Christopher X J. Jensen
Associate Professor, Pratt Institute

Where to publish in ecology & evolution without funding for page charges

Posted 10 Aug 2013 / 10

WARNING: This article is accurate as of August 2013;
publishing policies are rapidly evolving and therefore
the page charges described below are subject to change.

Transparency-03-0170pxEvery scientist wants to have funding to support his or her research, and part of that funding has to be ear-marked for page charges. Page charges? It sounds like an odd thing, but after we spend hours and hours working on a scientific manuscript that we intend to give away for free, we have to pony up money to get it published. For those who have played in bands, this system sounds an awful lot like the pay to play system that exploits so many musicians. Are publishers exploiting scientists by exacting page charges? Or are page charges an important part of keeping the scientific publishing industry afloat? And — practically speaking — what do you do if you don’t have funding to pay for page charges?

I do not intend to get too far into the ethical issues associated with page charges, at least not here. How we pay for scientific publication is super weird, but one could argue that page charges are a necessary evil: after all, someone has to pay for the costs associated with publishing scientific work. Perhaps charging the people who produce the work that will be published is not the best system, but it is the system we have. What I want to address here is what to do if  — like me — you have work to publish but no funding with which to pay for page charges. For many of us, this becomes a classic chicken-and-egg problem: if you don’t have publications in your field it is hard to attract funding, but if you don’t have funding it is hard to publish your work. Here I try to figure my way out of this chicken-and-egg problem.

I will be restricting my discussion to the fields of ecology and evolution, because those are the fields in which I have published and plan to publish. My perspective is that of a scientist at a small non-research institution in the United States: although I mention places where scientists from developing countries can receive support for publication, I am mostly concerned with where I can publish my own work.

Where can I publish for free?

There are a number of respected publications where you can publish without page charges. Below is a list of these publications, along with my brief comments on each publication:

  • Acta Oecologica: Offers a broad range of possible article types across a range of ecological subfields. (IF=1.8, J-wait-infint-16px)
  • Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, & Systematics: Only publishes review articles, very selective. (IF=16.8, J-wait-infint-16px)
  • Basic and Applied Ecology: Lots of options for different articles across a very broad range of ecological disciplines; selective but not extremely so. (IF=2.8J-wait-infint-16px)
  • Behavioral Ecology: If your work is in the relatively narrow subfield of behavioral ecology, this is a great place to publish without page charges. (IF=3.3J-wait-infint-16px)
  • Biology Letters: Articles are truly “letters” and limited to 2500 words. (IF=3.9J-wait-12-16PX)
  • Current Biology: Although most articles will not meet the standard for being of broad interest, there are no page charges and all articles become open access after one year. (IF=10.5, J-wait-infint-16px)
  • Ecological Modelling: A well-known modeling journal, selective but not very selective. (IF=2.4J-wait-infint-16px)
  • Ecology Letters: This journal has a very high rejection rate, and you must either be invited to publish a particular paper here or have your proposal approved before submitting your full manuscript. (IF=18.5J-wait-infint-16px)
  • Evolutionary Biology: Offers a broad range of possible article types across a range of evolutionary subfields; selective. (IF=2.9J-wait-infint-16px)
  • Evolutionary Ecology: If your work is at the intersection between ecology and evolution, this might be the page-charge-free journal for you. (IF=2.7J-wait-infint-16px)
  • Journal of Ecology: Offers a broad range of possible article types for work in plant ecology. (IF=6.2J-wait-infint-16px)
  • Journal of Evolutionary Biology: Offers a broad range of possible article types across a range of evolutionary subfields; selective. (IF=3.7J-wait-infint-16px)
  • Landscape Ecology: If your work is in the relatively narrow subfield of landscape ecology, this is a great place to publish without page charges. (IF=3.7J-wait-infint-16px)
  • Nature: This is a very difficult journal in which to get published, and the scope of what you can present is very limited. If you have a fairly narrow but very important discovery, you might get it published here. (IF=38.2J-wait-infint-16px)
  • Oecologia: Lots of options for different articles across a very broad range of ecological disciplines; selective but not extremely so. (IF=3.8J-wait-infint-16px)
  • Oikos: Options for both research and opinion articles; selective but not extremely so. (IF=3.9J-wait-infint-16px)
  • Population Ecology: If your work is in the relatively narrow subfield of population ecology, this is a great place to publish without page charges. (IF=2.0J-wait-infint-16px)
  • Proceedings of the Royal Society – Biological Sciences: Very selective, and requires that articles be limited to six printed pages (otherwise page charges of £200 per page apply). (IF=5.8J-wait-12-16PX)
  • Science: This is a very difficult journal in which to get published, and the scope of what you can present is very limited. If you have a fairly narrow but very important discovery, you might get it published here. (IF=33.6J-wait-infint-16px)
  • Theoretical Population Biology: Your work needs to be both theoretical and in the area of population biology, but there are no page charges here. (IF=1.9J-wait-infint-16px)
  • Trends in Ecology & Evolution: Only publishes reviews and opinions, very selective, must submit pre-proposal before submitting full manuscript. (IF=17.1J-wait-infint-16px)

A few trends become pretty clear in the list above. First of all, there are no open access journals on this list: in order to have your published work be accessible to all, you need to have funding. Proceedings of the Royal Society BBiology Letters, and Current Biology are interesting pseudo-exceptions: although they do not charge authors for publishing, they do make all the work they publish accessible to all after twelve months. If open access is important to you, these journals offer a decent compromise — if you can get your manuscript accepted.

