Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Roy Kaufman. Roy is Managing Director of both Business Development and Government Relations for Copyright Clearance Center. Prior, Kaufman served as Legal Director, John Wiley and Sons, Inc. He is a member of, among other things, the Bar of the State of New York, the Author’s Guild, and the editorial board of UKSG Insights.

A pandemic like COVID-19, with its associated disruption of the economy, creates distortions which can illuminate opportunities and which mandate a rethinking of business as usual. While some have predicted that the number of journal submissions will decline based on closure of wet labs due to social distancing, at least for now, the opposite seems to be true at numerous publishers. For example, a recent article in The New Yorker reported a 4-5-fold increase in submissions to The Lancet and a 95% rejection rate. And while many of the increased journal submissions are good, the number of poor-quality submissions is also rising. This includes a large number of specious COVID-19 papers.

Entrance and fees for Yosemite National Park

Normally an increase in submissions would be cause for celebration — so long as the high-to-poor- quality submissions ratio remains relatively constant. To state the obvious, times are not normal, and the pressure on both library and research budgets to reduce spending on both subscriptions and APCs will be enormous. That pressure will lead to downstream pressure on publishers to save costs, especially as margins suffer. That 95% rejection rate at The Lancet might provide cocktail party bragging rights, but it is also quite expensive to maintain.

In times of crisis, the first line of defense is cost cutting, because that is the one thing a company can control. Of course you cannot grow a business through cost cutting, and you can only cut so much before the pain becomes intolerable. This is why businesses would ideally rather grow and diversify revenues than cut costs. There are, however, rare opportunities to adopt changes in business practice which both reduce costs and increase revenues. These are the holy grail.

The discipline of economics is sometimes defined as the study of how society allocates scarce resources. In the world of print subscription journals, scarcity was easy to identify. One could only fit so many articles into a fixed print page budget. In fully open access (OA), Article Processing Charge (APC)-based sound science journals, scarcity exists in the available time of the peer reviewers and editors, and in the willingness of the journal to apply its brand to the article. Even quick triage rejection, where the editor rejects a paper without wasting time on full peer review, uses valuable scarce resources.

In trying to find new ways of doing business, it is useful to look at how other industries solve similar problems. In the US and no doubt elsewhere, colleges and universities face a similar dual scarcity. They have a limited number of seats for students (similar to page budget scarcity and brand scarcity), and a scarcity of admissions department time for reviewing applications (similar to a scarcity of time for editors and peer reviewers). In the US, students can apply to essentially as many colleges as they want by checking a box on a Common Application. The Common Application does in fact increase both the application (submission) rates and the rejection rates, but colleges and universities have one line of defense against applications by millions of unqualified and uninterested students; they charge an application fee. Some universities no doubt charge the fee because they want the revenues. Others see it as a way of reducing the time admissions officers spend evaluating unqualified candidates. Regardless, this fee serves the dual purposes of generating revenues and reducing costs.

Submitting for publication in a journal is in many ways like applying for admission to a university in terms of allocation of scarce resources, and submission fees can serve the same ends as application fees. This seems so obvious to me that I have been mistakenly predicting the widespread adoption of submission fees for years, and I am not alone. In fact, nearly four years back into the before-times (i.e., the period ending March 1, 2020 or so), David Crotty stated the following:  “[w]hat’s frustrating here is that there seems a potentially likely path to making selective OA journals work financially: submission fees. The effects of submission fees are two-fold — by charging a fee for every manuscript submitted, the number submissions to a journal drops precipitously.”

The advantages of submission charges in terms of increasing revenues while decreasing costs seem clear, and such charges have been adopted at a small minority of journals. As such, we need to assume there are reasons why they haven’t already been more broadly adopted. I can think of five good candidates blocking their adoption; culture, equity, lack of perceived value, competition, and workflow.

