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Publishing open access

'Gold' Open Access is the term used when a publisher makes the work openly available at publication. This can be through a fully Open Access journal (which often, but not always, have article processing charges) or by making a single article Open Access in an otherwise subscription journal. These are called 'hybrid'  journals and they always impose an article processing charge.

If you are a Cambridge researcher publishing an article resulting from research funded by the UK Research Councils, Cancer Research UK, British Heart Foundation or the Wellcome Trust, then the Open Access Service can facilitate payment on your behalf. Simply submit your accepted manuscript

The Cambridge University Open Access Policy Framework recommends Green OA (self-archiving) as the most cost-effective, sustainable way to achieve greater public access to research outputs and supports Green OA through the development of its institutional repository, or through subject based repositories and other open websites. There are no centralised University funds to pay for Open Access. Researchers who are unfunded are welcome to make their work Open Access by submitting their author's accepted manuscript to the Open Access Service team who will make the work available in the University repository (Apollo) in accordance with publisher policies.

Value for money?

There is no direct correlation between the amount of the article processing charge and the journal impact factor - as demonstrated by Andrew Theo (2012) "Gold Open Access: Counting the Costs", published in Ariadne, 3 December 2012.  Using network analysis to quantify the value provided by academic journals the Eigenfactor Project analysed the cost-effectiveness of journal subscriptions and the cost-effectiveness of Open Access journals. These analysis indicate that open-access journals that charge the most are not necessarily the most influential.  Similarly, Zoë Corbyn (2013) argues that the open access journals that charge the most are not necessary the most influential in her “Price doesn’t always buy prestige”, published in Nature, 22 January 2013.

There is also no direct correlation between the amount of the article processing charge and the cost of production - see Stephen Pinfield (2013) "Is scholarly publishing going from crisis to crisis?" published in Learned Publishing, Volume 26 (2), and Richard Van Noorden (2013), “The true cost of science publishing” published in Nature, Vol. 495.

The Wellcome Trust in its March 2014 Open Access Publishing - A progress report stated that "that the average APC levied by the traditional subscription publishers (eg: Elsevier, Wiley, NPG) is significantly higher than that charged by the born-digital open access publishers, like PLOS." In their 2018 report Wellcome Trust noted that "Hybrid journals continue to be more expensive, with an average APC of £2,401 compared with £1,943 for fully OA journals." Similarly, the March 2015 Review of the implementation of the Research Councils' Policy on Open Access found that the article processing charges for hybrid Open Access were 'consistently more expensive' than fully OA journals, 'despite the fact that hybrid journals still enjoyed a revenue stream through subscriptions'.

Much ink has been spilled over the challenges of transforming the outdated traditional-based publishing model into a sustainable open access model.  See for example Earney (2017), ‘Ofsetting and its discontents’, Laakso, Solomon and Björk (2016) ‘How subscription based scholarly journals can convert to open access’, and Pinfield, Salter, and Bath (2017) ‘A “Gold-centric” implementation of open access’.  The subscription-based model appears all but doomed, and major publishers are offering new arrangements such as offsetting deals and “read and publish”, which are starting to benefit stakeholders.

Alternative ways to assess value in journals

Prestige and readership are often cited as the main reasons for paying to publish. Publication marks the last step in the scientific process, so selecting the right journal to publish in is paramount. Journal selection can be a daunting task, but authors can get help from various online tools and platforms such as Think.Check.Submit, FindMyJournal, Scopus, and DOAJ. Journals are indexed in platforms such as these only if they meet a certain criteria or are approved to be listed by an independent advisory board, as in the case of Scopus. In selecting a journal, consider the fields of study, audience/readership, content and coverage, publication lag time and frequency, and open access policies.

Recently some new ways have opened up to assess the value that authors receive for their contribution (both in terms of contribution of content and contribution through subscriptions and article processing charges). Here is a small sample.

JournalGuide For biomedical researchers JournalGuide provides a matching service for authors to help them identify the right journal for their article.  Information includes details aobut the journal's scope, speed of rejection or approval, publication speed and cost plus the journal's Open Access policy.
Quality Open Access Market A European inititiave, Quality Open Access Market aims to provide 'Journal Score Cards' ranking quality of service against price and also lists publication fees of journals. Authors input rankings on editorial information, peer review, process and governance.
Journal Openness Index In Librarian, Heal Thyself:  A Scholarly Communication Analysis of LIS Journals, Micah Vandegrifth and Chealsye Bowley propose a mew metric to rank journals - the Journal Oppenness Index - which grades journals on how 'open' they are.
Principles of Transparency The DOAJ, together with the Committee on Publication Ethics, Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association and the World Association of Medical Editors have collaborated to produce these principles which cover things to look out for - from peer review to licensing information.