APS: Open Access Could Mean Authors Pay to Publish

Michael Lubell and Mark Elsesser, both employees of the American Physical Society (APS), recently published a provocative article in APS News, “Open Access Could Mean Authors Pay to Publish”. Declaring that APS has long been a supporter of OA, as evidenced by a number of important initiatives undertaken by the Society, they also point out that OA is not free. There is a real monetary cost to peer review, composition, archiving and other essential publishing activities. They go on to assert that as mandates proliferate the “time to free access” will inevitably shrink both domestically and internationally and that APS, as well as other scientific publishers, will be obliged to consider other strategies to pay for its OA initiatives. One of these strategies will very likely be the “author pays” model, a model that the authors point out is associated with a number of serious challenges. They argue cogently:

Unless they have access to other sources of revenue, authors will have to use their research grant money, institutional funds or cash from their own pockets to cover the cost of publication (which may be in excess of two thousand dollars per article). Moreover, a change to an author-pays model would especially harm researchers with small grants or no grants at all. And if federal science budgets remain fixed, the amount of money available for conducting research would decline.

Nevertheless, Lubell and Elsesser  acknowledge that the APS might be forced to adopt “author-pays.” They quote APS CEO Kate Kirby: “As an international publisher, in the short term APS will have to provide mechanisms that satisfy the patchwork of open access mandates across the globe. As a membership organization that advocates for physics and physicists, in the long term APS will have to remain attentive to the impact of ‘author pays’ on scientific research budgets.”