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Embracing a sustainable open access future: removing barriers to publishing

In the ever-evolving landscape of academic publishing, Oxford University Press (OUP) is committed to working towards a sustainable open access (OA) future. Our vision is clear: to make trusted, high-quality research accessible to everyone while striving to eliminate as many barriers to publishing as possible. However, we also recognize that the road to achieving this goal is paved with challenges. In this blog post, we explore how we are addressing some of these challenges and share some information on the volume of articles we waive Article Processing Charges (APCs) for each year.

OA publishing has revolutionized the dissemination of knowledge, enabling research to reach a wider and more diverse audience. However, as OA publishing has grown, so too have discussions about its sustainability and accessibility. While the OA model offers free access to readers, it does not eliminate the costs associated with the publication process. To sustain the high quality of our journals and uphold rigorous editorial standards, most of our gold OA journals rely on APCs. These charges, though necessary, can pose a barrier for some authors, particularly those without access to research funding. The availability of funding varies greatly across research disciplines, countries, and institutions. These imbalances can result in some authors struggling to cover APCs.

In addressing the issue of publishing barriers, it’s important to recognize that these challenges have their origins prior to the advent of OA publishing. Historically, some journals charged page and colour charges to cover the additional costs of longer articles or printing in colour. While subscription journals were free to publish in (notwithstanding the charges mentioned above), the subscription fee itself created barriers to access. These longstanding issues have, in many ways, shaped the landscape of scholarly publishing.

“Our vision is clear: to make trusted, high-quality research accessible to everyone.”

As we work to eliminate contemporary barriers, we must also acknowledge and learn from the past. We want to foster a publishing environment where these historical impediments are addressed alongside the challenges posed by the shift to OA. One crucial facet of our strategy involves negotiating transformative agreements with institutions and national consortia. These agreements centralise the payment of OA publishing fees, removing the financial burden from individual authors and ensuring access to quality research. Additionally, OUP publishes a range of diamond OA journals where sponsoring organisations cover the costs of OA, again removing the need for APCs, and further enhancing accessibility.

Another mechanism we use to remove barriers to publishing in our fully OA journals is a variety of different APC waivers. Waivers are an imperfect solution to a complicated problem but do enable us to ensure that authors who cannot afford to pay APCs can still publish OA.

1. Discretionary Waivers: We recognize that not all authors have access to funding for APCs. We offer waivers to authors in this situation, ensuring that research can be published irrespective of an author’s financial circumstances.

2. Waivers for authors in low and middle-income countries: We are acutely aware of the disparities in research funding between countries. To address this, we automatically grant waivers to corresponding authors based at institutions in more than 100 low and middle-income countries.

3. Editorial Waivers: Journal editors offer waivers to authors whose work is commissioned for a specific issue or to mark an occasion, recognising the importance of their contributions to the academic community.

“Between 2021 and 2022, over 3,800 papers in OUP’s fully OA journals had their APCs waived, around 15% of the total publishing in those journals.”

It is understandable that authors may feel uncomfortable requesting financial assistance to publish their work. Where possible we have sought to remove the need for the request (such as our automated waivers for authors based in low and middle-income countries) or limited the amount of information authors need to provide when requesting a waiver. We also work hard to ensure that all waiver requests are independent of the peer review process so authors can be assured that the assessment of their work is not contingent on their ability to pay an APC.

Even with these mitigating steps in place, we recognize there is more to do, both in simplifying the waiver process, and in expanding our other collective and diamond approaches to OA. We will continue to work to improve our approach, including through participating in cross-publishing initiatives such as the Open Access Scholarly Publishing Association’s workshops on equitable OA and Research 4 Life’s OA Taskforce.

Transformative agreements, diamond OA approaches, and waiver programmes form a holistic approach that underscores our dedication to fostering an inclusive, accessible, and sustainable OA publishing landscape. As a not-for-profit, society publisher furthering the transformation to OA, we are committed to playing our part in fostering change and ensuring equitable access to OA publishing for all.

We welcome feedback and suggestions from our authors, readers, and partners to refine and improve our approach. Together, we can build a more inclusive and sustainable future for academic research.

Featured image by Hans via Pixabay (public domain)

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