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Pay What You Want as a Pricing Model For Open Access Publishing?

By Martin Spann, Lucas Stich, Klaus M. Schmidt

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 60 No. 11, Pages 29-31

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The open access publishing movement has received strong support from scientists, lawmakers, and funding institutions. Many publishers are reacting to this demand by offering open access journals.7 However, there is an ongoing debate on how open access publishing models should be financed.2,4 Most open access journals that rely on the so-called "gold open access model"8—which makes the research output immediately available from the publisher—let authors of accepted papers pay article processing charges (APCs) of several hundred to several thousand U.S. dollars.1 However, APCs are often criticized for potentially excluding researchers with limited funds.3

As one potential solution to this problem and also to gain a better understanding of the role of APCs in the scientific community, some publishers are starting to use Pay What You Want (PWYW) as a pricing model for gold open access publishing. PWYW is a pricing model where sellers delegate the full pricing power to buyers. So far, PWYW has mainly been applied in service industries (for example, restaurants, theaters), but also for the sale of digital products like software (such as http://humblebundle.com). More recently, several publishers of open access journals like Cogent OA (belonging to the Taylor & Francis Group), edp Sciences, and Thieme Publishers have started to experiment with the PWYW model for APCs of open access journals. More specifically, Cogent OA empowers authors to decide how much they want to pay for their open access publication in 15 broad journals covering different domains of academic research. Likewise, SICOT-J (edp sciences), a multidisciplinary journal covering the fields of surgery and engineering, and The Surgery Journal (Thieme Publishers), an open access journal for surgeons and trainee surgeons of all disciplines, have started to delegate pricing power to their contributing authors.


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