Last month we looked at our annual round-up of list Article Processing Charges (APCs). This provided valuable insight into pricing patterns as related to full price APC’s. However, most publishers offer discounts and waivers, making the actual price paid less than the list APC. To explore this issue further, this month we are taking a look at APC discounting patterns.

Data about actual prices paid is virtually non-existent outside of each publishers’ view of their own practices, as it is rarely published. The OpenAPC project is a notable exception. It is part of the INTACT project, which tracks APCs and gathers survey data about actual payments of APCs.

As of March 2019, the OpenAPC data set covers 232 institutions, including the 65 in JISC in the UK, 46 in Germany, plus those covered by Max Planck’s funding, the 42 within Couperin in France, 33 in Norway, 17 in Sweden, and others from Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Canada, the US and Qatar. Although this data set is comparatively small, the data does cover ~75.5k papers, with the bulk of information covering 2015-2017 payments.

By cross-walking the OpenAPC data against our list prices, and converting OpenAPC’s data in Euros to US Dollars, we can analyze discount levels.

Discounting Patterns

Overall the data show a strong relationship between list prices and prices paid, so list APCs are a good predictor of patterns in pricing. Fully OA journals show the strongest relationships (Pearson correlation coefficients of 0.85+), and hybrid are slightly weaker (0.65 and up).

Figure 1, below, analyzes average discount percentages off list prices, so we can see to what degree publishers are discounting. A few nuances come out of the chart.

  • There’s very little relationship between discount percentage and price (statistical analysis bears this out). Counterintuitively, this suggests a consistency: on average, more expensive journals are not discounted any more or less than less expensive ones.
  • In converting the OpenAPC data’s paid prices in Euros to equivalent list prices in USD, we see that around half the data points suggest payments that are higher than list, i.e. a “negative discount.” These data points appear to the left of the chart’s dotted line (0% discount). There are a few extreme outliers in the data (not shown) due to erroneous reporting, but it is likely that much of this is due to timings of payments, different methods of currency conversions, or inconsistent inclusion of sales tax. This highlights the challenges of gathering data consistently across our very fragmented ecosystem.
  • Controlling out these “negative discounts” makes very little difference to the statistics – so despite the challenges with the data, the patterns remain the same. We also know that list prices change slowly, so relative phasing between payment and list dates are not an issue.

Changes Over Time

The bulk of the data covers payments between 2015 and 2017, with 2018 less well represented (containing roughly half of the data points available for years 2016 and 2017). However, since we do have a few thousand data points per year, we can analyze how discount levels are changing.

Figure 2 below examines popular discount levels over time. The more orange the line, the more recent the year of payment, and the chart excludes the “negative discounts.”

  • The discounting bands appear to be staying consistent over time, with variations due to differences in sample sizes. (There are very few 2014 data points, and the volume of 2018 data is still catching up with the rest.)
  • Our OA Data & Analytics Tool allows deeper analysis, to tease out differences between fully OA and hybrid journals. Although not shown here, fully OA journals have seen their discount levels dip in 2016-2017 but start to rise again since, averaging around 20%. Hybrid sees the opposite pattern, with discount levels averaging 20-30%.


Although the OpenAPC data is sourced from a relatively small proportion of the hundreds of institutions globally, the sample includes most of the major producers of research in the EU, including national consortia, and Harvard in the US. For that reason, we think the data is a fair sample, and we applaud the OpenAPC team for tackling a difficult problem of gathering meaningful data from nebulous sources.

Given the institutions involved, the data are likely to show higher than market average payments, and a bias towards hybrid submissions, reflecting patterns we have seen from other studies.

With all that said, we are seeing consistent discounts across APC levels (i.e., higher or lower APC bands do not show varying discount levels). Additionally, we are able to get some visibility into discounting levels in the territories pushing the OA agenda, and can confirm that our extensive analysis of list prices forms a fair predictor of pricing patterns in the market.


De Gruyter and CzechELib sign “read and publish” agreement for access and open access – April 3, 2019

“CzechELib, the National Centre for Electronic Information Resources of the Czech Republic and De Gruyter have signed an agreement to provide access to De Gruyter journal collections. The agreement also provides authors affiliated to the subscribing institutions with an open access publishing option in both hybrid and “gold” De Gruyter open access journals with no further costs.”

Cambridge University Press reaches major Open Access agreement in Germany – April 2, 2019

“Cambridge University Press has reached a major Open Access agreement with the Bavarian State Library (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, BSB) on behalf of higher education and research institutions across Germany. The three-year ‘read and publish’ agreement has been concluded with the German academic library consortium, which represents research universities, universities of applied sciences, non-university research institutions and academic libraries.”

