Astronomers (and other scientists) publish their work in scientific journals. The way journals operate sometime surprises non-scientists: the authors don’t get paid by the journal to write articles or to review others’ articles. Journal staff and other production costs are paid for by some combination of:

  • subscription fees paid by individuals or (more likely) libraries
  • author page charges/open access fees
  • subsidies from scientific societies
  • advertising

Not all of these apply to all journals: many don’t have advertising, for example. They all have their good and bad points: for example, journals supported by subscription fees are not accessible without a subscription. This means that it can be difficult for someone with a rare disease to access the latest published papers on that disease without running into a paywall. The subscription fees can be very expensive and several years ago one of the richest universities in the world, Harvard, said it was having trouble keeping up.

Having members of the public be able to access the results of the research that their tax dollars pay for makes sense to a lot of people, and more and more research funding agencies have adopted mandates for open access: NSERC in Canada, Research Councils UK and NIH in the US are examples. But these generally assume that researchers are still publishing in the same journals, which often they have to do in order for their work to be judged as being high-quality. Since journals are mostly running according to the traditional publishing schemes, someone has to pay to keep their lights on. This now becomes the authors, via open access fees, which get paid from their research grants and hence leave less money for actually doing the research.

In astronomy we sidestep the open access debate to some extent: since our research isn’t likely to make anyone rich, nearly every paper published in all of our journals is available on the free-to-access arxiv system. Many of our journals also make published papers available after a certain embargo period, usually a few years. Some people have proposed that we don’t even need the journals; arxiv is enough. Lots of words on this topic have been written already; Peter Coles’ blog has some very good astronomy-specific discussion.

Until then, however, how do you know which astronomy journals have which kinds of access or fees? I couldn’t find a summary of this anywhere, so I decided to make my own. Below is what I was able to glean from the journals’ webpages – corrections are likely necessary and welcome! As far as I can tell, neither of Nature or Science offers an open-access option, which I found suprising.

Journal Publisher (as of fall 2015) Subscription fees? Page charges Open access fees** embargo
Astrophysical Journal AAS/IOP Y Aprx $90/pp N/A 1yr
Astronomical Journal AAS/IOP Y Aprx $90/pp N/A 1yr
Pub. Ast. Soc. Pacific ASP/U. Chicago Press Y $110/pp N/A 1-2yr
Monthly Notices of the RAS RAS/Oxford Y N/A GBP1450 / $2550 / Eur2175 3yr
Pub. Ast. Soc. Australia ASA/Cambridge UP Y N/A $2700 N/A
Astronomy & Astrophysics* EDP Sciences Y Eur100/pp* Eur400* 1 yr
Icarus Elsevier Y N/A $2750 2 yr
Science AAAS Y N/A N/A 1yr
Nature MacMillan Y N/A N/A N/A
Astronomy & Computing Elsevier Y N/A $2250 2 yr
New Astronomy Elsevier Y N/A $2250 2 yr
Experimental Astronomy Springer Y N/A US$3000/Eur2200 unclear
Astrophysics & Sp Sci Springer Y N/A US$3000/Eur2200 unclear
Advances in Astronomy Hindawi N N/A $1250 N/A
Int Jrnl A&A Scientific Research N N/A $999 N/A
Galaxies MDPI N N/A none in 2015 N/A

*A&A is complex: page charges are waived if the paper has a European 1st author; there is no embargo or page charges for papers in the online sections (atomic, molecular, and nuclear data, astronomical instrumentation, catalogs and data, numerical methods and codes). ** N/A in the open acess fees column means that, as far as I can tell, the journal does not offer an option for articles to be immediately open-access.

The last few of these journals are ones you have probably never heard of. They are all relatively new and may not be reputable (I am sad that a journal with an awesome name like “Galaxies” appears to be in this category). I will be very interested to see whether the Open Journal of Astrophysics gets off the ground as I think it really could be a new way of approaching scientific publishing.

[Updated 2015-09-21 with a few minor changes to the table.]