22 July 2024

Charging for academic publication is not right

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By: Prof. Dr. Mohammad Tariqur Rahman

The concept of open science, where research publications are freely accessible, appears noble at first glance. However, this ostensibly free access comes at a cost, primarily borne by the researchers themselves. Whether funded by institutions, industries, or government grants, researchers often foot the bill for publishing their work.

While some research is conducted without external funding, the expenses for editorial processing remain. Typically, these costs, now mostly in the form of open access fees, are covered by institutional funds, grants, or personal finances.

It’s important to recognize that much of this funding ultimately originates from taxpayers. Yet, ironically, these same taxpayers are often unable to access the research they’ve indirectly supported. Meanwhile, authors, who also contribute taxes, must pay publishers to share their findings.

Publishers argue that they require fees to cover publication expenses, but the transparency of these costs is often unclear. Questions arise regarding whether publishers charge more than necessary.

In truth, publishing is a business, not a charitable endeavor. However, some publishers exempt authors from low-income countries from fees, and various models, including hybrid options, exist to balance accessibility and sustainability.

In addition to these models, initiatives like the Scientific Electronic Library Online (SciELO) network aim to promote diamond open access, where both publishing and access are free. Such initiatives prioritize local research for local audiences, fostering relevance and accessibility within specific regions.

However, SciELO and similar models are constrained by participation from select countries and a limited number of journals. Expanding such models globally is not feasible.

Open-access publication models often perpetuate inequities, especially when authors come from countries exempt from fees while others are not. This complexity is compounded for authors conducting voluntary research without grants, who may have to cover fees from their own income.

The options for submitting manuscripts without payment clauses are dwindling, particularly among journals affiliated with reputable publishers or indexing bodies. These journals often impose variable open-access fees, correlating with their prestige.

The absence of universal norms or comprehensive guidelines for open-access fees is perplexing, allowing predatory journals to operate unchecked.

Rather than burdening academics with exorbitant fees, institutions should explore alternative methods for assessing research impact, such as evaluating societal influence and local policy impact.

It remains uncertain whether the scientific publishing community will establish acceptable guidelines for open-access fees or if institutions will adopt alternative fee relief measures. Until then, the practice of charging authors for open access fees will persist with inherent flaws.


The author is the Associate Dean (Continuing Education), Faculty of Dentistry, and Associate Member, UM LEAD, Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He may be reached at tarique@um.edu.my