An important justification for transitioning from a subscription based journal publishing system to an open access journal publishing system, has been that whereas printing and distributing physical copies of journals is an expensive process, the cost of digital publication and dissemination are marginal. In this post Shaun Khoo argues that whilst a shift to gold (pay to publish) open access would deliver wider access to research, the lack of price sensitivity amongst academics presents a risk that they will be locked into a new escalating pay to publish system that could potentially be more costly to researchers than the previous subscription model.
For decades, the cost of subscription journals has been rising faster than inflation. Struggling with this serials crisis, librarians have encouraged the development of open access journals. Under open access, anyone can access research articles, reducing the need for libraries to subscribe to journals. This might benefit libraries, but by opening up research budgets as a revenue source it also promises to boost publisher profits.
The dominant form of immediate open access involves the payment of an article processing charge (APC) to the publisher by the authors or their institutions. In theory, competition between publishers should apply downward pressure on APCs, as academics should at least consider price when selecting a journal.