Should authors pay to submit their papers?

2 minute read

An article by Tim Vines in The Scholarly Kitchen looks at the pay-to-submit model of open access publication: “Plan T: Scrap APCs and Fund Open Access with Submission Fees”.

Why? APCs have the unfortunate feature that the authors pay for the assessment of all the other submissions that ended up being rejected. Manuscripts rejected from multiple OA journals thus contribute to the APCs of several different authors. Is it fair for authors of good articles to pay for the peer review of others’ lower quality work?

In other words, journals have an incentive to appear to be “exclusive” by rejecting lots of papers; but this means that any paper they accept and publish must carry all the freight of the rejections. If you have an open access model where the authors of published papers must pay for the privilege, they will pay much more in these “exclusive” journals.

Hence, Nature Communications has a $5200 publication fee.

The article is worth considering. Articles cost money to publish. If we insist upon journal publication, that money needs to come from somewhere. I would be happy if my university subsidized submission of papers to open-access journals instead of subscriptions to closed-access journals.

However, I tend to agree with Richard Sever, who tweeted a link to the article and commented:

Plan U: just mandate preprint deposition and let a downstream ecosystem of overlays/journals with various business models evolve in response to community needs. Side benefit: speeding up science massively...

Publication in an academic journal is a system of endorsement in which the journal (and its editors) stand in as proxies for academic referees, who remain anonymous. The endorsement is tied to multiple quality assessments by those referees, but the tie is indirect. Editors may ignore the opinions of referees, and those opinions are suppressed at the time of publication.

Personally I think the system would be better if endorsement were disintermediated. A curation system where journals choose what to publish from work already available in preprint form would be one way to attain this disintermediation. Editors would be more valuable to this process because they could pursue a vision of what was worth having peer referees engage with. They would be drawing from work that authors are already willing to stand behind in public.

Those journals might even be worth paying for.

This wouldn’t work well for the “big journals” that profit from embargoes. But we’ve seen very clearly how these journals have worse records when it comes to replication and accuracy.