Culture:  I suspect the most powerful impediment to submission charges is culture; namely as with college admissions, the percentage of articles rejected is a source of bragging rights, and powerful editors worry that they will lose prestige if the percentage of rejections decreases, regardless of the cause. In the battle between CFOs and editors, editors usually win. Still, colleges too use rejection rates for bragging rights, and seem to manage to charge fees as well. Perhaps financial pressures resulting from COVID-19 will change the editor/CFO balance of power on this point.

Moreover, while not many journals today charge submission fees, those that do make good company. Gastroenterology, for example, charges 75 dollars for submission and has a 2019-2020 Impact Factor (IF) of 15.130. The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine charges 50 dollars and has a 2018 IF of 16.49. In fact, a significant majority of (an admittedly small sample of) journals I reviewed with submission fees have an IF above 5.

Equity:  One concern about submission fees is that less well -funded authors, and authors from lesser developed countries, would be less likely to submit. This is a concern for all APC-based publishing models but can be easily addressed through a liberal waiver system, just as colleges waive admissions fees for underprivileged students.

Lack of Perceived Value:  Charging submission fees would be new for most publishers and authors, and there is no doubt that charging for something that was historically “free” might cause tension with researchers. That said, authors have learned to embrace APCs, and in an APC world, authors have become used to paying for services. As Tim Vines noted in The Scholarly Kitchen two years ago, “APCs have the unfortunate feature that the authors pay for the assessment of all the other submissions that ended up being rejected.” Authors are committed to the system, and submission fees should have the benefits of speeding peer review by reducing dross, mitigating peer reviewer fatigue (remember that 95% rejection rate?), and possibly increasing the quality of papers overall. By communicating these benefits, publishers should be able to inoculate themselves from backlash. Publishers can further mitigate negative risks by applying submission fees as a credit off APCs, member dues, reprints, or other value-added services.

Competition:  It is certainly true that if you are competing for papers with another journal, authors might view submission fees as a factor, and they certainly will say so if asked. Competitive concerns were highlighted in both the Crotty and Vines posts cited above. However, authors are typically astute about where they want to publish, and it seems unlikely that a 50-100 dollar fee, especially if tied to a compelling story about value, will make a big difference. It does not seem to have harmed the prestigious journals that charge fees. Finally, the post-COVID 19 flood of papers changes the competitive dynamic in two ways. First, there is a surplus of great papers, so little harm will be suffered if a few are siphoned off by competitors. Second, for every good paper lost to a competitor due to submission fees, the competitor is burdened with costs from many more bad ones. Competition works in many ways.

Workflow:  Adding micropayments to established workflows takes time and effort. Fortunately, whether building the functionality in house or relying on a vendor, the increased revenues for a mandatory submission fee, even with waivers, can be calculated by straight-forward math. Publishers also know the costs of peer review, so can approximate the savings from receiving fewer submissions. Thus, the cost/benefit calculation should be easy.

A well-implemented submission fee program could offer additional benefits. For example, society publishers could follow the approach of The American College of Sports Medicine for its journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (submission fee, 100 dollars) and waive the fee for society members, thereby providing a new society benefit. Waived or reduced fees could also be part of the negotiations for Read and Publish and other transformative agreements, proving another offering in the publisher’s sales box.

Interestingly, the discipline with the longest tradition of submission fees is economics, where the dismal science is both reported and applied. With all the pressures that our industry will face in the next two years, it is time for the rest of us to start experimenting.

Thank you for additional research provided by Michelle Brewer, Librarian/Market Intelligence Manager, Health Learning, Research & Practice, Wolters Kluwer.

Roy Kaufman

Roy Kaufman is Managing Director of both Business Development and Government Relations for Copyright Clearance Center. Prior, Kaufman served as Legal Director, John Wiley and Sons, Inc. He is a member of, among other things, the Bar of the State of New York, the Author’s Guild, and the editorial board of UKSG Insights.

Discussion

38 Thoughts on "Guest Post — Is It Time to (Finally) Get Serious about Submission Charges?"

The problem lies in the assumption that there should be an “industry” of scientific publishing. The scientists are doing all the hard work (reviewing, etc) for free, only to hand over their work (often supported by public funds) on a silver platter to commercial publishers to resell their work to the society, often at obscene profit margins.

