What’s the deal with Article Processing Charges (APCs)?

If you have published an article in a hybrid open access or fully open access journal, chances are you have paid an Article Processing Charge (APC), also known as “Author Processing Charge” or “Article Processing Fee.” Here are some frequently asked questions about APCs:

What exactly are APCs?
Manchester Metropolitan University Library in the United Kingdom defines APCs as “the fee that publishers of some open access journals charge in order to publish articles.”

What types of journals charge APCs?
Fully open access (OA) journals (where all of the articles published by the journal are immediately freely-available to readers upon publication) usually require authors to pay an APC. Hybrid open access journals (a journal that makes content available via a mixture of traditional subscription-based publishing and open access), on the other hand, only require a fee from authors who purposely select the OA option. As such, readers – and libraries – still have to pay for access (via subscription or otherwise) to the non-open access content of hybrid OA journals.

A 2016 JISC report report analyzed APCs at institutions across the UK and found that the majority of APCs are paid to hybrid journals. Hybrid APC pricing is higher on average than full open access journals, but the average APC of fully OA journals is rising more quickly than APCs for hybrid journals.  

Figure 11: Hybrid/Full OA expenditure August 2014-July 2015. From Shamash, K., 2016. Article Processing Charges (APCs) and Subscriptions. Monitoring Open Access Costs. Bristol: Jisc. Used with permission.

How much are APCs?
APC costs vary by journal title and by publisher. A 2017 JISC study found that APCs across 14 UK institutions was £1737 in 2015 (about $2,100 USD) while this 2014 study found that the average hybrid APC was $2,727 USD, and the average fully OA journal APC was between $1,418 and $2,097 USD. Some APCs are as high as $5,000 USD. Elsevier has an online price list that displays several journals with an APC over $5,000 USD.

Has the cost of APCs gone up?
One study found that the average price of APCs by European institutions was €858 in 2005 and grew to €1600 in 2018, meaning prices nearly doubled. The amount of APCs paid is rising yearly, and the average APC is outpacing inflation.

The chart below shows that inflation as reported by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics or the European Central Bank would only have increased the 2005 APC to a 2018 APC of €1100 and €1046, respectively, not €1600. This is an increase three times higher than what would be expected based on present economic conditions.

Figure 1. Article processing charges paid (mean±SEM, €) by European institutions between 2005 and 2018 compared to the 2005 fee indexed according to inflation in the United States (Consumer Price Index) and Europe (Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices). Data from OpenAPC as of 31 March 2019. From Khoo, S., 2019. Article processing charge hyperinflation and price insensitivity: An open access sequel to the serials crisis. Liber Quarterly, 29(1). Used with permission.

What do APCs pay for?
According to publishers like Springer, APCs cover costs related to technical infrastructure and innovation, production of articles, marketing, customer service, and editorial work (not including the work of peer reviewers, which is unpaid).

Publishers also follow the principles of ‘prestige pricing’ or ‘status consumption’ – wherein a desire for prestige motivates consumers, or in this case authors, to pay higher prices for goods, in this case publications, that confer status. For example, Elsevier lists “journal quality” and “journal competitiveness” as factors that drive APC pricing.

Who pays for APCs?
There are a number of mechanisms for APC payment, as shown by this 2014 study. Authors often pay for APCs out of their individual grant funds or may pay using central funds managed by their institution and supported by funding agencies. Institutions may also prepay through membership schemes like discounts, and often such arrangements take place through libraries.

Does MSK Library offer support for APCs?
Yes. Please see the Library’s Open Access LibGuide and click on the “Info for MSK Authors” tab to find  “MSK Paid Membership and Other OA Discounts” to learn more about APC discounts for individual journals. Additionally, the Memorial Sloan Kettering Open Access Publication (SKOAP) Fund is an initiative to support open access to scholarly publishing.The SKOAP Fund will underwrite reasonable article processing fees for open access journals when financial support is not otherwise available. Reimbursement for article-processing fees must meet fund requirements.