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Which pockets pay APCs?

A summary of survey results on the sources of money to pay APCs.

Published onMay 13, 2020
Which pockets pay APCs?

When scholars publish in open-access journals that levy article processing charges (APCs), how often do they pay the APCs with personal funds, as opposed to funds from their employers, funders, or other sources? Several studies have turned up data on the question. This is my attempt to summarize their results.

I plan to keep it up to date. If I overlook a relevant study, please let me know.

Short overview: In the global north, APCs are usually paid by the author's employer or funder, not by the author out of pocket. In the south, most APCs, or a plurality of them (depending on the study), are paid by authors out of pocket.

In chronological order:

(1) Suenje Dallmeier-Tiessen and 16 co-authors, Highlights from the SOAP [Study of Open Access Publishing] project survey. What Scientists Think about Open Access Publishing, arXiv, January 27, 2011. Permalink. These results are based on a survey of 38,358 publishing researchers from all fields. “Responses came from 162 countries, with a large representation from research-intensive nations.”

  • 59% of authors reported that they paid their APC from a grant (whether or not the grant included dedicated OA funds), 24% from university sources, and 12% from personal funds. See Table 4 at p. 9. The percentages vary by field and type of employer; see Figure 8 at p. 10.

(2) David J. Solomon and Bo‐Christer Björk, Publication fees in open access publishing: Sources of funding and factors influencing choice of journal, Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, October 24, 2011. Permalink. These results are based on a survey of 429 researchers in 65 countries and seven disciplines. “A total of 266 or approximately 62% of the authors were from countries where the annual per capita Gross National Product (GNP) was greater than $25,000 per year in 2008.”

  • The authors distinguished respondents from more affluent countries (per capita GNP over $25k USD) and less affluent countries (per capita GNP less than $25k USD). Among authors from more affluent countries: 31% paid their APC from a grant, 36% from university sources (combining all university sources), and 11% from personal funds. Among authors from less affluent countries, the respective numbers are 16%, 26%, and 39%. See Table 5. The percentages varied by discipline and by the size of the APC; see Tables 4 and 6.

(3) Kathryn Spiller, Case Study: Introducing OA within your portfolio, Research Information, January 15, 2013. Permalink. These results are based on a survey of 904 researchers, mostly from North America and Europe.

  • “We also found that 72 per cent had experience of paying page charges [APCs]….Over 50 per cent of these authors fund charges through grant money and just over 30 per cent fund them personally.”

(4) SAGE makes Open Access more accessible to social science and humanities scholars, SAGE press release, January 24, 2013.

  • “A recent survey revealed more than 70% of accepted authors had personally paid the article processing charge (APC) to enable their research to be published in SAGE Open.”

(5) Publishers Communication Group, Open Access Library Survey: An investigation of the role of libraries in open access funding and support within institutions, September 2014. Permalink. These results are based on a survey of 149 librarians from 30 countries. “The majority of survey respondents, 56%, reside in North America. The United Kingdom accounted for about 12% of respondents and the remaining survey-takers were spread mainly around Latin America and Western Europe.”

  • Librarians reported that 69% of authors from their institutions paid their APCs from university funds (combining all university sources), 47% from personal funds, and 38% from a grant. See Figure 6 at p. 8

(6) Andy Nobes and Siân Harris, Open Access in low- and middle-income countries: attitudes and experiences of researchers, Emerald Open Research, first version, November 12, 2019. Permalink. These results are based on a survey of 507 researchers from the developing world connected to INASP’s AuthorAID project.

  • 60% of authors reported that they paid their APCs from personal funds, 18% from university funds, 8% from external funds, and 14% received a waiver. See Table 9.

(7) Jessica Monaghan, Mithu Lucraft, Katie Allin, Maurits van der Graaf, and Tracey Clarke, 'APCs in the Wild': Could Increased Monitoring and Consolidation of Funding Accelerate the Transition to Open Access? Springer Nature White Paper, April 6, 2020. Also see the press release. These results are based on a survey of 1,014 Springer Nature authors.

  • 61% of authors reported that they paid APCs from their grants or other funder sources (whether or not the grant included dedicated OA funds), 57% from their universities (combining all university sources), and 16% from personal funds. See Figure 5 at p. 13. The survey let authors check more than one source.

  • The percentages vary by region; see Figures 10 and 13.

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Although these studies report somewhat different results, they all imply that it’s highly misleading to refer to APCs as “author fees” or APC-based journals as “author pays” journals.

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This post supersedes an older one from February 1, 2013.

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