Open Access article processing charges: a new serial publication crisis?

By Lilian Nassi-Calò

A detailed study authored by Madhan Muthu and coworkers1 on the effect of article processing charges (APC) on open access publishing in India has recently been published. The authors assed the financial burden of publication fees on science dissemination in that country and propose the creation of a decentralized national platform of Open Access (OA) journals, such as SciELO, to reduce costs, increase efficiency and facilitate sharing of metadata among repositories.

The study has searched articles with at least one Indian author who published in OA journals indexed in the Web of Science – Science Citation Index Expanded (SCIE) between 2010 and 2014. The search retrieved 37,122 articles, of which 44 were excluded for including hundreds of authors, as a result of international collaborations. The authors, therefore, considered 37,078 articles from which they determined bibliometric data and the APC values levied by each journal. For comparison, the total number of articles and those published in OA on the same SCIE database by another twelve countries was also computed.

In the five year span between 2010 and 2014, SCIE registers more than six million articles, of which 11.58% are OA. In India, this proportion is 14.44%, placing the country second in the world after Brazil, which holds the highest percentage of 32.72%. In 2010, authors from India published their results in 479 OA journals from 61 countries, of which almost half, 237, did not charge APC. The use of OA journals by Indian researchers increased in 2014 to 611, and more than half of them levied APCs. The value of APCs, however, is not fixed. Among the 881 OA journals chosen by researchers in this country to publish their articles between 2010 and 2014, 437 levied a fixed amount per article, 49 charged per number of pages and only two also charged a submission fee.

Researchers in India rely in a wide variety of nationally edited journals, many of which do not charge APCs. In fact, more than half – 18,781 articles – between 2010 and 2014 were published in 48 Indian journals. The APC OA journal most frequently chosen by the authors was PLoS One, which published 2,404 articles that had an average number of citations per paper (CPP) of 7.32. As expected, Indian authors preferentially chose, among foreign journals, those from United States and United Kingdom. However, they also published in 54 journals from Brazil (nine of which charge APC), 14 journals from China (five of which charge APC) and nine journals from Chile (two of which charge APC).

International collaborations, mainly with the United States, United Kingdom and Germany produced almost 7 thousand articles with average CPP 5.63. For comparison, articles by Indian authors only attracted 2.61 CPP. Considering only OA journals that charge APC, the citation average is higher, but the approximate ratio of 2:1 remains between the CPP of collaborative articles – above 22 – and Indian authors only – less than 10. Overall, articles by Indian authors in OA journals that charge APC attract fewer citations than the average articles in those journals.

Of the overall 37,078 articles considered in the study, 14,293 articles were published in journals that levy fixed publication fees averaging US$ 1,173 per article. This is close to the average found in DOAJ journals of US$ 964, but is well below the average values found by US and European funding agencies, which charge higher fees than developing country journals.

India’s investment in APC in this scenario is, therefore, of about US$ 16.75 million over five years, considering only Gold OA journals, except for hybrid ones (which APCs are considerably higher) and those collecting page charges. However, if we take into account that Indian authors may have benefited at reduced charges or if the fees for collaborative articles have been paid by counterparties, the study authors estimate that the average cost may be reduced to US$ 12 million between 2010 and 2014, or US$ 2.4 million per year.

The scenario of OA publishing today is, to a certain extent, different from that projected at the beginning of the movement. The perspective was to finance the initial publication fees to strengthen the business model, which “would go down and will continue to do so, asymptotically approaching zero.” in PLoS co-founder Michael Eisen’s conception2. This was not the case, as PLoS Medicine and PLoS Biology’s APCs practically doubled between 2009 and 2012. Are we witnessing a new ‘serial publications crisis’, but this time with OA? Cameron Neylon, a former PLoS collaborator, stated that “no functional market is emerging and it (APC model) might be the wrong economic model.” In fact, there are large commercial publishers dominating the open access market, and their number grows 5% a year. In this scenario, India’s APC investment of $ 2.4 million does not seem to decline, on the contrary.