That “if” leads us into the second trend here: these journals fall into one of two extremes, extremely selective or rather extremely obscure. Journals in which your work is likely to be widely read and cited are only free of page charges when they are very selective (and often require pre-proposals or invitations to submit a manuscript). The rest of the journals that do not charge for publications are pretty obscure, although many are great for publishing in a particular narrow subfield.

Where can I publish if I demonstrate hardship?

Many journals have page charges but will waive them to some degree and under particular circumstances. Below is a list a of journals that may allow you to publish without paying their usual page charges if you can demonstrate that you lack funding:

  • American Naturalist: Page charges are $60 per page. The American Society of Naturalists will make a grant-in-need (or a partial grant) for the costs of the first 11 pages, if none of the authors have funding for page charges, if one of the authors is a member of the ASN, and if the ASN member has not had a grant-in-need in the previous 12 months. (IF=5.3J-wait-infint-16px)
  • BMC Evolutionary Biology: Page charges are $1985. Individual waiver requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis and may be granted in cases of lack of funds. To apply for a waiver please request one during the submission process. A decision on the waiver will normally be made within two working days. Submission of the article to the journal can then be completed. (IF=4.4, J-wait-00-16px)
  • Ecological Society of America (including EcologyEcological Applications, & Ecological Monographs): Page charges are $75 per printed page. ESA members without grants, institutional monies, or personal funding may apply for a grant from Society funds by submitting the proper form to ESA Headquarters. ESA grants may cover the charges for no more than 15 pages per author per year printed in Ecology and Ecological Applications, or 21 pages per author per year printed in Ecological Monographs. (IF=6.3/4.8/8.1J-wait-infint-16px)
  • Evolution: Authors are billed $55.00 per printed page. Authors without access to funds for page charges may request a waiver by joining the Society for the Study of Evolution (SSE). As a benefit of membership, each member of the SSE is entitled to publish up to 12 black-and-white pages per year free of charge. In addition, black and white page charges are waived for Associate Editors. (IF=5.4J-wait-infint-16px)
  • Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA: $75 per page, but will accept application for waiver of page charges. Very selective and with some serious length limitations. (IF=10.6, J-wait-06-16px)
  • Public Library of Science (including PLoS ONE, PLoS Biology, PLoS Computational Biology, and PLoS Genetics): Page charges vary from $1350 to $2900. Scientists from developing countries pay a discounted rate or may publish for free. Fee waiver policy may allow authors who demonstrate inability to pay to publish for free, and publication decision is independent of ability to pay. (IF=4.2/13.5/5.9/9.4, J-wait-00-16px)

Not surprisingly, many of the journals that demand page charges are published by professional societies rather than big corporate for-profit publishers. Being a member of these professional societies is one way to avoid or at least defray some publication charges. There is tremendous variation in how the waiver process works: some publications are need-blind (you submit to PLoS journals first, and then apply for waiver of page charges after acceptance) while others consider need alongside merit (BMC Evolutionary Biology requires a waiver request before formal manuscript submission). One interesting trend here is that there is more open access amongst these journals that require page charges: if you can get the waiver, you might also get open access. All of the publications above are selective (or downright impossible to get accepted into), so with the prospect of being given some consideration of economic hardship comes more rigor in the reviewing and editing process.

Where am I out of luck?

There are a few journals for which page charges are inevitable, including these:

  • Ecology & Evolution:  Page charges are $1950. Automatic Article Publication Charge waivers and discounts will be given to authors from countries on the Waivers and Discounts List. Authors should submit a waiver or discount request during the submission of their article. (IF=1.2J-wait-00-16px)
  • Ecosphere: $1250/article for ESA members, $1500/article for nonmembers. No grants or waivers are available. (IF=n/aJ-wait-00-16px)
  • Frontiers in Ecology & the Environment: Page charges are $75 per page. No grants or waivers are available. (IF=10.1J-wait-infint-16px)

Perhaps the only way to be published in these journals if you cannot pay page charges is to be invited to publish in a special edition: sometimes invited manuscripts are not charged.

Am I selling my soul?

Looking at the list above, it is clear that the scientist without funding for page charges is not completely out of luck. If you have amazing work to publish, you will likely find acceptance at a journal that will work with your economic situation. But I think that scientists like myself who are still developing a research program face the toughest challenge, because if you do not (yet) have really exceptional work, your only real option is to publish in for-profit journals. Those with the least funding can least afford to take a stand on two important issues: i) open access; and ii) non-profit publishing. The only way to get published is to pass off your copyright to the big corporations that make information expensive to scientists, their academic institutions, and the public at large. This is an uncomfortable reality, and one that certainly adds to my existing motivation to get funding to support my research.

