Seven Steps to Help Your Authors Through the APC Maze

As Open Access has evolved, article processing charges (APCs) have become increasingly complex for authors to understand and manage. OA policies are now multi-dimensional, as funders, publishers and institutions have different requirements that don’t always align, and the range of licensing and copyright options can be bewildering.

The challenges start with choosing an outlet for publication, as open access authors juggle complying with funder and institutional guidelines and publishing in the journal best suited for their work or career aspirations. There’s also the issue of archiving the appropriate version of the paper in a repository. Researchers need to submit the necessary underlying information behind the article, and increasingly, the supporting research data. By the time it comes to payment, it’s often hard for authors to know whether fees can be offset against existing subscription charges, or even more simply, who pays – the author, funder or institution? And once submitted, who is responsible for tracking the processing and payment? The list of hurdles goes on and on…

What can institutions, intermediaries and publishers do to help them successfully and swiftly navigate the APC maze?

What’s more, the complexity is likely here to stay. Gold Open Access journals are doubling in article volume every four years, currently in excess of 14% of the total journal output, according to the Mellon Foundation-funded Pay It Forward report and the European Commission’s research into the proportion of peer reviewed OA articles. With no two academic disciplines adopting the same approach, authors are left to navigate a myriad of options and approaches.

In the spring of 2017, Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) held a roundtable discussion about the implications of Open Access on publishing workflows. Participants were drawn from across scholarly communication stakeholder groups, and there were some striking insights gained from the author perspective:

  • Authors lack time to read about or fully understand the multiple options open to them.
  • Discounts for authors that are society or association members add a new layer of complexity to the publishing workflow.
  • Authors receive varying levels of support from their institutions in managing the publication process and payment of APCs, reflecting different levels of staffing and resources at the university level.
  • The proliferation of different guidelines and use of too many technical terms create confusion.

Set this against a backdrop of research, teaching and institutional administration, and it’s no wonder that researchers struggle to keep track. What they need is a seamless experience, with a logical workflow process that allows them to get on doing what they should be doing: researching and disseminating results.

What can institutions, intermediaries and publishers do to help them successfully and swiftly navigate the APC maze?

These seven steps help to set a clear path:

  1. Communicate. Use clear, straightforward messaging. Make it easy to understand with clarity, succinctness and additional resources such as case studies and FAQs.
  2. Provide definitions. Guide authors through the different options in a clear and comprehensible way. Remove confusion among the roles of funders, institutions and publishers so they know who is responsible for what and when.
  3. Adopt a rules-driven workflow. Make it easy for authors to check funding and compliance requirements, or, better yet, adopt a rules-driven approach that minimizes the choices authors need to make during the payment workflow. Automate workflows wherever possible to create a frictionless experience.
  4. Track the progress. Make it easy to understand where a paper is in the submission and APC payment workflow. Help with reporting for authors. Clearly explain what they will (and won’t) be responsible for.
  5. Have a clear, user-driven interface. Use a simple design with an intuitive structure, removing any unnecessary features that might confuse.
  6. Integrate open tools. Connect with data hosts such as figshare, Dryad and Dataverse. Get the tech to do the heavy lifting using standards and metadata, such as ORCiD and Ringgold, to connect the dots.
  7. Automate article deposit (where appropriate). Make it easy and frictionless to facilitate automatic article – and data – deposit into repositories. Make sure all underlying metadata complies with funder and institutional policies to aid transparency, maximize discoverability and improve potential impact.

Based on stakeholder input, CCC is currently developing a range of new tools within RightsLink© for Open Access that aim to solve these issues. As global trends emerge, the conversation continues. The CCC team welcomes authors, librarians, funders and publishers to take part in the discussion by contacting Jennifer Goodrich, Director of Product Development (

Related sources:


Author: Suzanne Kavanagh

Suzanne Kavanagh is a publishing consultant focusing on strategy, management, and marketing. She has nearly 25 years’ experience, most recently as Director of Marketing and Membership Services at ALPSP.
Don't Miss a Post

Subscribe to the award-winning
Velocity of Content blog