I have just published a paper in a journal on episciences.org, a platform that takes the right approach (free for authors, free for readers). The experience I had was every bit as good as with any commercial journal I have ever published into. What made it great was the effort of the people making it run (volontarily). Commercial publishers simply bring no added value to this process.

Ultimately science is a mechanism for communication between like minds. In the days of the web, where making information public is easier than it ever was, there is simply no need for commercial publishers to act as gatekeepers (with the possible exception, perhaps, of some university presses and learned societies, since they bring, in other ways, a tangible value to the community – and even these should be run as nonprofits, and should be prevented from becoming a profit-oriented business).

Time for publication fees, you say ? Fine, many journals in Mathematics have simply disappeared, with entire Editorial Boards resigning en masse and starting new, related, journals. I hope that people will “vote with their feet” and extend this pattern to other areas of science.

Scientists are not doing ‘all the hard work’ – they’re only doing a portion of it. For peer review itself, the editorial offices are doing the rest: emailing authors who forgot to include their figures, chasing late reviewers, helping editors keep their decisions consistent with others at the journal.

As I wrote here (https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2018/03/07/curious-blindness-among-peer-review-initiatives/), peer review initiatives run by volunteers are almost impossible to scale. As soon as submissions reach the level when one or more of the volunteers needs to quit their day job to work on the project full time, they discover there’s no revenue that could pay them. That’s foolish and short-sighted, and ultimately a disservice to all the people that put effort in along the way.

Yes, volunteer efforts can scale to way more than 200 papers. There are solutions: Computer Science conferences are peer reviewed (sometimes fiercely), top ones receive thousands of submissions (last NeurIPS/IJCAI/AAAI were in the range of 10.000) and are every bit as influential (if not more) than journals.

Are the people that organize and monitor the peer review of conference abstracts professionals that get paid? If the answer is yes, then it’s pretty much analogous to journal peer review, and not at all a volunteer effort.

For example, this person (https://www.linkedin.com/in/amir-aghdam-53969013/) works at the IEEE as the Chair of the Conference Editorial Board for Control Systems, and that’s his main job. There’s no doubt dozens of others at the IEEE who have similar roles.

I would agree with paying reviewers. I do not understand why I am asked to provide this work for for profit journals, who then charge him for publishing my paper with them and take my rights to that paper. The whole process is obscene.

How can a billion dollar business let the most essential selection process depend on charity?

This is interesting. I have a few speculations…

This may work for some journals, but may not be workable for others depending on the level of competition within the market segment that a journal is in. In law some firms change consultation fees but some don’t. Some journals may be unable to charge submission fees if their brand is not strong enough or if there are comparable journals who do not charge submission fees, while prestigious journals may easily be able to do this. Ultimately if this becomes a feature of the publishing industry, whether or not your journal charges submission fees may become one more means of differentiation in the market and/or bragging rights.

It may also have unintended consequences – while it is intended to put a damper on submissions, there’s no way of predicting whether it will discourage poor quality submissions or just poor researchers, even with a waiver system in place.

Researchers may also push back against this – unlike a college application fee which one may expect to pay a very few times in their lives, researchers are expected to publish constantly. Having to pay these fees several times a year may raise ire within the research community. It is also possible, perhaps unlikely but possible, that it may have a negligible effect – so long as researcher rewards are tied to the publish or perish culture and publishing in high impact factor journals, the volume of submissions and where they are directed may be largely unaffected.

I whole-heartedly agree with your last point. I think this article, while providing a really interesting economic perspective on publishing, oversteps on authors’ willingness to publish via APCs. The idea that authors must publish as frequently as possible will inevitably deter them from publishing in gold OA journals that cost money just to maintain a copyright. This is probably one of the reasons driving authors who just give away copyright because they need to publication to move up at uni or in their field. Their hand is definitely forced in this way.

