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Paying authors for Open Access publishing: Open Access 3.0?

June 6, 2013 - 21:18 -- Bart G.J. Knols

This week I wrote on MalariaWorld about the constant email spamming by publishers to submit our manuscripts to them. After receiving yet another invitation today, this time from HINDAWI publisher (who constantly nag me by the way) I started thinking about the future of Open Access. When we started the MalariaWorld Journal, we wanted a journal with a focus on malaria where you don't pay to publish and don't pay to read, which we termed Open Access 2.0. The reasons for this were outlined in my other article this week but here I want to take this a step further and ask a simple question...why should we scientists, who have worked hard to get grants, do the science, analyse the data, and write up manuscripts pay for our work  to be published by a publisher that wants to make profits? So perhaps it is time for Open Access 3.0?

If I were to publish an article in our sister journal, the Malaria Journal, it would cost me USD 1865.

The journal justifies this by saying on their website 'Open access publishing is not without costs. BioMed Central defrays these costs through article-processing charges because it does not have subscription charges for its research content. The company instead believes that immediate, worldwide, barrier-free, open access to the full text of research articles is in the best interests of the scientific community.'

Sure enough, Open Access is indeed in the best interests of the scientific community. Apart from the payment of course, which has to come from research or library grants. I see many research proposals (for review) that now incorporate 'publication costs' as a line item in their budgets. So this means that funding agencies at the end of the day pay the Publisher. This is interesting...

What would happen then if the funding agencies would agree to authors budgeting publication costs but that these authors send their manuscripts to an Open Access 2.0 journal like the MalariaWorld Journal? That would free up these funds reserved to cover publication costs. Funds that can be be used to further research rather than become profits for regular Open Access publishers.

This begs the question how the MalariaWorld Journal is funded. Well, through a grant from the Dutch Scientific Organisation that gave us money last year to publish the next 90 articles in the journal. The cost for every accepted and published article is € 350, which is money used to cover the time by the Editors and the copy-editor.

Now, suppose a funding agency would put forward € 100.000 as a grant, for the next 100 articles in our journal. This would cost € 350 per article, but leave € 650. And that money could be used to pay the authors. Rigorous peer review would be maintained to ensure high quality, but this could mean that all your hard work at the end of the day would actually pay off (a bit) rather than cost you.

Is this a viable model? Why not, I would argue. The MalariaWorld Journal is in its 4th volume and not a single article has been paid for. If anything, that should be proof of viability. 

Is the evolution of Open Access complete or will our current model of Open Access 2.0 take over? Or perhaps even Open Access 3.0?

What do you think?


Submitted by Olivier Briet on


Thanks for your deliberations. I can confirm you are not the only one being spammed by publishers. The main concern is maintaining good quality science with an objective peer review process. Whereas the pay for access journals have done relatively well, clearly the open access 1.0 model is being challenged by scams that not only trick authors, but also make it harder for readers to filter out rubbish science. However, the publication fee might serve as a barrier to 'salami-manuscripts' and low quality manuscripts.

Open access 2.0 will empower donors to decide which publishers are worth funding because they provides value for money, while keeping the advantages of open access over pay for access. Can we trust donors to make this decision for us, scientists? If yes, that seems to be the future. Without the publication fee barrier, does Malaria World Journal experience problems of a high volume of low quality manuscripts being submitted?

In my view, a system where authors are paid by journals will lead to even more 'salami-manuscripts' and possibly fake science being submitted, increasing the workload of already hard to come by reviewers, and endangering reviewers' objectivity.



Bart G.J. Knols's picture
Submitted by Bart G.J. Knols on

Dear Olivier,

About half the manuscripts that reach the MalariaWorld Journal are not even sent out for external review. Of the other half, 80% make it to the publication stage.

To avoid what you call 'salami manuscripts' we need good reviewers. They should pick out poor or even fake science.


Ingeborg van Schayk's picture
Submitted by Ingeborg van Schayk on


I agree with you that the main concern of any scientific publisher is to promote good quality science and that an objective and thorough peer review process is essential. However, I still fail to understand the relation between a publication fee, the quality of research, and fake science.

Please explain why you believe that in OA 1.0 the publication fee might serve as a barrier to poor quality publications? Are those who cannot afford the high cost to publish their work more likely to deliver poor-quality publications?

Also, is the selection of manuscripts that will be sent to reviewers not a concern of the publisher? If yes, then I don’t see why the workload of reviewers will increase if authors were to be paid for their (accepted) publications.

Best, Inga

Submitted by Olivier Briet on

Dear Inga and Kevin,

Salami publication, or the dubious practice of dividing one’s work into the maximum number of publications, each of which contains only the ‘least publishable unit’, could be encouraged by remunerated or free publishing, whereas charging publication fees may discourage this practice. Even though these effects may exist, of course charging fees are not an optimal solution because well-funded scientist would be barely affected whereas poor funded scientists may not be able to afford the fee for their high quality manuscript, as you point out. But I believe many Open Access 1.0 publishers wave fees for those who cannot afford them. Still, as said, if we can trust donors to decide for us who are the good publishers, Open Access 2.0 may have the future. But can we trust them? That is where I think we should continue the discussion. I think donors should at least make conflict of interest statements if funding publishers…

I am not convinced that it is the publisher’s role to make the first triage. I guess that is the editor’s role (there might be some confusion here whether the editor is identical with the publisher). If a system of author-remuneration leads to an increased volume of lower quality manuscripts, this would increase the work load of the editor, and part of this will probably passed on to peer reviewers.

