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Year : 2013  |  Volume : 26  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 66-67

In the news! an opinion - paying to publish

Associate Editor, Education for Health

Date of Web Publication31-May-2013

Correspondence Address:
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Source of Support: The programme was funded by The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations., Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/1357-6283.112806

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How to cite this article:
Dalen Jv. In the news! an opinion - paying to publish. Educ Health 2013;26:66-7

How to cite this URL:
Dalen Jv. In the news! an opinion - paying to publish. Educ Health [serial online] 2013 [cited 2023 Jun 6];26:66-7. Available from:

Access to scientific journals is expensive. Whether journals are accessible electronically or in print, subscribers must pay substantial costs to remain current in their scientific knowledge and clinical practice. This has caused the University Library of Harvard University, not the poorest in the world, to issue a statement two years ago that it had trouble affording the subscription rates of scientific journals. [1] Without mentioning the names of Elsevier and Wiley, Harvard revealed that two publishing companies had increased their prices for on-line publications by almost one and a half times, even though profit margins for publishing companies are generally about 30-40%. [2] This pricing is seen by many as unacceptable for a business whose purpose is to share research, much of which has largely been financed with public funds. The Harvard memo therefore encouraged scientists to select open access journals for their publications:

"Since the Library now must change its subscriptions and since faculty and graduate students are chief users, please consider the following options open to faculty and students (F) and the Library (L), state other options you think viable, and communicate your views:

  1. Make sure that all of your own papers are accessible by submitting them to DASH [Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard, JvD] in accordance with the faculty-initiated open-access policies (F).
  2. Consider submitting articles to open-access journals, or to ones that have reasonable, sustainable subscription costs; move prestige to open access (F).
  3. If on the editorial board of a journal involved, determine if it can be published as open access material, or independently from publishers that practice pricing described above. If not, consider resigning (F).
  4. Contact professional organizations to raise these issues (F).
  5. Encourage professional associations to take control of scholarly literature in their field or shift the management of their e-journals to library-friendly organizations (F).
  6. Encourage colleagues to consider and to discuss these or other options (F).
  7. Sign contracts that unbundle subscriptions and concentrate on higher-use journals (L).
  8. Move journals to a sustainable pay per use system (L).
  9. Insist on subscription contracts in which the terms can be made public (L)."
Open-access journals are entirely on-line and free for everybody to read. Open-access journals hold down their production costs with no printing or mailing costs.

However, even for an open-access journal, publication costs money, which must come from somewhere. Publishing Education for Health depends on support from its parent organization, The Network: Towards Unity for Health, and other institutional sponsors including the Maharashtra University of Health Sciences and the Foundation for Advancement of International Medical Education. Few journals are in such fortunate circumstances.

The current alternative funding approach for open-access journals is the pay-to-publish model. According to this model, readers do not pay, but authors are charged between € 1,200 and € 3,000 to publish an article. In the past five years we have witnessed a great rise in such open-access pay-to-publish journals. In 2011, four new open-access pay-to-publish journals appeared every day. [2] Education for Health published 66 papers in that same year, while the open-access pay-to-publish megajournal of the Public Library of Science, PLoS ONE published 14,000 papers. [2]

Several factors are involved in the growth open-access pay-to-publish journals. Publications are the standard, accepted instrument through which researchers share their findings and thereby advance science. Researchers need to publish in order to gain recognition. Departments' funding is in part dependent on their scientific output. Moreover, competition is fierce in publishing and leading journals reject the majority of the submissions they receive. But it is also true that journals that charge for publication have flexible standards, depending on the journal's financial situation or profit expectation. Therefore, under the pay-for-publication system, the quality of the papers accepted for publication can no longer be guaranteed.

The academic world is worse off under this system. Work from wealthy countries and authors that can afford publication costs can be published more readily than work from poorer countries and authors, which is an injustice. Additionally, readers cannot be sure that the paper has been reviewed properly or that reviewers' comments are taken seriously by editors, when publication is linked with income. The pay-to-publish system is a significant setback for the scholarly exchange of research findings.

There are alternatives. To counter the suspicion of lowering standards in order for journals to make a profit, a submission fee could be charged. Authors or institutions could be charged to submit a paper regardless of whether the paper will ultimately be accepted or rejected. This would at least reduce the link between a favorable review and journal income. However, the injustice of publication opportunity being linked to financial means remains.

The best solution is simple, in my view. We must look for completely different ways to organize accessibility, allowing manuscript contributions by all and access to published material by all. And the funny part is that such a system already exists. We have a medium that is truly democratic and it is likely even now within your reach in just seconds as you read this editorial. It is called Wikipedia. [3]

Suppose that we were to use the Wikipedia system as an alternative to our current scientific journals. This would provide readily accessible papers to all who are interested. All who have something to add may do so. Anyone may criticize the methods, add how they used the findings, and add reflections on the paper and its implications, and contribute further research. An on-line discussion will evolve, which is the dream of the editor of most every journal but is seldom realized in the current system. Moreover, instead of being reviewed by three reviewers (who seldom agree completely), each paper could have many reviewers who will assist in not only advancing the particular paper but also our whole way of thinking about this study and the broader field.

Without underestimating the disadvantages of Wikipedia, I know what I would choose.

  References Top

1.Available from: [Last accessed on 2013 Apr 24].   Back to cited text no. 1
2.Ellers J. De wetenschap moet kritisch zijn over betaald publiceren [Science must be critical about Paying to Publish]. NRC-Handelsblad 29 March 2012.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.Available from: [Last accessed on 2013 Apr 24].  Back to cited text no. 3

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