One of the least regulates aspects of the publication process is managing grant funding. When you apply for a $1 mil grant for example, your uni automatically can take anywhere between 25% to 50% off the top for “overhead”, and then you get even less money than you need to do your work. Authors have to really spell out how each dollar will be used and we cannot just put “250k for uni overhead”… you would never then secure funding. So, you get 50-75% of the money you thought, and you have to make that stretch your whole project. There is almost no $$ left over for APCs… This seems like something that is rarely talked about in the whole “industry of publishing”.

Anonymous: The issue of copyright is an interesting one. Is there any value in owning the copyright to an article? If one owns the copyright one has to defend the copyright. Thus, say I am a person who takes a paper and re-publishes it in an anthology or worse yet publish said paper as my own. Are you prepared to take me to court? Also, if the aforementioned happens, the publisher who published the paper can take you to court for not defending your copyright.

In relation to the possibility of a publisher taking you to court for not depending your copyright, this would entirely depend on the license that the article is published under. If, for example, it is published under the very permissive CC-BY licence which admittedly is just one extreme of the spectrum (and this is not a recommendation for using CC-BY), there would be little if anything to litigate because as creative commons describes it – “This license allows reusers to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format, so long as attribution is given to the creator. The license allows for commercial use.” The only possible breach would be non-attribution or someone publishing the paper as their own. In those cases, it is difficult to envision what damage/loss the publisher would have suffered to enable the publisher to succesfully sue the author.

Minor correction. The “Overhead” is usually added to the direct costs of a grant, so the investigator spells out what needs to be done for the study, how it will be done, and then the cost of doing so. The total is then the “Total Direct Costs” This is what the grant reviewers judge and fund directly. The overheads are then added as a percentage of TDC to yield “Total Costs” which are then funded to the sponsoring institution responsible to ensure that the funded work is performed. The percentage is negotiated with (for Biomedical research) NIH based on the costs to the institution for providing the facilities that make it possible for the researcher to perform their work. However, in times of tight money (since mid 1990s), budgets are squeezed from all sides and publishing costs are usually the first to not be funded.

Article Processing Fees (APCs) might be useful, but only if they flow back to the authors. Publishers like Elsevier, Springer-Nature and Wiley already drain billions of dollars from the global research budget, so if editorial offices need more money they should be paid by them.

Using APCs to the benefit of the authors can for example be done by setting up a paid peer review system. Authors’ greatest complaint is the long duration of the review process and if referees are paid for their work they can be requested to deliver within one or two weeks. That would really change the system positively on behalf of the authors.

The APCs go towards paying the Editorial office staff. The more articles you have to guide through peer review before you find one to accept, the higher the APC will be.

My hunch is that paying reviewers would be a disaster, as it shifts the goalposts from doing something from professional pride and as a service to your community into being something you do for money.

For example, to make paid review a general practice, you’d need to solve these questions: Who decides how much the reviewers get? Can they bargain for a higher rate? If they’re a world expert in that topic, can they review for $1000 per hour? Should you pay kill fees for really bad reviews? Who pays for all this new payment infrastructure? How are these payment contracts structured, and who signs them? Where does all the extra money for these payments come from (hint: it’s not the publishers)?

Jeroen: The industry generates about $10 Billion before expenses and taxes. This money comes from:
Journals
Books
Online Content
Abstracting & Indexing (A&I) Services
Other Activities. It enjoys a double digit profit margin which is well withing the margins of other businesses. http://pages.stern.nyu.edu/~adamodar/New_Home_Page/datafile/margin.html,
https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2020/01/29/1976933/0/en/Global-10B-Scientific-Technical-Publishing-Industry-Report-2019-2023.html

Paid Peer Review System! Normally, a peer review takes me 1 or 2 days, including reading the supporting information. I almost always do it in one sitting, anything from 1 to 5 hours depending on the length of the paper. In my experience, the submission deadline for reviews usually ranges between 3 working days to up to 3 weeks.Sep 22, 2016 How to review a paper | Science | AAASwww.sciencemag.org › careers › 2016/09 › how-revie..

