Pay to play: Are submission fees common for publication in journals?

University student studying book in libraryThere seem to be many recent email messages, advertisements, and calls for journal submissions that have touted competitive or lower than average submission fees. From a traditional perspective of submitting work to academic journals, you may 1) have never paid for submission of articles, and 2) been wary of those journals who required payment for submission, thinking them to be less credible “pay to play” sources of publication.

With evidence of a more common practice of submission fee requirements, we solicited the opinions of TAA members Jörg Waltje, executive director of the Center for Faculty Excellence at Texas Woman’s University, and Patricia Goodson, presidential professor for Teaching Excellence and director of POWER Services for Texas A&M University, who provided different perspectives.

Waltje offered a traditional perspective on the expectation of paying for article submissions when asked if he had ever paid for article submission stating, “No, never – I was always fortunate enough to publish in journals that did not require submission fees.” Goodson noted that the traditional publishing model typically associated fees with self-publishing–carrying a negative connotation–or were justified by prestige, such as some medical journal submission fees. However, she added that she frequently pays submission fees to Open Access (OA) journals.

Discussing the fee structure and concern for legitimacy, Goodson shared that Texas A&M University provides funding assistance for publishing in legitimate OA journals, specifically those that are members of COPE. She has personally paid upwards of $1,200 out-of-pocket (which was later reimbursed by the university) for an article submission. She added that some journals, such as PeerJ have institutional memberships that allow faculty at the same institution one free article publication annually, but fees can range from limited-time $99/article offers to as much as $3,500.

What justifies a submission fee? Waltje said that, for him, nothing justifies the fee: “Journals should make their money by charging membership fees or a subscription fee, but never ask authors to pay to be published.” Goodson acknowledged that these fees from a traditional publishing model subsidized the “free” printing of the journals, but in the OA environment, these subsidies are non-existent.

In further support of the OA model for publishing, Goodson stated that publication fees fund the OA enterprise and greater access to article. This, she claims, is a benefit over the limited reach in traditional journal publication due to library-only access through subscription purchase. An additional benefit is that authors retain copyright on OA article publication.

If you are concerned about the cost of publication, she also noted that most reputable OA journals have mechanisms to cover publication fees for authors who don’t have funds. Additionally, without the traditional subscription fee expenses, many university libraries have diverted money into Open Access funds that may also be available to cover submission costs, further legitimizing the OA model.

I’d love to know your thoughts and experiences. Comment below to share.


Eric SchmiederEric Schmieder is the Membership Marketing Manager for TAA. He has taught computer technology concepts to curriculum, continuing education, and corporate training students since 2001. A lifelong learner, teacher, and textbook author, Eric seeks to use technology in ways that improve results in his daily processes and in the lives of those he serves. His latest textbook, Web, Database, and Programming: A foundational approach to data-driven application development using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, MySQL, and PHP, First Edition, is available now through Sentia Publishing.

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