Moving Beyond Article Processing Charges: Toward Equitable and Sustainable Academic Publishing

By IndraStra Global Editorial Team

Moving Beyond Article Processing Charges: Toward Equitable and Sustainable Academic Publishing | Cover Image Attribute: This image is computer-generated using AI and is intended solely for illustrative purposes./ INDRASTRA-CREATIVES-AI202401016
Cover Image Attribute: This image is computer-generated using AI and is intended solely for illustrative purposes./ INDRASTRA-CREATIVES-AI202401016
 
Academic publishing is the linchpin of scientific progress. It plays a pivotal role in disseminating research findings and connecting the scientific community with society at large. Traditionally, the peer-review process ensures the credibility and rigor of research, maintaining the integrity of scientific discourse. However, the evolution of academic publishing has given rise to two predominant models: 'pay to read' and 'pay to publish.'

The 'pay to read' model, often associated with for-profit entities in the U.S. and Europe, restricts access to scientific material, particularly in regions like the Global South, where institutions grapple with exorbitant subscription fees. On the other hand, the 'pay to publish' or gold open-access model requires authors to bear the cost of article processing charges (APCs) to make their work freely available online.

The academic publishing industry has become a $19 billion enterprise globally, with profit margins soaring up to 40%. However, a significant portion of these profits is derived from public funds, leading to ethical concerns regarding the misalignment with the not-for-profit nature of scientific research. Initiatives like Plan S in the U.S. and Europe are pushing for open-access journals, funded through grant allocations or library funds, for research funded by public grants.

In contrast, countries like India, with substantial scientific output, face financial challenges in adopting open-access models due to the majority of research being funded by government grants. In response, Indian scientists and policymakers are exploring alternatives, from affordable open-access journals with limited international reach to 'One Nation, One Subscription' programs that aim to make scholarly publications accessible within fixed costs.

A radical proposition gaining traction is the transition from open-access publishing to open publishing. The establishment of a freely accessible online repository for scientific manuscripts, spearheaded by entities like the National Research Foundation, could foster collaboration, transparency, and citizen engagement. This innovative model could redefine the evaluation of scientific research, moving away from numerical metrics.

Moreover, the current reliance on APCs presents significant challenges. Authors from the Global South face financial barriers, with fees ranging from $1,000 to $13,000. This financial burden, offloaded onto university libraries through open-access funds, proves unsustainable and exacerbates inequities between large and small institutions.

Scholars from the Global South have highlighted the inequitable nature of APC-based publishing, prompting a critical examination of funding models for open-access journals. As evidenced by low compliance rates in jurisdictions like Canada, the financial strain on authors and institutions hampers the accessibility of publicly funded research.


Ho to Build a More Equitable Model?

 

It's quite clear that the traditional academic publishing model, with its reliance on subscription fees and exorbitant APCs, has long been criticized for its limitations in accessibility, affordability, and inclusivity. While open access (OA) journals have emerged as a promising alternative, the current dominant model of OA publishing, often funded by APCs, perpetuates many of the inequities inherent in the traditional system. So, moving forward, it is imperative for us to delve into and actively implement alternative funding models that can address the inherent challenges within the current academic publishing landscape.

 

  • Diversify revenue streams: Public and philanthropic funding, institutional and library consortia memberships, and alternative payment models like author contributions based on sliding scales or income levels can all play a role in making OA publishing more accessible.

  • Support infrastructure development: Investments in robust OA platforms, open-source publishing tools, and training programs for researchers and librarians can create a sustainable and supportive infrastructure for equitable OA publishing.

  • Embrace collaborative models: Encouraging scholarly cooperation through collaborative research projects, shared data repositories, and open-source software development such a open journal systems, open preprint systems, open monogrpah press can further reduce costs and democratize access to knowledge production.

 


Examples of Promising Initiatives

 

Several initiatives are already paving the way for a more equitable and sustainable OA publishing landscape:

 

  • cOAlition S: A global initiative by funders to push for immediate full and open access to research publications without APCs. This ambitious coalition comprises a diverse range of international research funding agencies committed to reshaping the landscape of scholarly communication. By promoting the principles of openness and accessibility, cOAlition S seeks to accelerate the transition toward a scholarly publishing system that ensures immediate and unhindered access to research findings, fostering a more inclusive and equitable dissemination of knowledge on a global scale. The coalition's efforts reflect a collective commitment to advancing open science practices and dismantling financial barriers that might impede the widespread availability of valuable scientific knowledge.

  • Plan S: It is an European Commission initiative encouraging cOAlition S principles and mandating OA publishing for research funded by EU grants. The overarching goal of Plan S is to propel a paradigm shift in scholarly communication, aligning with the ethos of immediate and unrestricted access to research findings. By making open access a prerequisite for EU-funded research publications, Plan S seeks to address the challenges posed by traditional academic publishing models, fostering a more transparent, inclusive, and globally accessible dissemination of scientific knowledge. The initiative serves as a testament to the European Commission's commitment to advancing open science and ensuring that publicly funded research makes a meaningful and timely impact on a broader audience.

  • Library consortia: Collaborations between libraries to negotiate affordable OA deals with publishers and provide collective support for OA infrastructure development. One notable example of such collaboration is evident in India's 'One Nation, One Subscription' program. This innovative initiative represents a concerted endeavor by libraries to consolidate their resources and negotiate subscription deals that are not only economically viable but also aligned with the principles of open access. By leveraging the strength of numbers, library consortia aim to secure favorable terms from publishers, making scholarly publications more accessible to a wider audience.

 

The Road Ahead

 

Achieving a transition toward a more fair and sustainable OA publishing model necessitates a united endeavor involving researchers, funding agencies, universities, libraries, publishers, and policymakers. It is imperative to surpass the constraints posed by APCs and wholeheartedly adopt inventive funding mechanisms, collaborative strategies, and robust infrastructure development. Through collaborative efforts, we have the potential to shape a future in which knowledge becomes genuinely open and accessible to everyone, fostering an academic ecosystem that is both inclusive and thriving.


While this marks a crucial starting point for the ongoing discourse, we encourage further exploration of these issues, active participation in critical discussions, and contributions toward shaping a more equitable and sustainable trajectory for academic publishing. Together, all stakeholders should participate to envision a world where knowledge transcends being a commodity and transforms into a shared resource freely available to all, thereby laying the foundation for a more democratic and accessible global knowledge landscape.

 

For further reading:

 

cOAlition S: https://www.coalition-s.org/category/news/ 

Plan S: https://www.coalition-s.org/about/ 

Open Access Initiative: https://www.budapestopenaccessinitiative.org/ 

Public Library of Science: https://plos.org/

IndraStra Open Journal Systems: https://ojs.indrastra.com 


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IndraStra Global: Moving Beyond Article Processing Charges: Toward Equitable and Sustainable Academic Publishing
Moving Beyond Article Processing Charges: Toward Equitable and Sustainable Academic Publishing
By IndraStra Global Editorial Team
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