A S&T consultant charges about $150 dollars per hour. On top of that there are the back room costs of billing, accounting, tax form preparation, salaries, benefits, etc. So it becomes another $250. The cost of paid reviewing becomes large. A company has to recover those costs. So how does one do that. 1. OA increase author charges, 2. Increase subscription costs.
In short, there is no free lunch!
Lastly, few perform, even if paid, for $750!

Hi Harvey & Tim,

Regarding the profits of publishers, take for example a look at https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/jun/27/profitable-business-scientific-publishing-bad-for-science

That the submission deadlines for reviews are between 3 days and three weeks does not mean that reports come in so quickly. Just ask an editor of a mid-class journal (not the top which is by definition only a small part of the field) how long it takes to find reviewers and get the reports back and you will hear different numbers.

The average duration of the first review round is around 13 weeks for all fields together and in specific fields like social sciences, economics, humanities and mathematics even much longer (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11192-017-2310-5). If rejected, which very often happens given the high rejection rates, authors can start again without any guarantee of success. This is an incredibly waste of time in the global system of knowledge production. It is also a great source of frustration for young scholars. Read their experiences at https://scirev.org/reviews/

It will be easy to find researchers who are prepared to review for say 100 dollar a review. And to deliver within say ten working days. The scientific world is not only the US and Europe. There are good scientist all around the world for which earning this amount for one or two days work is good payment. It would mean a submission fee in the order of 500 dollar, which is not really high compared to open access prices. A great advantage is that it would give researchers from low income countries the possibility to earn money by doing reviews (and in this way pay the submission fees for their own papers), which is better than having to beg for reductions.

Two points: first, that authors of limited means without the backing of large and well-funded departments will balk at a submission fee, if it is substantial; second, that it is in my view unacceptable for a print journal to have different acceptance rules from its online (and fee-charging) alter ego. I have had a paper rejected by two journals, but both suggested they would be likely to be accepted if I re-submitted to their online versions (after paying roughly $1500).

This is a brilliant idea Roy. The optics would be awful and there would be a hue and cry heard throughout the land about how publishers were looking to line their pockets, but the benefits (to everyone) are definitely worth considering. To this end, maybe look back at the national park entrance sign at the top of your article. See how there are different categories of fees? Maybe a fee structure akin to this would be more neutral and palatable, and also draw a brighter line between costs and benefits. There could be one fee for unaffiliated researchers, another for university researchers, government-affiliated, etc.; fees could be demand-weighted (bio fields would cost more); and annual institutional passes might be contemplated (to avoid the appearance of milking the system for money with lots of one-time fees). In short, there can be more categories than just fee or no fee (i.e, as you mentioned, waived through society membership or transformative agreement). In addition, a separate administrative body might be set up to collect and distribute these fees, reporting to the “public” (the scholcomm community) where the fees were going, and what they were being used to support (basically akin to using these fees to bolster scholcomm infrastructure). This second leg might be a stretch—just trying to brainstorm how something like this can clearly be a win-win for the whole system.

Hi Glenn, I’d be hesitant to look at submission fees as a new revenue source meant to be applied to new ventures like infrastructure building. To me, they’re a way to transition to open access that allows selective journals to survive — you’d greatly reduce editorial costs at journals and thus be able to charge much lower APCs than you’d need if you were still rejecting hordes of inappropriate submissions. I’d rather see the money go to keeping costs down for authors than to be siphoned off for other purposes and have the authors saddled with higher APCs.

Sure—that makes sense too. There just needs to be some way to demonstrate the value here, and demonstrate that this is a targeted and valuable solution as opposed to a money grab. Of course, this would al need to be thought through very carefully—this is all just bloviating (which is fun but not to be taken seriously). For instance, refunding submission fees for accepted papers might have the perverse effect of increasing rejection rates—why reject 20% of papers when you can reject 40% and make a bit more money? And why lower APCs if you’re getting overloaded with submissions at high APCs? So, it may not be realistic to expect anything noble to emerge organically from this funding stream, like refunds or price cuts. But you can, from the outset, require something noble (like infra funding) be done with a portion of the fees, which can help make them more acceptable (and not a small cut either—go all in at 50-50 or some such).