American Chemical Society and Max Planck institutes partner on transformative open access plan – March 29, 2019

“The Publications Division of the American Chemical Society (ACS) and the Max Planck Gesellschaft (MPG) announced today a collaborative open access strategic partnership that will advance shared goals for open science and enhance convenience for the MPG researcher and author community.”

As Elsevier falters, Wiley succeeds in Open Access deal making – March 26, 2019

“The divergent strategies of scholarly publishers to forge licensing agreements with libraries are yielding different results.”

OSI Brief: Deceptive publishing – March 19, 2019

“Deceptive publishing (more commonly known as “predatory publishing”) is an important and troubling issue in scholarly communication. However, its parameters and seriousness are a matter of controversy, and there is not yet any consensus as to how big an issue it is, how fast it is growing, the variety of its manifestations, and what (if anything) can be done to combat it. The broad outlines of deceptive publishing, as described in this brief, are clearer than its exact details.”

eLife announces first release of open-source submission and peer-review platform: Libero Reviewer – March 13, 2019

“eLife, in collaboration with the Collaborative Knowledge Foundation (Coko), has launched the first release of Libero Reviewer, an open-source application that will support the organisation’s unique editorial process from submission to acceptance.”

Norwegian Universities Ditch Elsevier – March 13, 2019

“Norway is the latest European country to cancel its subscription deal with Elsevier, following Germany and Sweden. In a press release, the Norwegian Directorate for ICT and Joint Services in Higher Education and Research (UNIT) said that Elsevier’s offer was ‘far from fulfilling the requirements of Norway for open access.’ Norwegian universities were seeking a “read and publish” deal. The University of California System, which recently canceled its Elsevier deal, was seeking the same kind of agreement.”

The Open Tide – How openness in research and communication is becoming the default setting by Daniel Hook – March 11, 2019

“Open Access to research findings is often presented as an end unto itself. However, the ethos of open access, to enable a greater sharing and utilisation of research knowledge, suggests a more complex network of scholarly communication. Presenting the findings of a recent report on the development of Open Access, Daniel Hook explores how the open trajectories of the UK and the US have diverged and what this means for research collaboration and research systems in these countries.”

Open Access? Absolutely, but don’t jeopardise research quality and freedom! – March 8, 2019

The senior academic leadership of Uppsala University in Sweden respond to Plan S: “Our basic position should then be that, while continuing to respect the freedom of research, we support a transition to Open Access that contributes to quality and relevance, and oppose proposals that limit the freedom of research and/or undermine its quality and relevance.”

Preferred Plan S implementation options: a product perspective – March 7, 2019

“HighWire recently brought the community together to identify and explore 14 implementation options for publishers and how they could deliver against the 10 principles as set out by cOAlition S. Their whitepaper, published earlier this month, summarizes the findings and details the four most preferred options.”

Swedish funder Riksbankens Jubileumsfond withdraws support for Plan S – March 6, 2019

“RJ remains in the Coalition S, but cannot support Plan S in its current form. The observations made in the open consultations as well as comments and analyses so far in Sweden and abroad demonstrate that Plan S needs to be made more flexible and discussed more openly with the research community in order to gain support.”

UKSG Insights Collection: From Finch to Plan S – March 6, 2019

“The Finch Report reaches the grand age of seven this year, and with the advent of Plan S, Insights wanted to commemorate the progress and the frustration with open access (OA) and open science with a special collection…of previously published articles to give an interesting overview of what has been happening at the coalface since the Finch report.”


March 26, 2019

Future Science Group launches new journal Future Drug Discovery

“Led by an expert international Editorial Advisory Board, Future Drug Discovery is a peer-reviewed, open access journal covering the latest breakthrough science in drug discovery, research & development…Future Drug Discovery will be a quarterly publication publishing case histories, methodologies, original research, reviews and opinion articles covering the entire drug discovery pipeline, plus topics of interest to the drug discovery community.”

March 22, 2019

The Society for the Neurobiology of Language and MIT Press Launch New Open Access Journal: Neurobiology of Language

“The Society for the Neurobiology of Language and the MIT Press are pleased to announce the launch of Neurobiology of Language. This open access journal will publish interdisciplinary articles addressing the neurobiological basis of human speech and language.”

March 22, 2019

Frontiers in Water launches five new sections

“In commemoration of World Water Day, Frontiers in Water officially launches with five sections examining urgent issues affecting water and its supply. The journal aims to improve how we understand the dynamics and sustainable use of our water resources.”