Page charges and OA policies

Much of my time in the past 12 months has been committed to preparing for compliance with the Coalition S / Wellcome open access policies. Because we have core funding from Wellcome this means that all research papers submitted on or after 1 Jan 2021 must comply with their new OA policy.

So I have been buried in transformative deals, transformative journals and the Rights Retention Strategy, trying to ensure that these will work to make our research papers open and compliant with Plan S.

This work continues. The new policy only affects papers submitted on or after 1 Jan 2021 so we are just seeing more papers coming through for publication that need to comply with the new policy. And we are seeing a few cases where the publishers policies and practices conflict with what Plan S stipulates.  We are now at the stage when ’The shit hits the Plan’.

The key aspects, or high mountains, of Plan S requirements are:

  • CC BY licence
  • Immediate OA
  • No hybrid APCs (except for Transformative Journals or Transformative Agreements)
  • Rights Retention Strategy

But down in the foothills are some other issues:

  • No page charges
  • No colour charges

This week we’ve had a couple of examples where publishers have asked us to pay page charges.  I won’t name the journals as we are still working through the issues with them and I hope we may reach a positive result in at least one case. But these are examples of the uncertainties and unexpected quirks of publishing that give me sleepless nights.


My Tweet on the topic.




Case Report 1
This is a subscription journal from a major publisher with whom we have a read and publish deal. The article appeared in the publisher dashboard at the end of April and was published as OA on the website on 29 April. Sadly it is not yet in PubMedCentral, so that’s something else we need to chase.

On 9 June the publisher emailed the author to say that on acceptance of an article the authors are liable for page charges – $140 for each typeset page up to 10 pages and $200 for each page thereafter.

I recall that the publisher a few years back ditched all their page and colour charges  – if you chose the paid OA route for your article then there were no extra charges, so this email is surprising. It might be an error – perhaps a standard process was invoked that shouldn’t have been in this case. It doesn’t seem to be a society journal, so I can’t see a reason why this title should be different from the publishers’ other titles. This title is listed in the agreement we have with the publisher.

We have queried this with the publisher and are waiting to hear back.

Case Report 2
This is a subscription journal from a moderate-sized US learned society publisher – they have nearly 20 journals altogether. They do not offer a read and publish deal and have not chosen to become a transformative journal. I had read that they would accept the Rights Retention Strategy language, and would allow immediate CC BY deposit of the author manuscript into PubMedCentral.

Our author made a mistake in her dealing with the publisher and selected the paid OA option before telling us about the paper. The paper was published OA on 9 June.   We then explained to our author that we cannot pay an APC as this is a hybrid journal and our funders do not permit it. We contacted the publisher and they agreed to cancel the paid OA status for the article. In the next breath they explained that we were now liable for page charges – these are waived when an APC is paid.  And it turns out that the page charges due are quite high. The APC would have been $2500; the page charges will be $1800.

So, we can break the ’no hybrid APCs’ rule and make the version of record immediately OA, or we can pay slightly less to break the ’no page charges’ rule and make the author accepted manuscript OA.  Fortunately the Rights Retention Strategy declaration is included in the article.

We have responded to the publisher explaining that we cannot pay page charges, and emphasising that if they offered a read and publish deal, or became a transformative journal, that would be remove the problem. Otherwise we will need a page charge waiver. We’re waiting to hear back.

Nuclear option
An apparently simple next step would be to cancel publication of both papers. I call this the nuclear option. I do not think it is a realistic option.

As a librarian I try to avoid dictating to researchers where they can publish, though I strongly advise them to avoid one or two known problematic journals.

If an article has already been published in a journal, I am not prepared to say to an author that they should withdraw the article and submit it elsewhere.  I’m not even sure that would be ethical or possible.

All my fingers and toes are crossed in the hope that we can reach agreement with both publishers in a way that complies with our OA policies. Otherwise I will have to  ‘strongly advise’ that our authors do not publish in these journals for the time being.

About Frank Norman

I am a librarian in a biomedical research institute. I've been around a few years, long enough to know that exciting new things fall into the same familiar patterns. I'm interested in navigating a path for libraries as we move further from print to electronic resources to open research, and become more embedded in research workflows.
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