What is Open Access Publishing in Scientific Journals and Why Should I Pay for it?

Artistic rendering of conformational polymorphism of neurotoxic protein

I can easily tell you what open access publishing is – but then the first question you will ask is, “How did it get this way?” I will NOT be covering this belabored history of open access publishing in this blog post, but I encourage you to read this article in Nature to get a feel for it.

Finding Open Access Papers on the Web

When you go to publish in a scientific, peer-reviewed journal, you’ll often notice that there is a cost. Actually, there are usually a variety of costs, depending on what type of article you are publishing (editorial, original research). Some journals have no cost, but that is getting rare. NOTE: You do not need to actually pay them until your paper is accepted for publication.

In the olden days, these costs were just related to journal processing. But you may have noticed that when you search for journal articles on the web, you can get PDFs of some for free on the web, but not others. If you want to know how to do that using Google Scholar, here’s my demonstration video.

If you want people to be able to find your article free on the web like I show in my video, then if you go to a journal that offers open access at an extra charge, you will have to pay that charge in order for your article to be available as a free PDF on the web. Some journals require open access – they are open access journals – so they require you to pay the cost when you publish.

How Open Access Impacts Cost

Some journals allow you to choose “open access” for extra cost, and other require you to pay the cost because they are 100% open access. Lillian Nassi-Calo did a great article on this on Scielo in Perspective where she gave examples of 100% open access journals and hybrid journals and their cost.

Her article is a little old – 2013 – so the costs may have gone up. But then and now, there is still a wide range. Here are a few examples from her research:

Open Access Journal Publishing Costs

Journal Title


Article Processing Charges

Journal of Medical Case Report

BioMed Central


Archives of Public Health

BioMed Central



Public Library of Science


PLoS Medicine

Public Library of Science


Hybrid Journal Publishing Costs

Journal Title


Article Processing Charges

Cell Reports

Cell Press


Nature Communication

Nature Publishing Group


Physical Review Letters

American Physical Society


Seriously? It Costs that Much to Publish Open Access?

Yes – even in hybrid journals. If you don’t choose the open access option, you still have to pay, it’s just that no one will be able to download your article when they find it.

This is why I tell people to budget at least $5,000 per paper for publication costs in grants – you really don’t know if the cost will be free, closer to $1,000, or closer to $5,000!

My Advice: You Should Just Pay for Open Access Publishing

Why do I tell poor students and struggling academics just to pay? For this simple reason:

Your article will not get cited if no one can read it!

And yes, it is extortion, but for now, I just say, “Pay the piper!” The reason is that how often your articles are cited actually matters. I did not know that when I first became a scientific author – but I eventually learned.

You will want to track citing articles. One way to do that is to sign up for a profile in Google Scholar or in ResearchGate. I do both those things. There are other apps for academics that keep track of this – I don’t use them so I can’t recommend any. Google Scholar is nice because it provides a dynamic display.

Google Scholar profile showing how citing articles are tracked

Notice where I put the red arrows in the picture. In the arrow pointing down, it shows how you can actually see who cited you, and which of your articles are most popular. The arrow on the right shows how the citations impact your h-index – which is something else you should know about that I did not know about when I started publishing. It is basically like the old Klout score, only for science writers.

Want to publish with Monika as your co-author? Contact her at [email protected] for a free consultation and quote. Monika promises to split the publication costs with you – but she will definitely want to pay the open access fee!

Updated August 31, 2019

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