D.J. McPhee
20 November 2023
Posted inEconomics of Publishing Post authorD.J. McPhee
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Competitive Pricing for Your Journal

Competitive pricing for your journal is crucial to being successful. While journals can generate income in a number of deferent ways, most do so through article processing charges (APCs). But given the complexity of dealing with institutions all around the world, you may find yourself needing to subsidize article processing charges (or at least knowing who can) in order to create a buzz about your journal.

Having a journal that has a good reputation is important, but it is also important to be able to pay the bills.

It’s important to have two minds when it comes to running a journal. You need to make sure that you have set expectations regarding standards. Knowing what kind of results you want starts from the top and works its way down. A clear set of guidelines to make sure that your journal is of a high quality is needed. However, running a journal is usually not a non-profit. What are the associated costs involved in running a journal? Let’s take a look at a few of them:

  • Rent
  • Utilities
  • Salaries
  • Subscriptions
  • Subsidizing article processing charges

Knowing what your journal’s overhead costs will be before you start setting prices is important. Before you start thinking about what price you’re going to set, let’s review some important information about open access journals and how they make money.

What are article processing charges?

The charges for open access journals have many different names, but are usually known as article processing charges (or APCs). These APCs are the primary source of income for most journals and are very common in open access publishing. Why do open access journals use article processing charges? What’s the difference between open access and traditional publications?

In short, where is the money supporting the business coming from. Traditionally, the fees associated with traditional academic publishing were paid by the reader. University libraries, companies, and even scholars doing research would have to pay to read articles. Open access shifts the costs associated with publishing to the authors and makes the research available to everyone. It isn’t just academics and scholars who have access to open access either. Everyone from average people to legacy news media can access open access research, for free.

By publishing in open access, authors actively remove the barriers that exist between the reader and their work. One way to ensure that authors choose your journal to publish in is to make sure you have competitive pricing.

Should authors pay article processing charges?

There is a complicated interaction at play in this question. Without income, journals cannot operate.

If a journal can’t operate, research cannot be published. Without research being published, there is no need for publications.

From the journal’s perspective, there is a financial requirement that needs to be met. If that requirement is met, then the publisher is happy. So the question is more about who should pay those costs. With the open access model, it seems that the author pays for this. With the traditional system, the reader does. But, there is a lot of nuance in the answers that publishers must be aware of.

In many cases, the money that was paid to publishers in the traditional model came from the same institutions that are paying for the APCs now. Authors no longer need to pay for access to articles in open access to use them for research, but they need to pay for their own articles to be published.

Even though the costs are shifted to the authors in the open access model, this doesn’t not necessarily mean that the authors will be the ones paying. There are many cases where the costs associated with publishing are pulled from the funding for the research. This means that it is money from institutions that wind up paying for the article processing charges. Even though it’s not always the authors paying, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have competitive pricing. Authors sometimes have to pay for APCs out of pocket. It happens, unfortunately.

Subsidizing APCs

Part of the equation for you as a publisher will be to consider whether or not you want to issue waivers. If you do issue waivers, how many will you issue?

In many cases, new journals will waive all article processing charges, because by covering the cost of publication you encourage submissions. And so the question of waivers and subsidizing APCs is one of ongoing debate. Many companies will split how they handle waivers. If they have multiple journals, they may use the profits from one journal to subsidize the article processing charges of another.

Another thing that you as a publisher should be aware of are programs that exist to help support open access research. It might not always be possible for you to absorb the associate costs of publishing. But you might be able to direct authors to services that can help them find financial support to publish their work in open access.

You should try to remember to have as many tools as possible at your disposal. Doing so will help you to gain the reputation of a publisher that is well informed.

How do you decide what your APCs should be?

Now that we’ve covered both who pays APCs and cases where you might want to waive those charges, it’s important to talk about what you should consider.

Your journal has both fixed and variable costs. Your article processing charges, ideally, will cover both of these. If they don’t, you’re operating at a loss. Importantly, many journals will not start generating profit immediately. To put it differently, profits later, reputation first. Unless your journal is filling a much-needed gap in the literature, you need to have patience.

As noted above, you have to pay for rent and utilities, as well as salaries. You also have to pay for subscriptions (these may include various services and tools, ranging from Microsoft Office licenses to subscriptions to systems to check submissions for plagiarism). You might also be using a journal management system to help you save money—but there is still a cost here. In addition, you have other elements to consider that authors may not know about but that are core to the success of your business. These might include things like marketing and communications, editorial costs (English editing and layout work), and other projects. Other projects might include funding new journals or related projects.

Let’s go over three different possible ways to determine your article processing charges: No APC, token charges, and full cost.

No APC

Very commonly, new journals that have yet to be established will not charge article processing charges. How long they do this tends to depend on two factors. The first factor is the pain tolerance of the company (which is directly related to the start up capital). The second is how rapidly submissions and reputation increase.

If your journal is a well-backed initial startup, you might be able to afford to go for months (or years) without charging an APC. Some journals will aim to start charging some form of article processing charge by the end of the first year. As noted above, by not charging an APC, you have a greater opportunity to draw submissions to your journal. This, in turn, can help you to establish your reputation. Once your reputation has reached a certain point, you can start charging. Generally, when you start charging, you will want to start low and then increase your APCs over time (and this depends on your costs).

Token charges

Instead of charging nothing, another option would be to charge what is effectively a nominal fee. This would be a cost that is low enough that a person would be able to pay out of pocket, but wouldn’t be a significant burden on them. For example, many researchers and academics would have no problem paying a nominal fee of $20. A fee this low will not cover your costs, but it will allow there to be some income that helps to extend the amount of time that a journal can survive without a proper flow of money. In a way, you could think of this as the community subsidizing APCs for other authors.

The benefit of having a low APC is that there is a low “risk” in terms of money for submitting authors. On the other hand, they may wonder why the article processing charges are so low. Being up-front with your authors is crucial so that they understand why you are pricing the way that you are. Longer term, based on the success of your journal, you can gradually increase incrementally. Going from $20 to $30 to $40 over a number of months, might help to accustom authors to the fact that your journal is growing.

It is a very tricky way to gain income, as transparency is crucial to making sure your reputation is never in question for “constant price changes”. Be clear with your authors.

Full cost

This is the most difficult of the options to be able to succeed with. By not subsidizing APCs and charging full price from the beginning, you are ensuring that you are receiving the most money possible for your work. You will be able to start off in the black and worry less about whether or not you will be able to be successful in the short-term to mid-term. Your rent can be paid, your staff will get paid, and your subscriptions will be paid. But there’s a problem—authors may not be willing to pay full price for an unknown variable. Competitive pricing is more than just making money and getting your foot in the door in a challenging market. It’s also about being able to figure out what people are willing to pay for your journal.

While charging full price can be done, it is often more successful if you have an established history of producing high-quality journals.

Competitive pricing can help you succeed

Because money makes the world go ’round, it’s important to remember that competitive pricing can give you an edge in business. Like any service, people will pay what your services are worth. Remember to make sure that you focus on establishing your journals as a reputable place to publish. If you’re looking for help to get organized, why not let JAMS help you out?

D.J. McPhee
20 November 2023
Posted inEconomics of Publishing
Post author D.J. McPhee
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