps the answer lies in there being fewer journals or just publishing methodology journals in which the researcher says I did this, and this is what I found. Then the article is sent to say 6 reviewers who have to replicate what was done and the same findings found and then the paper being published.

      I do not think reputable researchers intentionally fudge their data nor are dishonest. In fact, I think the vast majority are honest people who are bent on finding something out.

      I think the conflict of interest statements that now have to accompany articles is a giant step in lessening hidden bias. A reader can now read a paper with a sense of skepticism. I am not sure when the first conflict of interest disclosure forms were included in author packets but I think sometime in the late 80s or early 90s.

      A researcher has many avenues to disseminate findings. One can use the newspaper, a magazine, the web, journals, TV, radio, etc. Each of these venues have their pitfalls – witness cold fusion and the embryonic stem cell scandal.

      For one of the first times the journal is coming under attack because of predatory journal publishers who do not take care nor perform due diligence.

      As a lay person, I would prefer a little delay in the pursuit of accuracy.

    • Benno v. Bormann says:

      Harvey, thank’s for the discussion. I recommend a research on Fibrinogen concentrate (FBC). It’s a promising agent, but scientific evidence is still lacking except for few specific indications. Check the conclusions of the respective researchers and correlate it with the conflicts of interest. All groups, and I mean ALL promoting the generous use of FBC in various clinical settings being published in highest ranking organs are on the payroll of Behring (FBC), the No 1 producer of FBC. I’m talking about advisory board fees, publication and lecturing fees, travel expenses and so on. The few groups with carefull considerations, incl. Cochrane Review are entirely without conflicts o.I. To give an idea about the financial dimensions let’s consider only one country, and only one indication. In Germany with about 400,000 cardiosurgical procedures/year the prophylactic use of low-dose 2 g of fibrinogen concentrate per cardiosurgical patient as promoted by some would be equivalent to a sales volume of approx 300,000,000 Euro/year. Sorry, I don’t share your optimism. Open access with total transparency of the review process may be a step in the right direction.

      • Harvey Kane says:

        It seems to me that just because someone is receiving money from a company and if that is made known in the disclosure statement that no foul and no harm.

        Is FBC used in every cardiosurgical procedure? Would Behring open itself to suit if FBC was not found efficacious for suggested uses? I am not defending the product in any way but these seem like good questions to ask.

        As long as the literature discloses the ties between the researchers and the funders what difference does it make if the journal is OA or not?

        Cochrane Reviews is a review journal that condenses original research, and if I were a responsible doctor and was going to use something I have not used before would surely look at more than it before using something new. In fact, I asked a relative who is a surgeon and he said he would check, not necessarily all of the primary research, but some of it to make sure something was efficacious before using it on the say of a drug rep or a review article. The memory of Thalidomide remains.

        Also, because subscription based journals do not receive monetary compensation from the funders while OA Journals indirectly do I would think you would be advocating against them. In short, I cannot see where OA would solve what you perceive nor would transparency as it applies to reviews.

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