I agree with David that the chief benefit of submission fess is that they offer a pathway to commercial sustainability for free-to-read highly selective journals. The humble reader is a neglected player in the OA ecosystem. For example, I try to follow scientific developments on Covid-19 by reading the latest papers in the Lancet and the NEJM (where Covid-19 research is currently free to read), I don’t have time (or expertise) to trawl the open commons trying to make sense of whether this or that preprint or sound science paper can be relied on. For citizen consumers of science there is value to selective journals with a high bar to entry.

As noted in the post, “Publishers can further mitigate negative risks by applying submission fees as a credit off APCs, member dues, reprints, or other value-added services.”

My hope is that Open Access journals will experiment with the palatability of submission fees by offering authors a choice: either pay the APC when the article is accepted, or pay a submission fee at submission and a publication fee if the article gets accepted.

This approach is surprisingly cost-neutral for the journal, and authors opting for the sub/pub fee route will pay much less than the APC: https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2020/01/13/let-authors-choose-how-to-pay-for-publication/

At a library group I spoke with a few years ago, one librarian proposed a model where all authors are charged a submission fee, and then authors whose articles are accepted get their fees refunded, and the papers are published at no charge. Essentially this would be the opposite of the APC, and rejected authors would pay the costs for accepted authors.

This very model, a total refund of the submission fee for accepted papers, has been used by the Journal of Financial Economics for some years. They’re probably the most successful implementers of a submission fee: it’s now a remarkable $1000, and they remain the most prestigious and in-demand journal in the discipline! They’ve had one for almost fifty years. Publishers who are considering this would do well to scrutinize their example.
http://jfe.rochester.edu/submit.htm
http://jfe.rochester.edu/submit.pdf

> “Waived or reduced fees could also be part of the negotiations for Read and Publish … agreements”
I think a better way for selective journals to avoid the sticker shock of a high cost per article with Read and Publish might be to offer “Read, Submit and Publish” deals, with the breakdown in costs spelled out. If you had records of how many submissions and published papers each university is responsible for, you would end up with a much less horrifying number per unit, and a way to demonstrate the demand from faculty.
For authors who are paying themselves, I also like Tim Vines’s suggestion above of giving them the choice of full APC or a heavily discounted one with submission fee. If the discounted payment was made up front, the submission fee could be handled as a partial refund, avoiding the need for the author to make two transactions.

Using the world ‘submission’ implies slavery!

I’m joking, but in today’s world, if someone hasn’t already complained about the implied racism in this word, they soon will.

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/07/06/us/racism-words-phrases-slavery-trnd/index.html

“Master bedrooms” in our homes. “Blacklists” and “whitelists” in computing. The idiom “sold down the river” in our everyday speech.
Many are so entrenched that Americans don’t think twice about using them. But some of these terms are directly rooted in the nation’s history with chattel slavery. Others now evoke racist notions about Black people.

Fascinating idea but usually you’d expect an author or funder to pay, or give up copyright, in exchange for a publishing service. I don’t see that a submission fee can be matched against a corresponding service.

In subscription journals, the burden of submissions is one of the costs of gaining those valuable copyrights. In OA, submission processes are paid for in the APC.

There are already machine learning tools that can give a pretty good indication of whether an article might be accepted or not, and this cost should fall on the publisher, not an author.

In OA, only those authors whose papers are accepted are paying an APC and covering the costs of submission. Since they’re the only ones paying, they are going to have to cover the costs for all those authors submitting but being rejected. That means their costs are higher, and they are forced to pay for everyone else. Submission fees at least require everyone to pay for the service that they’re receiving (peer/editorial review and processing). Then those accepted would pay an APC for further publishing services rendered.

It’s a fascinating idea but unbundling this as a separate service and putting barriers to submission doesn’t seem aligned with the spirit of openness, nor the objectives of journal owners.

