Envisioning a Global, Open Publishing System without APCs: Report of an International Symposium


November 21, 2017 by Brian Rosenblum

Ada Emmett, Josh Bolick, Marc L. Greenberg, A. Townsend Peterson, Brian Rosenblum


Much thinking remains on how Open Access (OA) is best achieved in a globally coordinated and equitable manner. Will it be built on shared copies of some version of the work via an open repository (“green” OA) and/or on journals with contents that are entirely open (“gold” OA)? To what extent do these contrasting models complement each other (Guédon, 2017, p.8)? Other questions include how to fund such a system both globally and equitably, how to empower current and primary stakeholders in shaping an open future, how to transition from the currently dominant subscription model to a fully open model, and how roles of current stakeholders may change in the process.

In this dynamic environment, article processing charges (APCs) have emerged as a significant source of funding for gold OA journals, to the extent that in 2015 Max Planck Digital Library (MPDL) proposed a model to flip the scholarly publishing system to OA entirely via APCs (Schimmer et. al., 2015). The MPDL proposal deeply influenced the 2015 Berlin 12 OA meeting and the subsequent launch of the OA2020 Roadmap Initiative. An APC-based “flip” was also explored and endorsed in the University of California Pay It Forward project (Smith, 2014).

In principle, the authors of this blog believe that a large-scale flip to an OA publishing model is a positive step, increasing the proportion of articles accessible to the global community of scholars. However, APC models shift the problem from reader access to author access (Peterson, 2013) and take a kick-the-can-down-the-road approach to solving the challenge of developing a global and equitable OA publishing model. APC supporters have suggested that institutions and funding agencies, not the authors themselves, bear the burden of paying APCs. But two problems emerge with this solution.

First, examining who actually pays the fees reveals significant social and global equity issues. One study found that “only” 12% of authors actually paid the APCs for their articles from their own pockets rather than their institutions or grants (Dallmeier-Tiessen, 2011). Further, those authors were more likely to be from countries with low gross national product. Solomon & Bjork (2011) found that 39% of their survey respondents from countries with low GDP paid their APC charges from their personal funds. The argument that authors/institutions can simply use their former collection budgets to pay APCs does not address the unequal resources available to institutions and funding agencies in low-GDP countries.

Second, following from the previous point, APCs unfairly burden authors to rely on their own funds, the limited funds of their institutions, or the goodwill of of publishers to waive fees. Each of these burdens creates or reinforces inequalities among individuals or institutions based on their relative wealth and prosperity. A broad-scale shift to APC-OA therefore excludes researchers and institutions from contributing to a global scholarly publishing system and therefore the scholarly record. Those excluded are concentrated in Global South and Global East, but also may include authors from many non-elite institutions in the Global North and West and, crucially, the global scientific endeavor is undermined by failing to bring all available expertise into the discussion (Bonaccorso, et al, 2014).

The international symposium

In consideration of these concerns, on 17-18 November 2016 the University of Kansas Libraries (KU), Open Access Network (OAN), Allen Press, Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), and the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) sponsored an international Symposium, Envisioning a World Beyond APCs/BPCs (hereafter: Symposium), held at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, USA. The two-day symposium provided a public, live-streamed session during which internationally respected scholars, publishers, university librarians, and executives from advocacy addressed questions and problems in the open access movement. Additional sessions explored the future of “openness” in scholarly publishing, responding to and furthering discussions from the December 2015 Berlin 12 Open Access invitational conference. The organizing principle of the Symposium was to address a fundamental question in the OA movement at present: can the global scholarly community create an OA publishing system that works equitably for everyone across the global community, without costs to readers or authors?

This blog post presents an overview of the Symposium discussions and outcomes, as well as provides some commentary by the KU team (co-planners of the Symposium and authors of this blog) on future directions for open access.

Symposium Design


Kevin Smith, Dean of Libraries at the University of Kansas, welcomes participants to the Symposium

The November 2016 Symposium gathered stakeholders from North America, Europe, Africa, and Latin America to envision a comprehensive, inclusive, global scholarly communication system that removes barriers to participation, regardless of the geography or socioeconomic circumstances of either the author or reader.

