Page charges have been in existence across many fields of science for a century or longer, and journals have to cover their costs. Historically, journals have relied on income from subscriptions to cover costs associated with printing, distribution, and other overhead fees, whereas peer review and editorial board activities were free. The funding model for such journals has now undergone unprecedented change. Originally, many journals transitioned gradually into an online-only, paywall-protected existence, as both institutional and individual subscriptions declined. As a result of this development, many researchers and clinicians in low- and middle-income countries lost access to published research or resorted to pay per view. In response, open access (OA) as a concept has, to a large extent, re-established equal access to research, leading to fast and effective dissemination of work globally. However, to compensate for the lack of income through subscriptions and paid views, OA has recently, within a short period of time, created new article-processing fees for authors, which can be as high as $3500 or more (1, 2). In effect, the funding of scientific journals has now changed from a subscription model to one based on fees paid by authors and their institutions (3). We have recently argued that for many authors, these costs are prohibitive, and therefore, the term OA is, to some extent, a misnomer: Authors have lost access to publishing options solely due to lack of funding, leading to unintended bias, unequal access to career opportunities, and distress (1). We suggest that for all of its advantages, OA carries significant risks as well (Figure 1) and propose three strategies to address the issues.
First, journals should be much more transparent about the costs of publishing and the profits that are made. We think authors submitting to the journals but also editors and peer reviewers have a right, to some degree, of insight into funding streams and cost in relation to publication fees.
Second, we would like to encourage journals to rethink their threshold for discounted publication fees, which disadvantages many middle-income countries (4). Additional subsidies and discounts should be considered for students and trainees for work already accepted that cannot be published due to authors’ lack of funding.
Third, some journals follow the “platinum open access” model and do not charge fees at all, usually through sponsorship. As a kidney community, we should perhaps consider sending research to these journals as a way of increasing their relevance and supporting their stance on fees. Another interesting approach is self-publication, which is increasingly recognized as a sustainable form of scientific communication (5).
In conclusion, we do not deny the many obvious advantages of OA publishing, but we are concerned about unintended consequences. We fear a situation where research is only published from a smaller pool of institutions, leading to loss of breadth and perspective. We hope that a wider discussion of this topic may help to drive change, leading to an environment where research is published on the basis of scientific merit and not access to funding.
Kowaltowski A, et al. Open access is closed to middle-income countries. Times Higher Education. Published April 14, 2022. Accessed April 26, 2022. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/opinion/open-access-closed-middle-income-countries
Desai T. There is another way: Self-publishing as a form of scientific communication. ASN Kidney News 2021; 13(5):27. https://www.kidneynews.org/view/journals/kidney-news/13/5/article-p27_11.xml