5 Tips for Understanding STM Open Access in China

Open Access (OA) is gaining momentum in China, an STM powerhouse with scholarly research output which now rivals that of the U.S. In 2016, China’s R&D expenditure reached c. $241b USD, with nearly 440,000 articles published by Chinese authors (as recorded in Clarivate’s Web of Science). As this market continues to grow, it’s vital for publishers to understand how the dynamics of OA and the needs of authors in China differ from other geographies. While the overall landscape is complex, the five key takeaways below can offer useful insight.

1) The Definition of OA in China is Currently Vague

Launched in 2010 by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the China Open Access Journals (COAJ) platform is an index of OA Journals in China designed to aide discovery and usage among researchers, featuring content in both Chinese and English. However, the OA model adopted by these publications varies: some follow the standard gold OA model and charge APCs, while others offer content for free after an embargo period. Still others are free to read online, while print access remains paid. On the whole, more Chinese journals charge authors page fees (or ban mian fei) as opposed to article publication charges specific to open access.

2) Top Journals Attract Top Chinese Authors

Authors in China are encouraged to publish in domestic journals, with the Ministry of Education requiring one-third of the universities’ articles to be published in China’s domestic journals. Similarly, CAS requires at least 1 in 10 papers from academic candidates to be published in leading Chinese journals such as Science China or the Chinese Science Bulletin. Yet just like their international counterparts, authors in China frequently seek to publish their highest quality content in the most prestigious specialist outlets in their discipline, or in globally revered outlets such as Nature, Science, The Lancet and so on. OA mega journals such as PLoS One, and Scientific Reports have also been popular targets, but the dynamic is changing with more and more authors publishing in those mega journals in the past years.

3) Chinese Institutional Repositories Are Growing

In May 2015, CAS began requiring all its research institutes in China to establish institutional pre-print repositories in order to archive and make accessible articles published with assistance from publicly-funded programs. Simultaneously, the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) launched the Open Repository, requiring funded authors to deposit the pre-print version of their article and un-gate access no later than 12 months after publication. To date, the vast majority of materials included in the repositories are basic research, led by Engineering and Materials Sciences and Information Sciences.

4) Research Funding in China is Robust

Major funding sources in China include the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), the Ministry of Education (MOE), and the NSFC, which is the largest, covering more than 50% of all supported research. Grants are awarded to organizations as individual programs, with one researcher per program. Chinese authors report funding coverage for many types of publication-related expenses, including page fees, language-polishing fees, OA article publication charges, translation fees, and reprints.  The national VAT system of China requires authors to have an invoice (or fapiao) with itemized details for publication-related expenses in order to claim reimbursement for such charges under their funding grant.

5) Payment Preferences of Chinese Authors Differ

Whereas many international authors prefer to pay publication-related expenses due to the publisher online by credit card, a 2017 survey revealed that bank transfers are the most popular method of payment among authors in Chinese journals, followed by cash or check. AliPay (which is similar to PayPal) and the digital wallet service, WeChat Pay, are the most common online or mobile methods of payment. These preferences are important for international journals to keep in mind when strategizing to attract and retain Chinese authors.


Author: Ella Chen

Located in Beijing, Ella is the General Manager of Charlesworth China. She graduated from Oxford University, and has been in STM publishing over 10 years with experience across editorial, business development, sales and marketing for academic journals and databases. Previously, she was the China Publishing Director at BMJ and a Journal Publisher at Elsevier in Beijing.
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