Despite best intentions, the planners were unable to include participants from Asia or the Pacific. In view of this regional gap, planners supplemented the discussions of the 25 physical participants with a broader, worldwide discussion via a live broadcast portion of the Symposium and invited and encouraged virtual participation during the live broadcast of the Symposium via a publicly accessible Google Doc and Twitter hashtag #KUOASymp16.

Symposium panelists included 18 in-person invitees representing leading voices among stakeholder groups: scholars, publishers, university librarians, and executives from advocacy organizations. Additionally, three scholars from North and Central America, and five advocates from the University of Kansas joined as respondents. Participants were from the US, Canada, Mexico, South Africa, Argentina, Nigeria, Kenya, UK, and Germany (see further: https://openaccess.ku.edu/Symposium/participants).

Symposium organizers and participants shared perspectives, problems, gaps, challenges, opportunities, and successes from across the OA landscape. The face-to-face interactions crossed disciplinary, cultural, linguistic, economic, and professional bounds. Below we describe and summarize two major products of the Symposium and themes that emerged from them: (1) the gap analysis presented by panelists in lightning talks at the start of the Symposium, and (2) the group project outlines of future innovative OA publishing models (“moonshot proposals”).

Gap Analysis

IMG_2654The Symposium opened with a two-hour livestreamed session. In the first hour, the 18 panelists each presented two-minute lightning talks, giving their perspective on the known gaps in our collective understanding about open access publishing, its stakeholders, and its future. These comments framed the ensuing discussions with the responding participants that occurred during the second hour. A transcript of the panelists’ remarks and respondents contributions is available in the University of Kansas institutional repository, KU ScholarWorks.

Generally, these remarks point to the complexity of scholarship and publishing, and the need for new, unexpected or unexplored methods of working across heterogeneous stakeholder groups to create a unified vision to solve problems. The relationships and interactions among stakeholders are multidimensional, each stakeholder having particular currencies and interests (e.g., academic credit, broad communication, financial profit) within the context of diverse cultures, languages, and economies.

The panelists’ remarks, both in terms of “what we know” and their enumeration of gaps, suggest several key themes, which the symposium planners condensed to five:

  1. The number of players and organizations in the field, their overlapping memberships, motivations, interests, purposes, and involvements create considerable complexity.
  2. Funding opportunities, both large and small, are highly convoluted, having local, national, and global sources and foci.
  3. Current and “traditional” publishing/dissemination models and institutional cultures have immense power over the system.
  4. The variety of views about how to achieve desirable goals is either a barrier to the achievement of any single solution, or may offer exciting opportunities for multifaceted solutions.
  5. Established or powerful institutional and scholarly interests have neoliberal business sensibilities leading to competition, in some cases among potential partners. Competition encourages rigid boundaries and institutional identities. OA innovators and leaders may be conflicted by the urge to maintain their institutional identities in the face of pressure to compete, even as they attempt to expand their permeable borders and interests for synchronized collective action.

“Moonshot Proposals”

30953668561_a8bce7cb94_oDuring the Thursday afternoon sessions participants developed themes from the morning presentations and spent time in small groups examining the issues related to those themes. On Friday morning, the second day of the Symposium, participants engaged in a team exercise to imagine, based on the gaps and issues identified in the previous day’s discussions, what an equitable publishing model would look like and outline steps towards achieving that in the next 5 to 10 years. Participants self-organized into four teams of 4–5 people to spend an hour developing proposals for a publishing model or structure that would meet the following criteria:

  • OA without cost barriers for readers or authors;
  • work in local contexts in a variety of global situations, including individuals and groups marginalized by historical, political, and economic power structures;
  • address needs of authors (i.e., a focus on the creators of scholarship rather than on publishers or readers);
  • include universities as a key stakeholder in a knowledge production and sharing environment;
  • include a concrete agenda for action;
  • and envision a 5- to 10-year transition period.

During the Symposium this session was initially referred to as the “Apollo 13” exercise, because it was an echo of a popular team-based problem-solving exercise associated with saving the Apollo 13 astronauts after a crippling accident; here, we have renamed it the “moonshot proposals” exercise reflecting the ambitious goal of the activity. At the end of the hour, each of the four teams presented its proposed solution in plenary. Three teams completed outlines that met some or many of the requirements, while the fourth was unable to come up with a proposal owing to divergent viewpoints among team members. The following paragraphs describe the proposal of each team, and, in the case of the fourth team, the discussions that hindered development of a proposal. (Fuller descriptions of these models are available in KU ScholarWorks.)

