I recently chastised Harold Varmus for equating open-access publishing with pay-to-publish. While open-access journals do tend to have higher author charges than pay-access journals, many journals make money from both author charges and subscriber charges. That is, they are pay to publish and pay to read.

A letter to Nature this week challenges the idea that open-access publishing is good for the developing world by assuming the same fallacy as Varmus (doi:10.1038/453450c). Raghavendra Gadagkar, of the Indian Institute of Science, argues that the pay to publish model prevents underfunded researchers from publishing their work. This assumes that open-access publishers have a limited number of waivers for author fees. He would prefer journals publish articles free of charge and charge for access to the articles. In short, Gadagkar values authorship over readership.

Gadagkar makes a valid point — that a pay to publish model could severely limit the academic output from developing countries. However, it’s unclear whether the open-access publishers have a limited number of fee waivers to offer. Will the open-access publishing model collapse if too many authors require fee waivers? Where is the tipping point? And will well funded researchers be willing to bear the burden of paying the author charges, indirectly, of poorly funded researchers?


  1. #1 Joe D
    May 22, 2008

    Indeed — this all rests on an assumption which at present is there is no reason to believe is or will be true. Bearing in mind BMC and (so far as I know) PLoS automatically waive all fees for authors in developing countries, I don’t think any authors are going to find themselves with nowhere at all to publish. Perhaps they will miss out on their first choice (i.e. highest IF) journal, but that’s an injustice I’d have a hard time getting worked up about.

    And regarding whether well funded researchers will put up with subsidising poorly funded researchers: it looks like the more relevant question will soon be whether funding agencies in rich countries will put up with subsidising research from poor countries.

  2. #2 revere
    May 22, 2008

    My publisher does limit the waivers granted and they are usually granted to authors in the developing world. I don’t know of any instances in our journal, however, where an author in the developing world couldn’t publish because of a waiver not being granted. Pay to publish versus pay to read are just business models used to support (or make a lot of money) from scientific publishing. There is always a trade-off. At the moment the trade-off for Open Access (whatever the model) strongly favors scientists in the developing world IME.

  3. #3 Mr. Gunn
    May 22, 2008

    This doesn’t sound well thought out – if they pay to publish, then everyone in the developing country can read. Surely that’s better for everyone, the researchers included, than publishing freely in journals they can’t afford to read.

  4. #4 tomjoe
    May 23, 2008

    I fully agree with Dr. Gadagkar – if I, from a developing country, do not get a waiver, why on earth should I cough up hard-to-get money for it? If the matter of my paper is really good (and the abstract well written), people will pay the $30 to read it. As it is, due to lack of infrastructure and funds, my experiments too are constrained.

  5. #5 RPM
    May 24, 2008


    I agree with you. However, you assume that waivers will be denied. It’s my experience that they rarely are when a waiver is justified.

  6. #6 ihateaphids
    May 25, 2008

    I just wrote a post about OA. I like it. I LOVE it. PLOS is the best thing since sliced bread. Of course I will never publish there because my damned grant money is going into PCR and DNA sequencing vs publication. But talking to my father raised a question in my head about the public perception of it.
    I dunno… check it out