Journal publishing options:
Traditional, open-access & fee-based
The traditional publishing system
Under the traditional publishing system, journal articles are published at no cost to the author whilst a fee is charged for journal access. Prior to the internet, journals had to be physically printed and purchased, so this system was the logical solution. The rise of the internet allowed physical journal copies to be replaced with paid license subscriptions for online journal access.
Using the internet, publishers could deliver journal access to thousands of readers across the world at a fraction of the cost compared to printing. These developments led to the creation of the open-access system. The primary goal of the open-access system is to provide journal access for free so economic status is not a barrier to journal access.
The challenge facing the free open-access system is economic sustainability with such journals currently relying on some kind of granting or charitable financial input. This issue has led to the rise of open-access journals that charge the author a fee. Fee-based open-access journals ensure an economically sustainable business model whilst continuing to deliver free access to readers all over the world. However, the problem with this system is the potential for decline in the quality / reliability of published research due to the monetary relationship between publishers and authors. Under the traditional system, the publisher doesn't earn any money unless readers pay for access, for which the publisher knows (ideally) readers will only pay for quality. Publishers under the pay to publish system can theoretically earn money regardless of reader interest levels. In other words, the authors willingness to pay is a strong driving factor for the publisher to accept the work. The simplicity of this business model is rapidly attracting an ever growing number of new publishers. In this respect it can be a challenge for authors to be confident they have selected a reputable publisher. Besides checking impact factors and citation rates, authors can also check how long the publisher / journal has been in business and how often articles are published, etc. Authors can also check if highly respected researchers etc are using the publisher / journal to publish their work. Do these researchers etc come from reputable institutions and do these researchers have good publication records.
What is best for the author?
What is best for the author – traditional, open-access (no publishing fee), or fee-based open-access publishing? The major focuses for most authors are journal reputation / impact factors, citations and acceptance time / publishing frequency.
Journal reputation / impact factors
Traditional system journals often have higher impact factors in comparison to open-access journals, as these journals usually have well resourced business models allowing them to provide high quality services sought after by the best researchers. It also takes time to develop a reputation. Traditional system journals are usually older than open-access journals.
Open-access journals may have significantly more readers, which may result in a greater number of times an article is cited / referenced compared to the scenario if the same article was published via the traditional publishing system.
Acceptance time / publishing frequency
Why would an author pay to publish if free options are available via both traditional and open-access systems? One may think that those paying to publish do so to ensure the publication of low quality research that may otherwise be rejected. Though this may be true in some cases, it would be wrong to make this assumption for all cases. Many researchers have deadlines to apply for funding or contract extension for which timely journal publication is essential to effect the outcome. Some journals that charge a publishing fee will guarantee review & publishing in a timely manner.