I’m not sure I see it as any more of a barrier than the APC model for open access. To me it’s a way to lessen the problems that model creates and to allow for the continued existence of highly-selective journals in an OA world, which the community has clearly shown that they value.

Paying to publish is perverse because:

– the authors do all the work regarding the research: they conceptualise the study, collect data, analyse data, and write the paper, but they need to pay to get their paper published
– the reviewers work for free
– the editors work for free
– but the publisher takes all the money.

What is the value for the authors that a publisher adds to a paper that justifies the payment? Usually, the publishers put forward the following arguments:
– a submission system – this serves the editors and the publisher, not the authors. It is much easier for the authors to send the paper as an attachment in an email than through the system. There are also free systems such as OJS. Costs for the publisher can be zero.
– review process – this serves the publishers, not the authors. Publishers need to be sure that what they publish is of reasonable quality. Furthermore, the reviewers work for free, hence the marginal costs for reviewing a manuscript for the publisher are zero.
– language editing – this is usually done against payment. Even if done free of charge by the publisher, the costs are much lower than the APC.
– paper formatting – this can be an easily offset cost if authors are provided a template to format the paper by themselves.
– online publication and distribution – my 20-year experience in academia shows that publishers are not efficient in promoting particular papers. They are interested in promoting journals, not specific papers in them which is the interest of the authors. Using Academia, Researchgate, SSRN and other similar websites and posting in social media improves the visibility of papers beyond the websites of publishers. Marginal costs per paper: zero or very low.
– indexing in Scopus, WoS, etc – practically the costs are incurred by Elsevier (Scopus) and Clarivate Analytics (WoS), not the publisher. Marginal costs: zero.
– having a paper in a journal with a high Impact Factor / CiteScore. These are journal-level metrics that are not relevant to the article level. Furthermore, according to the San Fransisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) (https://sfdora.org/), journal-level metrics should not be used to assess individuals or articles. IF / CiteScore are great for boosting the egos of authors and editors, but they say nothing about a particular paper. That is why I never mention the IF/CiteScore of a journal I have published a paper in when posting info about the paper on social media.

Considering the above, I personally do not see the value that pay-to-publish publishers add to a paper that justifies any payment to them by the authors.

Additionally, article processing charges stifle science because only authors from universities who can afford to pay will be able to publish. Authors from smaller universities will be silenced. This is a modern form of academic censorship. Moreover, the editors of pay-to-publish journals face a dilemma – reject a paper and not receive the APC or be more flexible and get the APC. The shrowd of money may blur the eyesight and make some manuscript disadvantages less visible.

The submission charges aggravate the situation – you need to pay for the privilege of having your paper reviewed by the journal. Why do not journals pay the authors for the privilege of having their intellectual input on journals’ pages?

I edit a real open access e-journal (https://ejtr.vumk.eu/index.php/about) with 400+ submissions per year indexed in Scopus and Web of Science. The desk-rejection rate is about 75%, the acceptance rate is about 10-12%. It does not charge authors or readers. My total budget is less than 100 euros per year – everything is done on a voluntary basis. So it is possible.

While I agree with many of your arguments on the problems that APC models create, I think you have some fundamental misunderstandings about how publishing works and the reasons why researchers are motivated to publish. I would recommend reading Paula Stephan’s book “How Economics Shapes Science” to at least get a better handle on the second of these matters. You can read an interview with her where she talks about the motivations of researchers for publishing here: https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2012/04/11/interview-with-paula-stephan-economics-science-and-doing-better/

Thank you, David. I deal with publishing for 14 years now and know the economics of publishers very well. I am also a researcher who believes that science should be open to all researchers. If I need to choose between subscription model and paying APC, definitely the subscription model works better: readers subscribe to journals that bring value and high quality; hence, publishers are interested in publishing high-quality papers (at least on theory). Pay-to-publish journals are interested in receiving APC from the authors, not the quality of the papers as perceived by the readers.

Of course, the best option is true open access journals – no fees from authors, no fees for readers. Second best option – no fees from authors, fees from readers. Worst option – fees from authors.

Regards

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