When trying to target the right journal for publication of your manuscript, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the diversity of not only journals but also potential author fees. What are all of these types of fees? Which types of journals generally charge them? When? Why?
Before addressing this slew of questions, it is important to note a common oversimplification: that traditional journals are solely based on a reader-pays model, in which institutional libraries typically pay for access to content, and that open access journals, supporting “unrestricted access and unrestricted reuse,” are always based on an author-pays model (see our article on open access myths for more information). In other words, as an author, you may have to pay for submission to and/or publication in a subscription-based journal and may not have to do so for an open access one. The latter concept is made possible by alternative sources of revenue that cover the costs of the editorial, peer review, and publication processes, such as paywalled premium content, advertising, or subsidy by a journal’s affiliated foundation or society.
Note also that for both traditional and open access publications that do entail so-called “author” charges, you may not have to pay these fees in full because of discounts related to institutional membership programs, your own society membership, or waivers of service (such as if in-house copyediting is not needed). Moreover, you may not have to pay full or even discounted fees due to waivers based on either financial hardship or your country of origin’s economic status or due to coverage by your institution, department, or funder/grant; in fact, for open access publication, only 5% to 12% of fees are ever paid using personal funds.
Here, we summarize a few of the most common fees associated with manuscript submission and publication, with a focus on the pre- and post-acceptance charges that may be most relevant to you as an author. Note that all quoted price ranges are rough estimates based on a brief survey, so please check specific journals’ and publishers’ websites for more accurate information. These sites (e.g., PLOS and BioMed Central) should provide up-to-date information on journals’ specific fee types, discounts, and waivers. Your institution and/or funder may also be able to provide more in-depth explanations about open access mandates, if any, and cost coverage.
Submission fees. Both subscription-based and open access journals may charge a fee (typically $50-125) at the time of manuscript submission to help to fund editorial and peer review administration. From an author’s standpoint, these fees might deter submission due to the existence of many journals without such charges. However, submission fees thus present the advantage of decreasing competition for review and acceptance, potentially enhancing publication speed. The effect on journal quality, and therefore potentially on impact, may also be positive: the quality of submissions may increase, as only authors with confidence that they are choosing the right journal will be willing to pay a submission fee. Interestingly, it has also been posited that submission fees can increase authors’ concern about the quality of peer review and the reasoning behind manuscript rejection, potentially motivating greater accountability on the part of journals.
Membership fees. The open access journal PeerJ is unique in charging a one-time membership fee ($100-350) that covers the editorial process and peer review, as well as the possible publication, of one, two, or a limitless number of manuscripts per year (depending on the level of membership). Each author on a manuscript, up to 12 authors, must pay the fee and a must contribute to the PeerJ community yearly, such as by participating in peer review. It is also possible to pay for membership after acceptance of a manuscript, but this increases the cost. Advantages of this membership approach include relatively rapid publication and avoidance of repeatedly paying pre- and post-acceptance fees. [Editor’s note: PeerJ now offers a per-article price, as well.]
These fees either stand alone or are charged subsequent to a submission fee.
Page/color printing charges. To cover the cost of printing, and particularly color printing, certain traditional journals charge per page (often $100-250 each) and/or per color figure (about $150-1,000 each). In rare cases, supplementary materials may also incur a flat charge or a charge per item or page, with fees usually ranging from $150-500.
Publication fees. These fees, charged by certain open access journals post-acceptance, are also known as author publishing charges or article processing charges (APCs) and range from $8-3,900. APCs may be driven down by submission fees, particularly among open access journals with high rejection rates. In contrast to post-acceptance charges by traditional journals, these APCs are more often flat fees because they primarily fund peer review and online dissemination, which are length independent. In rare cases, post-acceptance, page/color-independent fees may also be billed by traditional journals (e.g., the Journal of Clinical Investigation) without unrestricted access and/or reuse provisions. Generally, these fees provide both retrospective and prospective coverage, including of peer review management by the editorial staff or board (i.e., identifying and following up with peer reviewers), manuscript preparation (e.g., copyediting), journal production (e.g., layout), open access online publication and hosting, indexing (e.g., in PubMed), and archiving.
Be aware that “predatory” journals may take advantage of the APC-based model to receive payment in return for minimal peer review and processing, so be sure to look for warning signs and consider checking whether your target journal is listed by the Directory of Open Access Journals. A truly open access journal should also meet the two-fold requirement defined above by PLOS: “unrestricted access and unrestricted reuse,” meaning that an open access article must not only be freely accessible to readers but also freely available for copying, distribution, and derivative work, as long as the original author is acknowledged. In particular, open access articles are often associated with a CC-BY license, although certain journals may not support reuse/derivation.
Regarding the value added by submitting to APC-charging journals, a weak correlation between citation-based impact and APCs has been found for open access journals, implying that higher fees are necessitated by higher rejection rates, which in turn imply greater selectivity and prestige. However, note that this analysis did not take submission fees into account.
In sum, when choosing a journal for manuscript submission, the array of pre- and post-acceptance fees should not be an immediate deterrent, especially if the journal’s scope and content are a good fit for your work, because of both potential fee assistance and added value. You should thus focus on asking yourself a more personalized question beyond what, who, when, and why: is the journal truly the right fit for my specific research and my own publication goals?