Open access: How much is enough?

Categories: Open Access
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Published on: June 4, 2013

Nearly everyone is behind Open Access as an idea, but when RCUK demanded that all papers published from RCUK-funded groups be published open access it became clear that widespread, truly open access publication is still an idea and not a deliverable. The problem is that while scientists see the moral case for open access, and it is to their advantage to have as wide an audience as possible for their research, open access publishing can be extremely expensive, especially when academic careers are so invested in publications in high-impact, traditionally high-profile journals.

Open Access publishing can be cheap – national journals can even be free, though according Eigenfactor, there are no UK-based free plant science journals. PloS and BMC are charging around £1200 per article. When I looked up the OA fee on the BMC website, a friendly message popped up saying that the University of Warwick would pay half the publication fee if I submitted an article to them; other institutions will have similar schemes to help with payment of publication costs. Plant Physiology charge £750 for OA publication, though this is on top of often much larger pre-existing fees for colour publication and other costs. These figures seem reasonably affordable with the planned block grants to provide funding for article processing charges.

Article processing charges (APC) funding will come into force in academic year 2013/14, and during this time research institutions are expected to make sure 45% of papers are published OA. In mid 2014 the funding mechanism will be reviewed. Over the next few years, it is expected that the proportion of OA articles will go up – the target for 2014/15 is 53% at the time of writing.

However, I have heard from several people that some journals are charging a very high fee for OA publishing – in excess of £10 000. The APC fund will not be able to cover fees as large as that. So it is good news then that in April of this year, RCUK revised the original announcement that OA publication means ‘gold’ – ‘green’ OA is acceptable. This means that you can publish your work in many journals without paying the OA fee, and self-publish the paper in a format and forum agreed to by the publisher. In most cases this means you can put a non-formatted version of the accepted article on your website and in your institutional repository.


While researching this post on Open Access (OA), I found these webpages which will be of use to anyone who is confused about the RCUK OA policy:

  • Sherpa is an online tool from RCUK that explains users’ options for complying with their policy in the majority of journals. For example, if you search for ‘New Phytologist’ it explains that you can pay $3000 for the gold open access option, OR archive your article in an open access repository.
  • A commentary from The Times about April’s revision to RCUK’s OA policy.
  • RCUK’s Policy on Open Access FAQs (PDF) – you might not get as must detail as you want about the future of the OA policy, but this is the first place you should check if you have questions.
  • Stephen Curry regularly blogs about open access, and is one of the reasons RCUK had to clarify their stance on the importance of impact factors as a result of their OA policy – well worth a read.

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