Counting the Cost: A Report on APC-supported Open Access Publishing in a Research Library

Mark P. Newton1, Eva T. Cunningham2, Kerri O’Connell3
Center for Digital Research and Scholarship
Columbia University Libraries/Information Services

Article accepted (September 10, 2014) for publication in the November 2014 Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication, special issue on library publishing.


At one-hundred twenty-two articles published, the open access journal Tremor and other Hyperkinetic Movements (, ISSN: 2160-8288), is growing its readership and expanding its influence among patients, clinicians, researchers, and the general public interested in issues of non-Parkinsonian tremor disorders. Among the characteristics that set the journal apart from similar publications, Tremor is published in partnership with the library-based publications program at Columbia University’s Center for Digital Research and Scholarship (CDRS). The production of Tremor in conjunction with its editor, a researching faculty member, clinician, and epidemiologist at the Columbia University Medical Center, has pioneered several new workflows at CDRS: article-charge processing, coordination of vendor services, integration into PubMed Central, administration of publication scholarships granted through a patient-advocacy organization, and open source platform development among them.

Open access publishing ventures in libraries often strive for lean operations by attempting to capitalize on the scholarly impact available through the use of templated and turnkey publication systems. For CDRS, production on Tremor has provided opportunity to build operational capacity for more involved publication needs. The following report introduces a framework and account of the costs of producing such a publication as a guide to library and other non-traditional publishing operations interested in gauging the necessary investments. Following a review of the literature published to date on the costs of open access publishing and of the practice of journal publishing in academic libraries, the authors present a brief history of the Tremor and a tabulation of the costs and expenditure of effort by library staff in production. Although producing Tremor has been more expensive than other partner publications in the center's portfolio, the experiences have improved the library's capacity for addressing more challenging projects, and developments for Tremor have already begun to be applied to other journals.


Tremor and Other Hyperkinetic Movements (Tremor), a peer-reviewed, open-access medical journal publishing original research, case studies, and reviews on non-Parkinsonian tremor disorders, is produced at the Columbia University Libraries/Information Services (CUL/IS) through the publications partnership program developed at the Center for Digital Research and Scholarship (CDRS) (Maughan Perry 2011) (; Among peer publications, Tremor is unique both for its affiliation with a library-based publishing program as well as for its business model: open access content (both libre and gratis) supported through article processing chargebacks to authors. Since its launch in 2011, Tremor has experienced escalation in growth, reputation, and supporting services through the partnership between CDRS, which handles journal production, and the journal's editor-in-chief, who executes editorial oversight in connection with Tremor's editorial board. At one-hundred twenty-two articles published, Tremor is a qualified success in the eyes of these partners. At the outset, the partners leaned heavily on their collective experiences to establish baselines for production workflow efficiency and APC price points. In the years since, much real-world data on the allocation of personnel and costs of production have become available. The experience has proved instructive and speaks to the increasing potential of scholarly publishing programs in research libraries, particularly at CDRS. An examination of the monetary expenditures and personnel investments made in realizing that potential answers implicit questions about the costs of those advancements.

Literature Review

There is a significant amount of literature written on open access journal publication, including work that focuses on OA models that employ article processing charges (APCs) to finance publication. OA journals are most prominent in the science, technology, and medicine (STM) fields, where they are most commonly funded by APCs (Solomon 2012). In 2010, Björk, et al. found that within these particular fields, “The weighted average OA availability over all [STM] disciplines was 20.4%.” Among life sciences journals, gold OA (immediate, free access to a publication) is more prevalent than green OA publishing (self-archiving a version of a