Developing a globally fair pricing model for Open Access academic publishing

cOAlition S is seeking to engage the services of a consultant to explore how a globally fair pricing system for academic publishing could be devised and implemented. The European Science Foundation, which hosts the cOAlition S office, will award the contract on behalf of cOAlition S.

cOAlition S is participating with  UNESCO, the International Science Council (ISC), the Open Access 2020 Initiative (OA2020), Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL), the Association of African Universities, and Science Europe in organising a series of workshops on global equity in Open Access publishing. The first of these workshops focused on viewpoints from Europe and Africa, and participants formulated a variety of proposals, including a call for publishers to adopt more equitable practices, including but not limited to transparent pricing of Open Access publishing services based on purchasing power parity (PPP).

As a follow-up to the workshop, cOAlition S wishes to commission a study to explore how a globally fair pricing system for academic publishing could be devised and implemented. We will work with our partners in the Global Equity Workshop in taking this forward.

The key objective of this study is to identify ways in which readers and producers of scholarly publications (or their proxies, namely research funders and universities, could financially contribute to supporting the academic publishing services valued by their research communities as a function of their means in a manner that is globally equitable and sustainable.

From subscription to producer-pays

As observed by Osman & Rooryck (2022), the transition of academic publishing from the subscription model to Open Access shifts payments for publishing services from readers to producers of knowledge. Although this transition makes publications accessible to readers globally, many authors and institutions worldwide do not have access to publishing in journals whose prices they cannot afford.


The current pricing practices in open access publishing models where costs are borne by the producers of knowledge – authors, funders, or universities – do not currently serve regional and global equity, as they do not reflect equitable standards such as local purchasing power.

For example, APCs paid for Open Access articles are priced at an identical level for customers irrespective of their geographic location, unlike other products and services with a global reach that are typically priced as a function of local purchasing power. Global products and services tend to cost what the local market can bear. It is unclear why payments for open access publishing services do not.

Admittedly, some researchers facing APC payments may qualify for waivers, but there is no globally agreed way for publishers to handle waivers. Moreover, they are perceived as patronizing and neocolonial. They are an in-or-out mechanism unilaterally controlled by the publishers, and do not afford any agency to recipients. Summing up, the current system for meeting the costs of academic publishing is both regionally and globally inequitable.

Globally fair payment for academic publishing

cOAlition S funders are committed to fair and transparent open access fees and encourage the diversity of open access business models (Principle 5 of Plan S). There is a need to transition towards a globally agreed system of payment for academic publishing services that is fair, equitable, and transparent.

It should be fair in guaranteeing payment of a reasonable price for clearly defined services. It should be equitable by taking into account the ratio of readers and authors as well as their local purchasing power for any contributing country or institution. It should be transparent in making clear the criteria for inclusion in a specific pricing tier.

The objective of the study for tender is to explore the current pricing and distribution of costs of academic publishing and explore alternative pricing models that are fair and transparent and that enable global participation and equitable cost distribution. Special consideration should be given to the Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) model, which Osman & Rooryck (2022) suggested as a potential model for devising an equitable pricing model for academic publishing.

Responding to this call

An outline of the key tasks, deliverables, and available budget, along with an application template is available here. Those who wish to apply for this consultancy should send the completed template (Annex A) to no later than Monday, 13th March 2023, at 09.00 GMT.