A new report published by Springer Nature indicates that a better understanding of the sources of funding for article processing charges (APCs) could accelerate the transition to open access (OA) publishing. “APCs in the wild” refer to those APCs that are funded from sources that cannot easily be identified or tracked, in other words, those funding streams that fall outside of centrally managed library or institution budgets. The whitepaper draws on data from a survey of over 1000 Springer Nature authors, as well as 16 interviews with representatives from institutions. The goal of the research was to explore the scale of “wild” funding streams and their impact on the transition to OA publishing.

Key findings:

·       APC funding is complex; authors use a wide range of funding sources, often in combination.

·       Monitoring of APC funding streams is challenging because many APCs are still “in the wild”, particularly for fully OA journals.

·       Over a quarter of Springer Nature authors surveyed only used “wild” funding sources for their APC. A further 50% combined a “wild” APC source with funds from more easily monitored sources. 

·       The level of APC “wildness” also varies regionally as different OA policies and funding mechanisms have created different landscapes.

·       Over 50% of authors are not confident that their APCs could be monitored by their institution.

“Overall the findings of this report indicate that institutions could benefit from a more comprehensive view of APC funding sources in order to effect a faster transition to OA,” explained Jessica Monaghan, Head of Policy and Performance, Open Access at Springer Nature. “Our survey shows that authors are often drawing on funds from outside the library budget in order to cover APCs, including from their research funders and from ad hoc institutional budgets. We see a real opportunity for institutions to harness a complex set of funding sources, if workflows to monitor and track OA funding are put in place.”

Success stories from interviews with institutions show that APC monitoring is achievable. For example, some institutions are able to monitor the majority of their APCs “in the wild” through policies that require authors to contact the library for advice about OA funding options on acceptance of their article for publication. Other institutions have created financial workflows that allow for identification of APCs via accounting codes. However, both these approaches require a high level of coordination, as well as investment in resources.

The interviews further acknowledge the role of publisher OA agreements, such as transformative agreements, in helping to reduce the administrative burden both for institutions and authors by centralising funding streams. By reviewing the complex funding landscape, and by improving monitoring and tracking of funds from outside of the library (including from research grants), it may be possible to utilise these combined funds for publisher OA agreements, or to create central funds for OA. 

Carrie Webster, Vice President of Open Access at Springer Nature said: “We are committed to enabling a faster transition to OA, and we are focusing specifically on working through the barriers that limit this transition. Our findings indicate that there is opportunity to better understand APC expenditure and through effective monitoring and mechanisms, harness this complex set of funding sources – including those ‘in the wild’, to better enable these funding streams to finance OA at scale.” 

Springer Nature plans to conduct further research to identify APC monitoring blockers and enablers with the aim of gaining a global picture of institutional activity.