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Open access inequity is not only about article processing charges (APCs)

AARC researchers are delighted to see our recent article “Who’s writing open access (OA) articles? Characteristics of OA authors at Ph.D.-granting institutions in the United States” discussed by the scholarly community, and we hope our findings contribute to the greater open access project and its goal to democratize the research literature. Here’s a link to the article. Recently, for instance, journalist Benjamin Plackett published an article in Nature Index discussing inequity in open access publishing (click here to read the article). The article is concise and informative, including interviews and quotes from scholars (including AARC Director Anthony J. Olejniczak).

We’ve also noticed that the discussion about our article on social media has largely been about only one of the two major findings our article presented: publication of open access articles with article processing charges (APCs) “appears to be skewed toward scholars with greater access to resources and job security.” We also think this an important finding, but we urge readers to interpret the result in the context of our other major finding: that publication of any open access article (regardless of APCs) follows the same pattern, albeit to a slightly lesser degree if APCs are not involved.

There is an important conversation happening in the academy and publishing industry about APCs (see, e.g., a recent report on Diamond Open Access) – whether APCs should exist, and if so who should pay for them. We at AARC strongly support moving to a model that makes publishing and reading free for authors and readers, respectively. But we also feel it is only one piece (a big piece, certainly, but only one) of the inequity puzzle in open access publishing. Even when green and bronze open access articles are included in our regression model, inequities persist. Here’s figure 4 from our article, showing the exponentiated coefficients from our regression model predicting the number of open access articles authored including all (not just APC) open access authorships:

Figure 4 from Olejniczak and Wilson (2020): https://doi.org/10.1162/qss_a_00091

Clearly APCs act as a barrier to some, further entrenching extant inequity in the academic publishing sphere, but it should not be lost in the discussion that all forms of OA exhibit a similar pattern. Clearly there is work to be done not only in terms of the cost and economic model, but also towards the more equitable adoption of OA of all types.

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