A brief guide to Article Processing Charge waivers

‘Gold’ Open Access – which levies an article processing charge (APC) to defray the costs of publishing – can remove barriers to access, but can increase barriers to publish. This is especially true for authors from low-income countries, independent scholars, and others without ready access to grant funding. In turn, organizations such as the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and ‘Coalition S’ require journals to have APC waiver policies. To avoid potentially losing a pool of authors and to follow best practice, journals should carefully consider their position on APC waivers.

Things to consider

Journals may choose not to offer waivers, but obviously they would then be non-compliant with the requirements of key industry bodies.

More commonly, journals offer APC waivers based on set criteria – such as the country where an author is based (often restricted to low- and middle-income countries) and an assessment of the amount of funding authors have. Journals often complement these criteria by using their own discretion on a case-by-case basis.

Journal reputation

The absence of a waiver policy may mean that some authors are unable to publish in a journal, which could lead to bad press and negative responses from parts of the community. Having an APC waiver policy in place can signal a journal’s adherence to industry best practice and reassure authors that the journal will consider their work.

Revenues

Waiving APCs reduces a journal’s potential income and may risk the journal’s long-term financial stability if not carefully managed. The potential risks to revenues can be assessed by analyzing historical publishing outputs from potential waiver countries.

Costs

More complex waiver policies can have higher administrative costs, so simpler schemes are often more advantageous. Assessing the potential use of waivers and its multifaceted financial consequences for the journal is important when developing an APC waiver policy.

Conflicts of interest

Because an Open Access journal’s revenue is directly related to the number of manuscripts accepted for publication, there is a potential conflict of interest if editors are involved in granting APC waivers. To avoid such conflicts – perceived or otherwise – INLEXIO advises journals to:

  • base their waiver policies on clear, transparent criteria
  • keep the process of granting waivers securely separate from the editors who make decisions on manuscripts.

In practice and after appropriate training, the processing of waiver applications can be managed by a journal’s administrative staff with careful oversight from journal executives – such as a society president or other nominated, independent representative.

Policy examples

We can assess the journals landscape by looking at selected journals and publishers (chosen more or less at random).

PLOS One

In addition to offering extensive information on where authors can find funding to cover APCs, PLOS offers a fee assistance program that considers waiver applications on a case-by-case basis, providing all other funding sources have been exhausted.

Scientific Reports (and other Nature Research titles)

Waivers are granted to authors from Hinari-eligible countries, and on a discretionary basis if a request is made to the central email support desk.

Heliyon (Elsevier)

Waivers are considered on a case-by-case basis, but priority is given to authors from Research4Life program countries.

Oxford University Press

Authors from developing countries can apply for a 100% or 50% waiver depending on their country.

Taylor & Francis

Authors from Research4Life program countries receive a 100% or 50% waiver depending on their country. Authors from Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL) Network countries receive a waiver. A membership scheme covers APC payments for authors from member institutions.

Wiley

Authors from Research4Life program countries receive a 100% or 50% waiver depending on their country; individual journals can have specific arrangements.

Conclusion

Considering and establishing an APC waiver policy is a fundamental step in any Open Access journal’s development pathway. It is important for journals to consider the editorial, business and wider issues to ensure that their APC waiver policy is appropriate to their circumstances. Careful planning and review – underpinned by expert advice and financial analyses – is key to finding and implementing the right policy.

Written by: Dugald McGlashan and Caroline Hadley