Team 1: Global Knowledge Commons 2025
This proposal, like ideas being described elsewhere by Kathleen Shearer through her work with the Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR) (2014) and Guédon (2017), envisions a “global commons” of interoperable digital repositories of scholarly works in their pre-published state. Peer-review and vetting services would be built on top of this Commons. Libraries would incrementally shift their budgets over 10 years from subscriptions to supporting institutional and networked services that support this repository infrastructure and associated services.

Team 2: Economics of Prestige: Strategies to Change the Scholarly Communication System
This proposal outlined key problems in the publishing system linked to stakeholders’ attachment to and need for markers of prestige. These markers are often set locally or regionally, but can influence large swaths of the rest of the world. The team suggested “a platform alliance for university presses and society publishers, who already have prestige and therefore have no need to seek it further.”

Team 3: Federation
This team proposed a method of coordinating collective-action efforts among both large-scale OA publishing projects and smaller initiatives, as well as among funders and institutional supporters. Such a federation would create economies of scale in organizing collective action around funding. Projects and networks that might benefit from this federated model include African Journals Online; ArXiv and other subject-based repositories; BioLine International; SciELO; the Humanities Commons; Public Knowledge Project; Open Library of the Humanities; Open Book Publishers; and Redalyc.

Team 4
The fourth team’s deliberations illustrated the tensions and challenges that occur often in the OA community and its meetings. It was instructive for its participants as it illustrated the obstacles of moving beyond or successfully through deliberations when diverse and sometimes directly opposing views and approaches collide. Among the key challenges this team faced was fostering productive dialogue between two contrasting views of the economics of openness. Under one view, the accumulated capital in the publishing system is seen as the source to drive openness, if it can be diverted to unlock access. Under the other view, the accumulated capital is seen by Global South and Global East scholars as being exclusively in the hands of Global North/West publishers; as such, a solution would have a suppressive, discriminatory effect on participation of researchers more broadly around the world. These kinds of discussions require us to appreciate when hard-won agreements and consensus are achieved.

The three (full or partial) proposals each recognize that sophisticated forms of cooperation among stakeholder groups (publishers, scholarly societies, university presses, university administrators, promotion committees, authors, researchers, libraries, funders) are necessary to successfully navigate our collective futures to an equitable and sustainable OA publishing system. Also necessary will be more engagement between local/regional cultural and linguistic groups, and the larger global systems that drive scholarly publishing with their own language and cultural preferences.

Emergent Themes

20161117_143548The Symposium exposed a layer of questions about the future of scholarly publishing and stakeholders’ ability to work together. These cycles of reflection and examination frequently result in a paralysis of analysis. This was evident at points throughout the Symposium and symptomatic of the opportunities and challenges among OA advocates in their stakeholder spheres. While there are numerous examples of innovative thinking and problem-solving partnerships within and across stakeholder groups, more collaborative experimentation and carefully constructed collective action is needed.

The authors have identified five broad themes or challenges that emerged during the Symposium, reflected in our current systems and in proposed APC-based solutions, which we give somewhat playful names to here.

  1. Let Them Eat Cake. There is often a lack of awareness, understanding or perhaps disregard for the realities and constraints of those in low-income countries or communities, or a lack of awareness of successful models already in place in some regions. Latin America, for example, is a model of a APC-free OA future built from the ground up some 15 years ago, though those of us in the Global North are often unaware of this.
  2. The Butterfly Effect. This refers to the notion that decisions made locally in the Global North, even those with good intentions, have an often unanticipated and detrimental effect on scholars in the Global South and their ability to not just access the scholarly communication system as readers and authors, but also to shape it to meet their own research needs and cultural norms.
  3. The Tail Wagging the Dog. Our publishing systems and tools are being designed not to solve the important challenge–maximizing the circulation of knowledge in open, coordinated, discoverable and sustainable ways–but are instead designed by and for certain sectors of the publishing system, typically larger for-profit publishers with different organizational missions.
  4. “The Needs of the Many Outweigh Those of the Few” (Spock, The Wrath of Khan). A couple of decades into the open access movement, there are a number of established and successful small and large-scale efforts to reshape the scholarly publishing system. Certain initiatives have considerable momentum. However, the degree to which large stakeholder groups are able to surrender individual sovereignty, to identify permeable spots within their organizations and systems to enable cooperation is the degree to which a local/global system/flip could be designed and implemented. As another proverb pertains here: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” The time to go fast is long gone. Now we need to go together.
  5. The Culture of Contest. This final theme encompasses aspects of all the preceding themes. Contests and competition operating within the neoliberal frame have a toxic effect on the system of scholarly communication that scholars and scientists (and the communities funding them) have arranged in the spirit of a gift economy. The evaluation system within academia, and the scholars who play a role in it, constitute another aspect of this poisoning and derisive competition.