However, for alternatives to APCs to be successful it is necessary the recognition of OA journals by science evaluation and reward systems. In a universe still dominated by citation-based metrics, researchers look forward not only to accessible publications, but to those that give them prestige and peer recognition. Many OA journals that levy APCs satisfy these expectations, but if PLos Biology’s publication fee equals half of an assistant professor’s salary in the US, in India it amounts to two months’ pay. Adding to this is the research funding restraint worldwide, and the payment of APCs by funding agencies is no longer a solution, but the continuity of the problem. Concerned with the escalation of APC values, OA journal editors from Europe and the US have abandoned their positions to create alternative counterparts from their journals with more affordable APCs. This movement was called the Journal Declaration of Independence3. University associations and scientific societies initially funded the new journals so that they could publish in OA with low or no APCs.

Hence, what are the sustainable alternatives to ensure open access to research results? Postprint institutional and thematic repositories are undoubtedly an outlet, despite the embargo imposed by publishers. PubMed Central is a good example in the biomedical field. Alternatives to OA publishing also include preprint repositories inspired by well-known arXiv in Physics and Mathematics, such as bioRxiv for Life Sciences and similar initiatives in Chemistry, Social Sciences, and Psychology, inaugurated in the second semester of 2016.

China, on the other hand, has made considerable progress in OA recently. In 2014, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the National Science Foundation have developed open access policies to research results. Two years later, the Foundation’s repository included 135,000 articles published between 1998 and 2015 by authors from 1305 institutions. Considering that in 2008 very few Chinese journals were OA, and that today the country has hundreds of integrated repositories, this is a considerable leap forward.

In India’s case specifically, in the view of the study authors, OA mandates from development agencies are lacking in order to encourage institutions to deposit articles in repositories, as well as to foster researchers to share their articles published in subscription journals. However, the study mentions that despite a significant number of OA journals in India – 337 registered in DOAJ – the country lack an integrated platform such as SciELO, capable of ensuring visibility, accessibility and integrated governance. According to the authors, “with these efforts, Latin America has become a model for affordable OA journal publishing […] If India and China follow the Latin American model of hosting all or most of their journals on a single decentralized platform and make as many journals as possible OA, and encourage researchers to self-archive their publications, that would have a great impact in making science open, not only in these regions but around the world.”


1. MADHAN, M., et al. Should Indian researchers pay to get their work published? ePrints@IISc. 2016. No prelo. Available from:

2. POYNDER, R. The OA Interviews: Michael Eisen, co-founder of the Public Library of Science. Open and Shut? [viewed 30 October 2016]. Available from:

3. Journal declarations of independence. Open Access Directory. Available from:


Journal declarations of independence. Open Access Directory. Available from:

MADHAN, M., et al. Should Indian researchers pay to get their work published? ePrints@IISc. 2016. No prelo. Available from:

MORRISON, H., et al. Open Access Article Processing Charges: DOAJ Survey May 2014. Publications. 2015, vol. 3, nº 1, pp. 1-16. DOI: 10.3390/publications3010001

POYNDER, R. The OA Interviews: Michael Eisen, co-founder of the Public Library of Science. Open and Shut? [viewed 30 October 2016]. Available from:

ROORYCK, J. Introducing Glossa. Glossa: a journal of general linguistics. 2016, vol. 1, nº 1, pp. 1. DOI: 10.5334/gjgl.91

SPINAK, E. What’s the deal with preprints?. SciELO in Perspective. [viewed 27 November 2016]. Available from:

WANG, L.L., LIU, X.Z. and FANG, H. Investigation of the degree to which articles supported by research grants are published in open access health and life sciences journals. Scientometrics. 2015, vol. 104, nº 2, pp 511-528. DOI: 10.1007/s11192-015-1624-4


lilianAbout Lilian Nassi-Calò

Lilian Nassi-Calò studied chemistry at Instituto de Química – USP, holds a doctorate in Biochemistry by the same institution and a post-doctorate as an Alexander von Humboldt fellow in Wuerzburg, Germany. After her studies, she was a professor and researcher at IQ-USP. She also worked as an industrial chemist and presently she is Coordinator of Scientific Communication at BIREME/PAHO/WHO and a collaborator of SciELO.


Translated from the original in portuguese by Lilian Nassi-Calò.


How to cite this post [ISO 690/2010]:

Open Access article processing charges: a new serial publication crisis? [online]. SciELO in Perspective, 2016 [viewed ]. Available from:


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