Kevin mentions reviewer payment as a tool to raise review quality and willingness to review. This is an interesting idea, but may undermine the ‘peer’ in ‘peer review’; it may lead to a corps of specialized professional “reviewers”, excluding regular scientists from the process.


Dear Olivier,

I think you are right that who decides the waivers and on what ground is both contentious and not ideal still. At the moment the publisher makes the decision on a basis which is in theory entirely informed by need not quality or significance. Which is to say the peer and editorial review process is entirely uncoupled from and uninformed by the application for a waiver. Thus journals with APCs may be receiving hundreds of articles with waiver requests which may be quite brilliant and transformative of the field and which the editors will never even know were submitted. Set against that, all articles which are received by the editors receive full and unprejudiced review irrespective of how much the authors have paid or not paid.

Regarding payment of reviewers reinforcing elitism, I agree that is probably the case, but a semi-defined group of reliable specialised professional reviewers already exists in most of the high end journals and is an established part of the Peer review system so right or wrong this wouldn't really change that. Any editor will tell that selecting good reviewers is the key to keeping article quality high, it is just those reviewers are unpaid and tend to feel underappreciated so it is difficult to keep calling on them and to expect thier best each time. It is also a group which tends to expect favorable treatment when it comes to thier own submissions at the journals they review for regularly - which can be a conflict of interest. Payment partially mitigates that anything that gets away from a system of favours is probably a good thing for reducing bias.

Best wishes,

Dear Bart,

When Alberto Dávila and I started Kinetoplastid Biology and Disease (precursor to Parasites and Vectors), and indeed before that when we did the internet conferences which International Journal of Parasitology published with unrestricted access, the open access term hadn’t been coined but we provided a model that was free to publish and free to access for the scientific community. This is what all the early stuff was from us, and from Filaria J too - supported by small grants from industry and from the Soros foundation with no article processing charges (APCs). This is still what I aspire to – models that some people are now calling “platinum” and you are calling OA 2.0. Because the actual cost of electronic publishing is fairly low, especially compared with research costs, it feels like a goal that should be tenable and it is commendable that you are pursuing it for Malaria World Journal.

I believe that the reason we are not currently using such a model at Parasites and Vectors is that even at the not for profit rates you cite (and BMC is a profit making company, so their rates are much higher than yours), the costs for a journal like Parasites and Vector or Malaria Journal now would be >£100,000 per annum as an ongoing commitment and in reality within BMC it could be closer to £250,000. Peanuts to major funders but not something any of them have shown much enthusiasm for providing us with so far. Nevertheless, where governmental or non-governmental grant awarding bodies, learned societies, charitable foundations, advertising or sponsorship can meet these costs I strongly encourage and endorse the establishment of scientific journals which adopt this model as a major component in the future of scientific publishing particularly in areas of health affecting countries with developing economies.

This is a philosophical difference with PLoS NTD I suspect, which has received significant Gates foundation funding and so presumably could adopt a "free to publish, free to access model" if they chose to do so. It would be interesting to hear views from them as to why they continue to charge authors if they have sufficient funding that they do not have to.

If we were able to actually attract more funding than this should we be aiming to pay authors? – Personally, I would be against this. The drivers for reduced quality publication are already too strong in my opinion without adding payment for contributions to them. Academics and clinicians are already paid to write papers as part of their day jobs and their perceived success or failure hinges on their publication record generating pressure to publish. So if they have good stuff it will be published and the real problem actually lies in preventing weak, unreliable and flawed data being published. Let’s not encourage publication of that poorer stuff by paying for it. Peer review is a barrier, but it is one that can be overwhelmed and self-censorship by primary investigators is actually the strongest filter against poor publications; let’s not seek to deliberately undermine that. Conversely, if there is money in the system to pay anyone, then paying for good peer review is far preferable. I have peer reviewed for journals that do pay and it is transformative of the attitude of recipients to the peer review request from the editor. Indeed keeping a list of excellent peer reviewers which receive remittance causes reviewers for those journals to compete in terms of the quality and objectivity of their reviews in the hope of being selected to do more, thereby raising article quality at those journals able to do so considerably.

Kevin Tyler.

Rashad Abdul-Ghani's picture
Submitted by Rashad Abdul-Ghani on

Thank you Prof. Knols. I really admired this view. I am confident that many researchers would publish in MWJ, but I think they search for journal indexing. I see that it could be easily indexed in PubMed(via the link:, Scopus, ISI, etc. This will make it more popular and with a distinguished impact factor. I think that authors interested in malaria and its related topics, particularly those already registered in MW, should pay more attention to publishing in this journal. Thank you and best regards.

Bart G.J. Knols's picture
Submitted by Bart G.J. Knols on

We are in touch with PubMed at the moment to get our articles listed there, but before registration we need 30 research/review articles. We are nearly there and will then proceed with other sources as you suggest.