Author Equity and Transition to Open Access — 2021 OA Week

Oct 12, 2021 · Curtis Brundy, Associate University Librarian for Scholarly Communication and Collections

The transition to open access continues to gain momentum, with a wide variety of open business models being adopted by publishers. The University Library has publishing agreements spanning the range of these open models. We have Article Processing Charge (APC) based Read and Publish agreements with Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, Wiley Blackwell, and the Royal Society of Chemistry. And we have non-APC based agreements with the International Water Association, Berghahn Journals, the Association of Computing Machinery, and the Open Library of the Humanities. These agreements allow authors from Iowa State University to publish open access without having to worry about paying a fee.

An important distinction between APC and non-APC based open business models is found in the area of author equity. Non-APC based models generate revenue without requiring authors to pay APCs to publish. For example, the non-APC based model Subscribe to Open allows authors from resource limited institutions and parts of the world to publish free of charge. APC based models, on the other hand, must rely upon waiver programs to allow under-resourced authors to publish. Waiver programs generally use set criteria to identify authors to whom payment of an APC would be a financial burden. Once identified, the author is granted a waiver and may publish without paying an APC. But waiver programs, it turns out, are not a perfect solution to the problem of publishing equity.

Waiver programs, it should be noted, are generally defined and operated at the discretion of the publisher. This can easily put the needs of under-resourced authors and bottom line driven publishers in tension. As a result, authors who seek a waiver may be required to justify their need in ways that make it hard to preserve their dignity. Even when a waiver is granted, publishers typically do not allow their use across all journals. And finally, authors from under-invested institutions, such as historically Black colleges and universities, may be denied a waiver when publishers restrict waivers to authors from low and middle income countries. While efforts are underway to improve waiver programs by establishing standards and best practices, much work remains if they are to make APC based models truly equitable.

The University Library is active in community discussions to improve waiver programs. And we continue to work with publishers to develop and adopt equitable non-APC based models, like Subscribe to Open. For further information on open access business models, please contact Curtis Brundy or Robin Sinn.

–Curtis Brundy, Associate University Librarian for Scholarly Communication and Collections