How to pay for Open Access?

O.k.; everyone who reads or writes academic content knows what Open Access is. That is basically every researcher on this planet. OA has been with us for around 2 decades and it’s going from strength to strength. Especially in Europe there is a strong focus on furthering OA. According to a report by the European University Association in 2016 already more than 80% of European universities have been working on plans to further Development of additional incentives to encourage researchers to publish their papers in Open Access[1]. Abstracting and Indexing database Scopus recorded a total of 667.000 OA English language journal articles for 2018, up from 209.000 10 years earlier. The European Union has decreed through their Plan-S[2] that by 2020 all research funded by EU money should be available at no further cost to the general public.

Who and how to pay for OA

It is clear that OA has gotten quite a bit of traction and seems to be here to stay. Now there is the question of how to pay for this? Although OA also is known under the moniker Author Pays (as opposed to Reader Pays) it will be clear to all that it is not the scientists who are asked to pay, using private funds, for the publication of work created as part of their employ. So Reader Pays in essence should be: University Pays, Employer Pays or perhaps Funder Pays.

Wellcome Trust

Perhaps the most exemplary aspect on how to govern the cost of OA comes from the UK-based research charity Wellcome Trust. Wellcome Trust makes OA publishing mandatory and as part of any research funding there is money allotted for OA fees. Policies and implementation are clearly laid out on their website[3]. For certain publishers’ authors can just submit their manuscripts and do not have to worry about anything else; the publishers receive their monies directly from Wellcome Trust.

Funding policies

A lot of universities have established funding policies and indeed this is a laudable development. A number of these universities (and other research grant providers) make available monies for the payment of APCs and BPCs. Making funding available is as it should be; as publishers do perform a valuable service, they should be rewarded for their efforts: Nobody wants to work for free. Even in the case of those funders who make available monies for publishing there are a few things that are not ideal. I know that I might sound a tad negative here but regularly the policies are not well advertised, difficult to find, with an elaborate application process, and regularly not large enough to satisfy all publishing-desires from such a university.

A substantial number of funding policies do not make available funding for publications but decree that the author(s) should post their accepted manuscript on their homepage or through a (university) repository. This probably satisfies an ever-present need for simplicity, coupled with cost-effectiveness, as well as the desire to have a policy, but basically universities here are taking the easy way out. An accepted manuscript, posted on a server might be, in theory, accessible to all. The issue however is that availability of such a publication is severely limited and, once found, the readability is far below the minimum threshold: we all know what a manuscript looks like: a PDF of a Word-file which is technically unstructured and has all the images at the bottom of the file instead of there where they are suppose to  highlight something in the text. Believing a posting policy is the same as Open Access is, IMHO, ludicrous.

Another argument that could be voiced is that by requiring to post the accepted manuscript it eats into a publisher’s chance of making some money. Now there might be a certain level of validity in the argument that publishers have been having a too smooth a ride financially. This however has been only applicable, I would say, to the few large publishers who have the market power to dictate package-prices.

Publish & Read deals

A consortium of German academic libraries, under the name Project Deal[4] has developed the Publish & Read model. Under a Publish & Read model deals with individual publishers allow for payment of OA articles whilst at the same time allowing the participating libraries to read all the non-OA publications by that publisher. The essence is:

  • The number of publications from the institute with that publisher is assessed.
  • A contract fee, satisfactory to both parties, based on number of publications and price per publication is negotiated.
  • All the publications by that institute with that publisher are made OA (publish).
  • The university gets to read all the other publications by that publisher (& read).

The elegance lies in the transitory effect; if more and more universities and publishers adopt such a publish & read model the percentage of OA publications will grow, until the complete transition to OA has been made. So far the deals, IMHO, seem to have been structured cooperatively and, again in my opinion, the amounts agreed logical and fair to both. Publish & Read deals cover mostly journal articles and not books.


Plan-S was devised by the cOAlition-S, a group of national research funding organisations, with the support of the European Commission and the European Research Council (ERC). The founding principles as published in September 2018 have been that “With effect from 2020 (later delayed till 2021), all scholarly publications on the results from research funded by public or private grants provided by national, regional and international research councils and funding bodies, must be published in Open Access Journals, on Open Access Platforms, or made immediately available through Open Access Repositories without embargo.”

From the beginning Plan-S has received much attention and also a lot of (constructive) criticism, in part from the community that, in general, is seen to endorse Open Access most; academia in general and researchers specifically. Criticism pivoted around 5 main topics:

  • The complete ban on hybrid (society) journals of high quality is a big problem.
  • The expectation that a large part of the world will not (fully) tie in with Plan S.
  • The total costs of scholarly dissemination will likely rise instead of reduce under Plan S.
  • Plan S would ignore the existence of large differences between different research fields.
  • Plan S would be a serious violation of academic freedom

Subsequently cOAlition-S opened up for feedback till February 2019. This feedback was summarized wonderfully by Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe through Scholarly Kitchen:

  • Clear support for the transition to open access and the goals of Plan S.
  • Concern that the implementation guidance reflects models that work for STEM but will negatively impact HSS scholars.
  • The technical requirements for publication, repository, and other platforms are poorly thought out.
  • The predicted effects on small, independent, and society publishers raise concerns for the viability of these publishers.
  • Setting a fair and reasonable APC sounds fair and reasonable but it is also likely impossible.
  • Scholars and organizations in the Global South object to being told what they want.
  • The timelines are not feasible.

The big and obvious issue with Plan-S is that it doesn’t govern clear and practical plans on how an author can obtain the funds to pay for OA publishing. Rumors in the market indicate that Plan-S is an unadvertised, way to reduce library-costs.

My personal view is that Plan-S wants to control forces (publishers) beyond its direct control. Plan-S does not have any direct say over publishers. Plan-S is a predominantly European thing and Europe only comprises about 30% of the worlds scientific output. Finally there is, not yet, a clear plan on how to direct monies. It is not clear whether the monies now used for subscription-deals will be moved to Plan-S deals for instance.

KU Open Funding

A very interesting initiative is KU Open Funding[5] developed by Knowledge Unlatched. The concept is that participating universities assign a funding-deposit to KU Open Funding (OF). Information on participating publishers is added to the KU OF database. Researchers can simply search the database on standardized filters like license, subject, word count, services, etc. The researchers institute pre-approves the publishers offer and KU pays the publisher from the library-deposit. Traction is growing on KU Open Funding and Aldus Press is one of the publishers participating in KU Open Funding[6].

Printed copies

The idea and vision behind Open Access is that research derived from public funding means public access. The reader has to self-provide the medium to consume the content. Everyone expects the reader to buy his or her own iPad or computer. As long as she reads from the screen there is no further cost involved. For journals the matter remains simple; should the reader wish to read from paper then a typical article is just 4 sheets of paper printed double-sided on the office printer. With books this is a slightly different matter. Obviously one can print 360 pages of a 15 by 21 cm book on 180 sheets of A4, but this does not give an ideal reading experience. A book is an object where the (printed) form-factor adds so much to the reading pleasure. For those researchers or disciplines where funding is difficult to obtain, Aldus Press has created a model whereby the Book Publishing Charge (BPC) is lower. True to true Open Access everybody can read a digital copy at no cost. Printed copies for these books can be ordered through Aldus Press and are slightly higher in price in order to offset the lower BPC. Have a look at to find out more.