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Considering a journal’s publishing model for your manuscript

When you are deciding where to submit your next journal article manuscript, considering the journal’s publishing model is very important.

Disruption has been the norm in many areas of life. Scholarly publishing is no exception. In the 1980s, scholarly publishing seemed monolithic. Journals fell into two categories: first was traditional subscription publications. The accessibility of the content in these journals was limited to subscribers. Second, were journals published by learned societies or associations. These publications were provided as a benefit to members of that society. Journal articles, for all intents and purposes, looked the same as they do today. The only difference was a concentration on paper copies instead of the online version of record, which is the standard.

These two models are still popular today, and many of the top-tier journals still follow them. But a third model emerged and, in many fields, supplanted these: open access.

Many consider open access to have pluses and minuses. Open access (or OA) means the content is free for all the readers with no or few barriers to access, such as needing a subscription or a membership. There are usually few restrictions on reuse as well.

Open access comes in several forms. First is gold OA, which means the journal is funded by article processing charges (APC), which are usually paid by authors, their institution, or the research’s sponsor. A second type is green OA.  This option is sometimes called self-archiving. The author places their manuscript into a repository, making it freely accessible for everyone. The version that is posted depends on the rules or terms of the funder or publisher.  A lesser-known option is platinum OA (sometimes called diamond OA), which means the journal is completely funded by academic institutions, societies, or government bodies. Under this model, there are no APCs or barriers to access for the reader.

Hybrid OA is also an option with some journals who are trying to have it both ways. They charge a subscription fee but offer OA for an APC for selected articles. Some journals tinker with the conditions, once again, in an attempt to have it both ways. They combine limitations on access (due to the need for a subscription or being a member of the association) and then make the material open access after a period called an embargo. Embargoes may be six to twelve months or even longer periods of time. These delayed-OA publications are trying to capitalize on new or highly sought-after material and make older content freely available.

Open access has become more common in some subject areas than others. Skeptics would say this has to do with the availability of funds and where there are considerable research grants which authors can utilize to pay APCs.

APCs can vary considerably. Some may be as high as $5,000 USD, while others may be in the hundred-dollar range. It is challenging to give averages because they vary more by subject matter than as a rule across all scholarly publishing.

When deciding journals to submit to, another consideration may be what kind of funding assistance is available (if any). Is there a publication fee assistance program, country discounts, institutional discounts, collective action pricing?

Open access has meant that endless amounts of high-quality scholarly content are now available to anyone with just Internet access. With that upside has come a downside. The term predatory publisher has now become ingrained in the vocabulary of many academic authors.

Broadly, predatory publishing is the exploitative practice that involves charging publication fees to authors without providing editorial or publishing services. Authors may pay an APC only to find out their article has been posted online as is and that the journal has little to no credibility or distribution among recognized sources. Authors from developing countries are especially at risk of predatory practices because of the intense pressure to publish in recognized or “Western” journals.

This practice is widely known in most circles but still causes consternation when it comes to journal selection. If you desperately want to get published, open access seems like a viable option, no? The real challenge is figuring which are the predatory publishers. The issue came to the fore around 2010 when a University of Colorado librarian named Jeffrey Beall formed his own criteria for publishers with questionable practices and issued a list of ones that caused him concern. There are several resources available to identify predatory publishers. But the best way to identify them is through your own research.

In the final analysis, traditional subscription journals, society or membership journals, or respected open access journals, are all excellent venues for you to consider as a possibility to submit your article. Do not exclusively favor one format over the other. Multiple factors need to be considered, and the business model of the journal, while an important one, should not be the sole factor.


John BondJohn Bond is a publishing consultant at Riverwinds Consulting. He just released a new book: The Little Guide to Getting Your Journal Article Published: Simple Steps to Success. He is also the host of the YouTube channel “Publishing Defined.” Contact him at jbond@riverwindsconsulting.com.

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