September 9, 2023

Open Access – A closer look at the Article Processing Charge (APC)

What is the article processing charge? Why is it levied by journals? Learn more about the article processing charge and the issues surrounding it.

min read

What is the Article Processing Charge?

An Article Processing Charge, or APC, is a cost usually charged by a publisher to an author for covering the expenses of publishing an Open Access (OA) article. Typically, the APC covers all the costs involved in converting a manuscript into a journal article, distributing it, and promoting it. The APC may be charged to the author, their funder, their employer, or their institution. The payer has to remit the charge after the acceptance of an article and before its publication in the journal.

5 Things You Should Know About the APC

1. Simply put, the Article Processing Charge makes it possible for publishers to make articles available freely to everyone; the APC facilitates open access publishing. The APC is fixed by a publisher to include costs such as online writing and editing tools, charges for hosting, distributing, promoting the article, and customer services.

2. The APC is incurred by authors (or their institution or funder) when they want to publish an article in an Open Access (OA) journal or a hybrid open-access journal. A hybrid open-access journal is one in which some articles are open access, and others are available only via subscription.

3. The Article Processing Charge is sometimes also called the Author Processing Charge or the Article Processing Fee.

4. The APC is not uniform across journals. It varies from one journal title to another and from one publisher to another. The difference in APCs is so vast that while some journals charge a sum of $8, others may charge up to $5,000.

5. It is important to note that not every Open Access or hybrid open-access journal charges an APC. Some journals publish open access papers without charging a fee. In fact, a 2014 report revealed that out of 9,000+ OA journals, 72% of them did not charge an APC to the authors. However, the report also highlights that 59.1% of OA articles were published in journals that levied an Article Processing Charge.

APC – A Point of Contention?

The controversies surrounding the Article Processing Charge are that it varies so greatly among publishers and the amount is steadily rising. This study revealed an alarming trend related to APCs among four leading APC-funded OA publishers – BMC, Frontiers, Hindawi, and MDPI. Between 2012 and 2018, there was hyperinflation of the APC, supported by demand for scholarly publications akin to necessities or prestige goods. This hyper-inflation is detrimental to the research community.

Evidently, the APC is the key to maintaining the open access publishing ecosystem. The charge stems from the OA publishers’ need for revenue. However, the vast discrepancies between the APCs of different journal titles and publishers and the hyperinflation of charges are causes for concern. These developments could disrupt the participation of global researchers in the OA publishing ecosystem.

David Crotty, the Editorial Director, Journals Policy for Oxford University Press, said, “If one really wants the world to be a fully OA publishing ecosystem, then one has to be realistic about the economics of such a system, and create functional and sustainable real-world strategies for long-term support.

It is crucial to remodel the OA ecosystem to make the Article Processing Charge a more sustainable revenue model for publishers. Publishers can cut costs by going digital and improving their publishing workflows with technology, ultimately lowering APCs and leading to a better publishing ecosystem for all stakeholders.

Further Reading

  • Springeropen, APC

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