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Open Access Doesn’t Need APCs Part 1: Charting a new course with Community Action Publishing

Note: This is a republished post in an effort to share PLOS posts relevant to early career researchers. The blog post was originally published on the Official PLOS Blog, the site on PLOS BLOGS Network that covers PLOS initiatives. The republished post covers a new serie exploring PLOS APC-alternative models from Sara Rouhi, Director of Strategic Partnerships at PLOS. The APC founding model has also been described here.

Open Access has always been at the heart of PLOS, beginning with PLOS Biology and PLOS Medicine which notably helped change the publishing landscape more than 15 years ago. These journals broke boundaries at the time by making some of the most exceptional work in the field openly available to all readers without restrictions. They, and other early OA journals, helped pioneer the Article Processing Charge (APC) model. But as the demand for Open Access solutions has grown, it’s become obvious that APCs alone cannot equitably fulfill the needs of all authors and readers. Which is why we set out to find a new solution that would make highly-selective Open Access publishing more sustainable while making publication freefor authors. 

The answer we developed was Community Action Publishing (CAP). 

What makes Community Action Publishing unique?

So many things! At its core, Community Action Publishing functions similarly to a co-op. Institutional members of each journal community share an equitable portion of the journal’s total publishing costs, based on the publication activity of their authors. Those authors therefore have unlimited opportunities to publish in PLOS MedicinePLOS Biology or our new journal, PLOS Sustainability and Transformation for free, giving authors more freedom to choose where to submit their work based on what’s best for their research and their readers–not their budget. 

Before we get into exactly how CAP works we want to acknowledge that the model is currently also supported by non-member fees for publications, only when the authors’ institutions are not members. However, our ultimate goal is to make these journals open to read and open to publish. How? We are actively reaching out to institutions to encourage them to join CAP. Authors can help by filling out this form, or contacting their institutional librarian directly to let them know that they want their support. 

Community Action Publishing is not based on APCs, it’s based on community

This is not just a partnership deal to streamline institutional support for APCs. CAP is a new way of thinking about Open Access publishing in terms of total journal costs spread over as many stakeholders as possible, rather than individual article fees paid by a smaller author community. It’s ideal for selective journals that serve as a platform for specific research communities and which incur higher costs by the nature of their services. This allows us to re-examine how we distribute costs more fairly based on researcher activity. The model also automatically includes institutions in Research 4 Life countries as members so that researchers in these regions can also publish for free. 

Most importantly, Community Action Publishing is built on transparency, openness and collaboration. 

CAP moves Open Access beyond the APC to ensure the sustainability of highly-selective Open Access publishing for all of its stakeholders. We worked with both library and researcher communities to develop this model and we continue to seek their advice and share information as our pilot progresses. 

From the beginning, we have made our total cost recovery targets for each journal transparent on our website, and our partners get a detailed breakdown of their authors’ publishing activity and pricing tier before they decide to work with us. We’ve committed to capping our margins at 10% which will be used to reinvest in programs that support our mission and provide value to the research community. Because the pie isn’t getting any larger, the more institutional partners who join in to support the journal community, the lower costs become for everyone. 

We are continually experimenting to find new solutions that fulfill the needs of our distinct research communities. Each of our journals now offers APC-alternatives tailored to the publishing activity in that community. Keep a look out for future posts in this series with more about our Flat Fees and Global Equity models. 

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