WARNING: This article is accurate as of August 2013;
publishing policies are rapidly evolving and therefore
the page charges described above are subject to change.

If you detect any errors in this page, please contact me.

Key to symbols used above:
IF = 5-year ISI Impact Factor on August 2013
J-wait-00-16px = Fully open access journal
J-wait-06-16px = Open access to published articles after 6 month embargo
J-wait-12-16PX = Open access to published articles after 12 month embargo
J-wait-infint-16px = Open access to published articles never provided

I do not claim that the lists above are exhaustive: there are a lot of journals out there, and what I consider important in the realms of ecology and evolution is unlikely to match up perfectly with any other scientist’s valuation. Please use the comments section below to suggest other journals that I might add to my list.

A Major Post, Ecology, Evolution, Periodicals, Professional Societies, Publication, Science as a career

10 Comments to "Where to publish in ecology & evolution without funding for page charges"

Luckinbill 14th August 2013 at 1:11 pm

Every academic not fully funded will want to see this very useful summary. Good work!

[…] me go to a 100% author pay journal. Do I not have a grant or am a student and would benefit from a 0% author pay model? I know other people have hugely strong opinions, and I respect those, but I don’t (cue […]

Tobias Jeppsson (@tobjep) 6th December 2013 at 10:22 am

The info on access for the American Naturalist is slightly inaccurate. From what I know they have a 1 year embargo, and after that the published version of the article can be posted in non-commercial repositories ( From my experience, they also allow author produced postprints before that.

Dina 20th January 2014 at 1:55 pm

Nice summary. Balanced and therefore very useful. I’ll pass this link on to my students. Thanks.

Chris Jensen 29th January 2014 at 8:15 am

I agree with Tobias’ reading of the American Naturalist author rights policy. He is pointing out a grey area that I have not really covered here, which is the issue of whether a scientist can “self-archive” her papers. Self-archiving is certainly a way of making one’s scientific work available, but is not the same as “open access”. I am mostly concerned about what it costs to publish in these journals, with open access being a secondary concern. Tobias nicely points out that there is a third concern, which revolves around the author’s right to distribute her work non-commercially.

For some great thoughts on self-archiving as a “solution” (or maybe not) to the open access problem, check out this very thorough post by Brian McGill:

Amanda Joan 12th February 2014 at 4:32 pm

Just wanted to say thank you for a great article. I am in the same boat as non-tenured faculty at a liberal arts institution that requires scholarship but does not provide much (if any) institutional support. It is a frustrating situation.

Chris Jensen 13th February 2014 at 7:59 am

I share Amanda’s frustration, although this post is my attempt to channel that frustration as positively as I can. As I back up and look at the situation faced by scientists in general, it is clear that we don’t have enough support across the board to sustain the amount of research that is demanded by our society. Those demands come from a variety of channels, but educational institutions are probably the biggest source of demand. In one sense it is great that even institutions whose chief mission is to educate undergraduates demand research from their faculty: if not, we would have a lot less valuable science available to our society. But the question is “on whose back is this extra demand for research productivity borne?“. It seems to me that increasingly the demand for research at predominantly-undergraduate institutions is met by faculty who are told they must work unsustainable hours in order to be “good enough” to keep their jobs.

Scott Collins 6th December 2014 at 1:14 pm

Your journal info is getting passed around a lot by grad students, in particular, and I find the information to be very helpful. I share your concerns about commercial publishers. Unfortunately, there is no avoiding them in the future. They govern where your journals get delivered via bundling. Publishing has real costs. So Open Access journals just pass that on to the authors (and make a profit). Independent societies like ESA can no longer be financially solvent as self-publishers. Library subscriptions decrease each year, as do individual memberships. The big publishers are like the big box stores forcing out the mom and pop operations. Academic librarians must get the most for their limited money. So a bundle buys them a lot of journals, including many no one wants. But that means under declining budgets it is the independent societies who get cut from libraries. Think of bundled journals and publishers as fixed costs and only the independents are discretionary, so that’s where the cuts come. An ugly reality.

Regarding ESA journals, they are actually GREEN open access (as noted above for Am Nat, too, but a bit better). Authors of articles in ESA journals can immediately post a pdf on their website or other source for others to download. So your red infinity sign is really not a completely accurate representation of access to articles in some journals. Perhaps you can develop a symbol for green open access vs. gold. Most of the commercial publishers are not green or gold OA without paying a substantial fee, but to me the ESA version of green is a compromise that allows societies to generate revenue and authors to distribute the products of their research.

Dan 16th January 2015 at 2:55 pm

Also of interest to those with a genetic component is the Journal of Heredity. Members of the American Genetic Association receive a free 10 page paper per year. Students memberships are $26 usd. Additional pages are $60.

[…] autor? Ou, eu não tenho uma concessão ou sou um estudante e me beneficiaria de um modelo em que o autor não paga? Eu sei que outras pessoas têm opiniões bastante fortes, e eu respeito isto, mas eu não tenho […]

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