We have also identified some possible immediate next steps, including assembling as a community a comprehensive and synthetic global mapping and network analysis of the scholarly communication system, and further research and conversation on ho

w to develop sophisticated forms of cooperation across a complex network of industries, communities and cultures.

We plan to discuss these emergent themes and next steps in further posts here on this website and in other publication venues.


Elena Bonaccorso, Reneta Bozhankova, Carlos Daniel Cadena, Veronika Čapská, Laura Czerniewicz, Ada Emmett, Folorunso Fasina Oludayo, Natalia Glukhova, Marc L Greenberg, Miran Hladnik, María Eugenia Grillet, Mochamad Indrawan, Mate Kapović, Yuri Kleiner, Marek Łaziński, Rafael D. Loyola, Shaily Menon, Luis Gonzalo Morales, Clara Ocampo, Jorge Pérez-Emán, A. Townsend Peterson, Dimitar Poposki, Ajadi Adetola Rasheed, Kathryn M Rodríguez-Clark, Jon Paul Rodríguez and Brian Rosenblum, “Bottlenecks in the open-access system: voices from around the globe”, Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication, 2(2), p.eP1126, 2014, p. 1–10. Available at http://doi.org/10.7710/2162-3309.1126

Suenje Dallmeier-Tiessen, Robert Darby, Bettina Goerner, et. al. (2011). The SOAP Symposium—III Open Access publishing today: What scientists do and why. Retrieved from http://edoc.mpg.de/524967

Jean-Claude Guédon.“Open access:toward the internet of the mind”, White paper. 17 March 2017. Available at http://www.budapestopenaccessinitiative.org/open-access-toward-the-internet-of-the-mind (Word document here, http://www.budapestopenaccessinitiative.org/boai15/Untitleddocument.docx)

A. Townsend Peterson, Ada Emmett and Marc L. Greenberg, “Open access and the author-pays problem: assuring access for readers and authors in the global academic community”, Journal of librarianship and scholarly communication, 1(3), p.eP1064, 2013. Available at http://doi.org/10.7710/2162-3309.1064

Ralf Schimmer, Kai Karin Geschuhn and Andreas Vogler, “Disrupting the subscription journals’ business model for the necessary large-scale transformation to open access”, 15 April 2015. Available at http://dx.doi.org/10.17617/1.3

Kathleen Shearer, “Interview with Kathleen Shearer, Executive Director of the Confederation of Open Access Repositories”, Open and shut?, 2014, accessed 25 March 2017. Available at http://poynder.blogspot.com/2014/05/interview-with-kathleen-shearer.html

Mackenzie Smith and Ivy Anderson, “Pay it forward: investigating a sustainable model of open access article processing charges for large North American research institutions, 2014. Available at http://icis.ucdavis.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/UC-Pay-It-Forward-narrative-2014-FINAL.pdf

David J. Solomon & Bo-Christer Bjork (2011) “Publication fees in open access publishing: sources of funding and factors influencing choice of journal.” Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology. 2011;63(1):98–107. doi: 10.1002/asi.21660. Also available at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/220435186_Publication_Fees_in_Open_Access_Publishing_Sources_of_Funding_and_Factors_Influencing_Choice_of_Journal


The Symposium was held at The Commons in Spooner Hall

One thought on “Envisioning a Global, Open Publishing System without APCs: Report of an International Symposium

  1. […] about how a move to a publishing-based fee structure for journals could impact universities and authors around the world.   For now, we believe this experiment promises to be a productive one on the path to finding a […]


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The opinions here emerge from work done by OA advocates at our university in the Midwest. The opinions are those of the authors themselves and not necessarily of our home institution.


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