This post is one in a series about the Libraries open access (OA) principles, as outlined in Towards Open Access at the University of Minnesota (z.umn.edu/TowardsOA). The Senate Library Committee (SLC) issued a statement of support in November 2021 and a number of Senate Committees have endorsed the SLC’s statement.
One of the Libraries’ open access (OA) principles states: “We prioritize open access publishing models through collection development strategies that are open, equitable, transparent, and sustainable.” Here we’ll talk about our belief that OA publishing models should enable researchers to preserve their funding for direct research activities, rather than for publication fees. This notion also underlies our support for equitable opportunities for all authors to publish and read scholarly literature, regardless of institutional affiliation, funding status, or discipline.
Grant funding for APCs?
Many publishers prefer models that rely on article processing charges (APCs) to make an article open in either a fully open access journal* or a hybrid journal (in which some content remains subscription-only but authors can pay a fee to make their article open). These models are low risk for publishers because they guarantee income.
Many authors use grant funding to pay APCs. Many funders, including largest federal funding agencies, allow for authors to budget potential publication charges into their grant proposals. However:
- Researchers don’t always know how many articles will come out of the work funded through their grant, nor which journals may be best for sharing their results when they apply for funding, making it difficult to estimate these costs when crafting their proposal.
- Sometimes articles based on research funded by the grant are not published until after the award period has ended.
- Every grant dollar spent on publication fees is a dollar that isn’t spent on conducting research.
APCs have the potential to consume significant portions of grant funding. Journals from the largest publishers often charge more than $2,000 per article (up to than $11,600 for one publisher). With a median NSF grant award around $150,000 to $175,000 (estimates from 2020-2022), paying APCs can significantly reduce the amount of funding available to meet the primary purpose of research grants, which are intended to pay researchers, purchase materials, purchase or operate equipment, and other research expenses.
Locking out unfunded authors
Another concern with relying on grant funding to support APC-based OA is the effect these models have on researchers who do not have grant funding. APCs disproportionately disadvantage researchers from certain disciplines, parts of the world, or who are unaffiliated with an institution. Even at an institution like the University of Minnesota, there are thousands of un- or under-funded researchers.
Publishers have tried to address the issue by creating models that combine a “reading” fee (i.e., access to subscription materials) with a “publishing” fee (i.e., fees to make articles from the participating institution open access) or “membership” models, in which the institution pays to reduce or eliminate fees paid by individual authors. But not all institutions can participate in these agreements, and certainly not to cover every journal in which their authors publish. (Read more about these in Costs and models of OA publishing.)
Upcoming changes to US federal government grant policies
A 2013 memorandum from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) directed the largest federal funders to create plans for public access to articles and data resulting from the research they fund within 12 months of publication. As mentioned above, publication charges have been allowable costs, but using grant funding to pay for APCs is not required for compliance; researchers are simply required to deposit the publications into the agency-designated repository.
In August 2022, OSTP released an updated memorandum directing all federal bodies that provide external grant funding to develop plans for “Ensuring Free, Immediate, and Equitable Access to Federally Funded Research.” A major change is the elimination of the option for a 12-month embargo (i.e., delay for public access). How each agency will implement the requirement for immediate public access to publications remains to be seen, although the National Institutes of Health released its “Plan to Enhance Public Access to the Results of NIH-Supported Research” for public comment in February 2023.
The NIH plan highlights concerns about the potential for increases in publication fees or other changes to publisher policies that could negatively affect both the researchers they fund and researchers from institutions with fewer resources or under-represented groups. Their draft plan emphasizes that compliance with the updated policy should not require authors to pay a fee.
This plan is in direct alignment with the University of Minnesota Libraries’ values, and the values of many other institutions. Shortly after the draft NIH plan was released, the 13 libraries of the Ivy Plus consortium released a statement about implementation of the 2022 OSTP memo that emphasized the importance of equitable access to publishing, stating “Implementing the Nelson memo via an APC model is antithetical to the equity goals so clearly articulated in the guidance memo and the values of our institutions.”
Towards an equitable future
Currently, researchers with funding from the largest federal agencies have many options for making their work open. They can use grant funds to pay for APCs, but to comply with public access policies they must share their work in an agency-designated repository—where no fee is required. The 2022 OSTP memo emphasized the need for equity in publishing options, which is apparent in the NIH’s draft plan when it expresses concerns about the potential of the pay-to-publish OA models, not just on the authors they fund.
The University Libraries supports NIH’s and OSTP’s aims and we are working towards ensuring equitable access to read and publish for all authors. You can read about all of the many ways within the existing publishing system—regardless of your funding status—for you to make your work open at no cost. The Libraries are also making strategic investments into sustainable open access publishing models. Aligning with our principles, we support models that:
- Are academy-owned;
- Require cooperative action and distribute costs equitably; and
- Allow for innovation to move from traditional models (e.g., journals to next generation publishing formats).
* There are many fully open access journals that do not charge fees. The Directory of Open Access Journals indexes more than 18,000 journals, more than 65% of which do not charge authors APCs. All of the University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing’s journals are author-fee-free.