Understanding the Costs of Publishing Papers

journal articles peer-review Nov 25, 2023

Publishing research papers is an integral part of PhDs and academic careers, but are you wondering about the costs involved? From colour figure charges to open access fees, publication can actually be expensive. In this blog, I'll dive into the costs of getting papers published. Importantly, I'll talk about who pays for publication fees (not you personally!), and different types of publishing fees like article processing charges (APCs), and open access fees. Additionally, I'll warn you about predatory journals that are a waste of money and time. Lastly, I share ways to waive publishing fees and who can request them so that you don't have to worry about finances when it comes to publishing your research.

Understanding Publication Costs

Publication costs exhibit significant variability depending on journal business models. Researchers may encounter what are called "article processing charges" (APCs) and other fees after submitting their work for publication. This expense can play a role in determining where you choose to publish your work. Understanding these costs, why they exist, how to pay for them, and how to get them waived can help you make more informed decisions.

The cost of publishing

From the perspective of the publisher, publishing a research paper involves a range of expenses, including personnel, software, printing, and distribution. Traditionally, publishing companies (think Elsevier, Springer, Taylor-Francis, Wiley) use journal subscription fees, paid for institutions and universities, to cover these costs. For example, this is why you can use your institutional email or VPN to access journal articles that are otherwise 'behind a paywall'. However, a growing number of journals are using APCs to fund themselves, and this is especially true for those offering "open access" articles (see below). These charges can range from $50 to several thousands of dollars. Some charge other fees that are dependant on the article itself, for example if the paper exceeds a certain number of pages, you may be required to pay an overage fee.


Person typing on laptop at outside desk

Some journals do have charges to help cover the costs of publication. While traditional journals do sometimes have charges, the most common kind of publication charge is an open access fee.


Who pays for publication fees?

Rarely is it expected that an individual researcher uses their personal fiances to the pay for publication fees. I suggest you never use your own personal money for publication fees. Instead, access funds from research grants, your department, and university. Funding agencies and institutions recognize the importance of disseminating research findings and will have provisions for covering publication fees. Ask your supervisor. Ask your department head. Ask your graduate student office and/or research office.

Many universities will have "Read and Publish Agreements" or "Partnerships" with certain publishing companies that allow authors from that university to publish with no fees. You will often be able to access a list of these companies and journals via your university's library webpage. The journal's webpage will also often list the institutions with agreements/partnerships.

Some journals waive fees for authors who are registered as students, or are from lower-income countries. (More on this below)

Looking forward, wherever possible, when planning your research budget for a grant application, it's a good idea to include publication fees as part of the budget.

Does it cost money to publish a research paper?

In short, the answer is yes, sometimes. Depending on the journal you may have to pay APCs, open access fees, or other kinds of fees. However, you are not expected to pay with your personal finances. Universities, institutions, and funding bodies most often cover these expenses.


Close up of laptop screen showing code

Open access charges can exceed several thousand dollars. These fees are typically covered by a researcher's institution or funding agency.


The Different Kinds of Publishing Fees

Publishing papers often require expenses, and there are different terms used.

Article Processing Charges (APCs)

APC's is a general term that refers to the fees that publishers impose on authors for publishing their articles. These charges can vary widely depending on the specific journal and publisher involved. In many cases, these costs only apply when author's wish to choose the "open access" option for their publication. Most commonly APCs are due after acceptance (i.e. you don't pay to submit your article) and are clearly indicated on the journal's webpage.

Open access fees

An open access (OA) journal article means that anyone can access and read the article without pay, and thus regardless of institutional affiliation. This makes research more accessible not only to the general public, but also to researchers in lower-income countries where many universities are unable to pay the high subscription fees of publishing companies. There are journals that are exclusively open access, for example Plos One is an exclusively OA journal. Many journals employ a hybrid model, where only some articles are open access where authors have chosen to pay for open access. Nature is an example of a hybrid journal. Open access publishing costs often exceed about $2000 USD.

Page charges, color charges, etc

Page charges refer to the fees imposed by publishers for publishing each page of an article, or for each page exceeding a limit. Conversely, color charges pertain to the additional costs associated with the inclusion of color images in the published work. I have also seen "reference overage" charges, when the number of cited references exceed a certain limit. Not every journal has these kinds of extra charges.


Typing on laptop, coffee at side

Watch out for predatory journals that exploit the open access model and prioritise profit over academic integrity.


Beware of Predatory Journals

Predatory journals can be misleading, offering swift or open access publication without delivering journal quality. They often exploit the open access model, preying on researchers and imposing high publishing charges. These journals prioritize profits over scientific journal integrity.

What is a Predatory Journal?

A predatory journal is a publication that exploits the academic publishing model for financial gain, prioritising profit margins, without providing quality peer review and editing. They often spam researchers with invitation emails and always charge publication fees. Researchers should be cautious of these journals to protect their reputation and ensure the quality of their work.

How to Identify a Predatory Journal

Identifying a predatory journal can be challenging, but it's crucial to look for warning signs when considering publishing in a journal you have not heard of before. Check for transparent peer review processes and editorial boards with credible experts. Verify if the journal is indexed in reputable databases like Scimago, PubMed, Scopus, or Web of Science. Avoid journals that send solicitation emails and promises of unrealistically fast publication. Additionally, ensure the journal website provides clear information about the peer review process and any charges associated with publication. It's important to conduct thorough research and use available resources to evaluate the legitimacy of a journal before submitting your work.

You can read more about predatory journals in this blog post

 Typing on laptop at desk.

Most journals will consider fee waivers, especially in cases where the author cannot access traditional sources of funding for publication.


Waiving Publishing Fees

Many journals, including open access journals, offer free waivers or fee assistance. To access these waivers you generally need to show that you lack access to funding for the fees, and you have exhausted all alternatives to gaining access.

Who can request a waiver?

Usually anyone can request a waiver, though every journal has their own policies about this. It is common for authors in the research community who traditionally lack access to publication funding to request waivers, including PhD students and postdocs. Authors based on institutions in lower-income countries can also often justify a fee waiver if their university and/or funding bodies do not have funding available for journal publications.

How can you request a waiver

Authors have the opportunity to request a waiver of publication fees after the manuscript is accepted. The process usually entails providing a comprehensive justification of their lack of funding for journal publications, which may require a letter, form, or email submission. It's a good idea to review the journal's policy on fee waivers before initiating the waiver process to ensure adherence to the requirements and to use the appropriate language. 


In conclusion, understanding the costs of publishing papers is important for researchers and authors. Different types of publishing fees, such as article processing charges (APCs), open access fees, and page fees, for example, must be considered. It is also important to be cautious of predatory journals and learn how to identify them. Lastly, and maybe most importantly, know that many publishers wlll waive publication charges for those who lack access to funding. You are not expected to use your own personal finances. By being informed about these aspects, authors can make informed decisions and navigate the publishing process effectively.

Additional Resources

Are you ready to publish your research? Check out the First 7 Steps Checklist to get started on the right foot.

Plus, here are some other blog posts that might be helpful:

How to Publish an Academic Paper: Tips from an Experienced Author, Reviewer, and Editor

How to Choose a Reputable Journal for Your Research

Hi! I'm Dr Jayne Wilkins.

I'm a research scientist and academic publishing coach. I've been writing, reviewing, and editing academic publications for 12+ years.

In 2021, I achieved my long-time ambition to publish in Nature (woot woot 🎉).

Want to publish your research?

I can help you finish and submit that manuscript.

Learn More About Me

How to Publish a Journal Article

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Perfect for those publishing their first paper, or those with a few published already.

The checklist:

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