Testing a new approach to open access fees

New OA payment models are needed make open access implementation practical, journal editor says

By Ian Evans - March 3, 2020  5 mins
Quote Steffen Huck
Dr. Steffen Huck, Professor of Economics at University College London and Co-Editor-in-Chief of Elsevier’s open access journal European Economic Review Plus (EER Plus), is looking at new options for OA by piloting the Editorial Processing Charge (EPC).

Editor's note: This article was updated 05/03/2020 to clarify language around open access funding

The open access movement continues to grow, prompting members of the research community to seek new and affordable ways to cover the cost of publishing.

As of 2019, 8.5 million articles were published open access in peer-reviewed journals, according to Scopus data. Initiatives such as Plan S are accelerating that move, with requirements that research articles emerging from research funded by public grants must be published in compliant OA journals or platforms. At Elsevier, than 85 percent of our new journal launches are OA and nearly 90 percent of our journals offer an OA option.

Because of the way certain OA models are funded, this change could have significant implications for university departments that publish prolifically. That is why Dr. Steffen Huck, Professor of Economics at University College London and Co-Editor-in-Chief of Elsevier’s open access journal European Economic Review Plus (EER Plus), is looking at innovative options for OA by piloting the Editorial Processing Charge (EPC). He explained:

We’re seeing a drive towards open access through things like Plan S. That’s good a good thing – it makes research much more available in the developing world, for example. But we need to be sure that these things are thought through. If every article is open access, that shifts the costs that were previously covered by libraries to the faculties, and the bulk of the cost is moved to universities that publish the most.

In Steffen’s view, new open access payment models are needed to make open access implementation practical. The journal he co-edits, EER Plus, was launched in 2019 as the OA spin-off of Europe’s oldest general-interest economics journals: European Economic Review (EER). Its quality and reputation are such that it rejects about 80 percent of papers.

As Steffen describes it, the EPC model his journal is piloting offers an affordable option for researchers with limited access to funds. The charge is set low – at €527, where some article processing charges will be upwards of €4,000  – and unlike a submission fee, the author only pays if their paper is selected for peer review. However, that fee is non-refundable if the article is rejected at the peer review stage.

Find out more about the Editorial Processing Charge at EER Plus

Is such an approach likely to put authors off if they might end up being rejected? Steffen thinks not and believes that the approach will be welcomed in many places:

The stronger the move to open access, the greater the impact on universities that publish a lot of high-quality papers. For authors at those institutions, different models are required. If you know you have a good paper, of course you’re much more likely to get published than that 20 percent, and at 527 euros, it’s more affordable for institutions that publish a lot and publish high quality research.

Some people might argue that any submission charge, editorial charge or processing charge is unnecessary, but Steffen sees that view as unrealistic.

Ultimately, any solution is going to have costs. Keeping all that information online, making it discoverable, finding reviewers – that infrastructure is valuable. As with every OA article published with Elsevier, papers published under the EPC model will be visible on ScienceDirect and will benefit from the same level of peer-review, visibility and discoverability as all other articles published by Elsevier.

Behavioral economics and the Ultimatum Game

As a behavioral economist, Steffen is well aware of the need to find new ways of thinking about problems. The discipline he works in sits at the intersection of economics and psychology. It focuses on real-world decision-making in a way that is distinct from orthodox economics.

To summarize the discipline, Steffen uses the example of the paradigm his PhD supervisor invented, and which he based his first work on: the Ultimatum Game. In this bargaining situation, you have two players: the proposer and the responder. The proposer is given a sum of money and must split it with the responder. The proposer can choose to split it any way they like, and if the responder accepts, the money gets split per the proposal. If the responder rejects the offer, neither player receives anything. Steffen elaborated:

Orthodox theory based on rationality suggests that the responder would accept any positive offer because some money is better than no money. But in reality, the responder rejects offers that are below about 30 percent, even if it means they both get nothing. So behavioral economics brings that kind of real-world element. We need models that take that into account.

“That’s why options are important”

Despite the impact kind of research can have in terms of steering policies at a business or even governmental level, Steffen notes that overall, economics can move slowly and that in some instances, he’s had papers take 10 years from draft to publication. Does he see early-stage research repositories like Elsevier’s SSRN as a further option for researchers looking to get their work out into the world?

I’ve posted material on SSRN and other, similar repositories. Given how slowly the discipline can move, it’s important that there’s a version out there that someone can cite, although some people get anxious about other people stealing their work. That’s why options are important.

Indeed, Steffen’s own experience of publishing research makes him keenly aware of what matters to other authors:

I’ve had papers held up for over a year, I’ve made revisions, and then the editor changes his mind, and then you find three years have passed. It feels outrageous. We try to deliver a better service.

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Written by

Ian Evans

Written by

Ian Evans

Ian Evans is Content Director for Global Communications at Elsevier. Previously, he was Editor-in-Chief of Elsevier’s Global Communications Newsroom. Based in Oxford, he joined Elsevier six years ago from a small trade publisher specializing in popular science and literary fiction.

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