The AAS goes for Gold

Yesterday there was a big announcement from the American Astronomical Society (AAS) , namely that all its journals will switch to Open Access from 1st January 2022. This transition will affect the Astronomical Journal (AJ), the Astrophysical Journal (ApJ), Astrophysical Journal Letters (ApJL), and the Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series (ApJS). Previously authors were able to opt for Open Access but from next year it will apply to all papers.

The positive aspect to this change is that it makes articles published by the AAS freely available to the public and other scientists without requiring the payment of a subscription.

On the other hand, these journals will require authors to pay a hefty sum, equivalent to an Article Processing Charge (APC), that increases with the length and complexity of a paper. AAS journals have in the past levied “page charges” from authors for standard (non-OA) publications. In the new regime these are merged into a unified scheme. Here is a summary of the rates.

What’s on offer is therefore a form of Gold Open Access that switches the cost of publication from subscribers to authors. In my view this level of APC is excessive, which is why I call this Fool’s Gold Open Access. Although the AAS is a not-for-profit organization, its journals are published by the Institute of Physics Publishing which is a definitely-for-profit organization.

The Open Journal of Astrophysics charges neither subscribers nor authors; this form of Open Access is usually called Diamond or Platinum Open Access.

The terminology surrounding Open Access is confusing not least because its usage is evolving. In the current jargon, “Gold” Open Access refers to publication that is free to access at the journal. The principal alternative is “Green” Open Access, which means that free access is offered through depositing the paper in some form of repository separate from the journal. Some astronomical journals allow authors to deposit their articles on arXiv, for example, which is probably the main way in which astrophysicists achieve Green Open Access.

Nowadays “Gold” Open Access refers to anything that is made available freely by a journal regardless of whether an APC is charged or not. The Diamond Open Access provided by the Open Journal of Astrophysics is thus a special case of Gold Open Access. A classification in which Diamond and Platinum are subdivisions of Gold must confuse the heck out of chemists, but that’s where we are at the moment. At least it’s not as bad as in astrophysics where the only terms used to describe chemical elements are hydrogen, helium and “metals”…

While I am glad to see the AAS move its journals into Open Access configurations, I can’t agree with the level of APC. The Open Journal of Astrophysics may be relatively small but it has plenty of capacity for growth while remaining entirely free. The more people realize that it costs tens of dollars rather than thousands to publish a paper the more likely it is that they’ll see the moral case for Diamond Open Access.

8 Responses to “The AAS goes for Gold”

  1. One of the things that annoys me is calling it Article Processing Charge. Authors write the papers and typeset them. Referees read the papers and comment on them at no charge. How long does it actually take a journal to ‘process’ an article?

  2. ApJL in particular is very expensive. The new price for short articles is more than three times the current non-OA charges. I would think that is enough to turn people away from publishing there, but I’ve noticed that some people (in the US at least) seem to hold ApJL in strangely high regard.

  3. These are very high rates, and not everyone is able to pay these. Astronomers in developing countries are finding it difficult to publish. I also wonder what the point of ApJL is, other than making much more money for the publishers?

    • To be fair they do have a waiver scheme for authors who can’t pay. But why should anyone pay this much?

    • Historically it was for ‘faster’ publication than ApJ, aimed at research which was particularly important to disseminate quickly given its likely impact on the field. Would take months for an ApJ paper to appear; only weeks for ApJL.

      Of course now that everything is on-line that argument no longer applies, you would imagine….

      • telescoper Says:

        Indeed. I think some astronomers in the USA like to think ApJL is of the same level of prestige as PRL.

  4. Anton Garrett Says:

    Good. The effect of this will be to put more papers the way of OJA and the like.

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