How Much Does It Cost To Publish in Science
What sort of costs should a scientist who wishes to publish a research article in a peer-reviewed journal expect to pay? The quick answer is that it is impossible to generalise because journals and publishers vary markedly in their business models, editorial policies and publication strategies. To find out exactly what the financial obligations will be for publishing a paper in any given scientific journal, it is essential to visit the journal’s website, read everything provided about fees and charges, and contact the editor or another staff member if the information you need is not available. My discussion here describes the kinds of fees that a researcher might be charged by a legitimate scientific journal at different points both before and after acceptance of a manuscript in the publication process.
Although many scientific journals do not charge submission fees, some reputable journals do, so a submission fee alone is no reason to be suspicious of a journal or choose not to submit your paper when the journal is the right fit for your research. Submission fees are generally not high when they are charged, so $50US would not be unusual, and they can certainly reduce the number of submissions a journal receives, narrow the competition and potentially speed up the editing, reviewing and publishing processes. It has also been argued that submission fees help increase quality and accountability, and, on a more immediately practical level, they help pay for initial administrative and editorial activities, so they are generally not refundable if your manuscript is not accepted.
Traditional journals that charge readers subscription fees tend not to charge authors publishing or processing fees as well, but they can. Journals that offer print as well as online versions may charge per page or a flat rate for printing, particularly when colour is used. Amounts can be significant – up to $250US per colour page or $1000US for an elaborate colour figure – so use colour extremely selectively if you are trying to keep costs down. For online only publications, charges connected with printing are eliminated, but if the journal is open access, there are usually some fees associated with publication. They should only be charged when an article is accepted and they vary widely among journals. For an entirely open access article in the most prestigious of scientific journals, author publishing charges or article processing fees can be as high as $5000US, but some legitimate open access journals charge minimal amounts of $10 to $20US, and journals in certain scientific fields and subject areas tend to be more expensive than others.
Some traditional journals that publish research behind paywalls have developed into hybrid journals by also offering authors the opportunity to pay a publishing fee for open access options. Full and immediate open access in perpetuity usually costs more in these journals than it does in strictly open access journals, so the publishing charge might be $3000US in a hybrid scientific journal, but only $1500US in an open access one. A unique open access model is offered by PeerJ that publishes peer-reviewed papers in exchange for membership fees that are significantly lower than most publication fees charged by open access journals, but authors must agree to support the journal by reviewing manuscript submissions. Whatever a journal’s fees may be called, the reason for charging them is usually to cover the costs associated with high-quality peer review, professional manuscript production, online dissemination, indexing and archiving, and other important practices of legitimate scholarly journals.
Scientific journals do not intend their fees to prevent the publication of excellent research that is perfectly suited to their aims and scope, so some will waive or reduce fees for compelling reasons. Funding bodies will often cover the costs of publication, particularly if they insist that the research they support be made available to all readers via open access publication. Finally, most universities and other research institutions are willing to help with publication charges for their faculty and students, so do look into your options before dismissing the possibility of publication in the perfect journal simply because the costs will be beyond your financial means.
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If you are in the process of preparing an article for an academic or scientific journal, or planning one for the near future, you may well be interested in a new book, Guide to Journal Publication, which is available on our Tips and Advice on Publishing Research in Journals website.