Frontiers APCs: Structure and Rationale

In the past ten years since the founding of Frontiers, Article Processing Charges (APCs) have become widely accepted as the most transparent and sustainable mechanism of supporting Open Access publishing at high quality. As the sole source of revenue, Frontiers APCs are invested to hire expert teams, provide cutting-edge technology and high-quality services to support our community journals. Frontiers now employs 370 people across 6 countries and continues to release a new version of our Open Science Platform every two weeks, allowing us to ensure quality control and scientific excellence at scale.

Experience has taught us that one APC does not fit all communities and we introduced differentiated APCs for our open-access journals two years ago. Specifically, we replaced a flat-fee structure across all Frontiers journals with a differentiated APC structure that takes into account the maturity level of a journal and differences in the level of research funding available in various disciplines. APCs went up for some journals and down for others. This allowed us to bring our formula of building widely read and highly cited impactful journals to a diverse range of academic communities, and it allowed us to subsidise many smaller and newly launched journals, ranging from life science to medicine, engineering, humanities & social sciences and most recently sustainability research.

The plan called for redistributing the APCs in two stages over a two-year period. In December 2017, we are moving forward with this second-phase APC adjustment, which concerns only the most established journals (13 Field Journals and 10 Specialty Journals), while over 30 Field Journals remain unchanged. In this way, many younger and new journals will continue to benefit from the subsidised APC.

With our differentiated APC policy, we operate based on an average APC across all journals and article types, and including fee support. In 2017, Frontiers published 19,000 articles (Jan-Nov 2017) and granted over 2,500 partial or full fee support. This means that the average APC across all Frontiers journals was US$1,685 (€1,425) in 2017. After the current adjustment, we anticipate that the average APC will rise to about US$1,950 (€1,650) over the next two years, representing a 15.7% increase. As shown in Figures 1 and 2 below, both the range and average of Frontiers APC remains highly competitive among Open Access publishers. As always, authors and institutions without sufficient funding will be eligible for full or partial fee support.

This means that we will be able to publish more great science freely available to everybody in the world. APCs support us to build scientifically excellent, widely read and highly cited journals together with our community of over 75,000 researchers on our editorial boards. The new average APC revenue will enable us to bring younger journals to this level of excellence and continue our mission to bring Open Access to all research communities.

Below we explain our APC policy in terms of its structure and expenditure in more detail. We feel that these numbers will be of interest to the community of researchers, institutions and funders, both to better understand the cost associated with quality and to be able to place our policies within the wider publishing landscape.

Frontiers APC structure

Frontiers has five categories of publishing fees, which vary according to article type, journal maturity, and differences in the level of research funding available in various disciplines.

Type A articles (Original Research, Review, Classification, Clinical Trial, Hypothesis & Theory, Mechanisms of Disease Reviews, Methods, Protocols and Technology Report) will now have a maximum APC of $2,950. This value is applied to journals that are well-established and well-supported financially by their communities. For over 30 Field Journals APCs for Type A articles remain unchanged and range between $2,490 and $1,900 for more mature journals to $1,150 and $950 for newly launched journals or such with limited funding availability.

APCs for other Type B articles, such as Case Report, Clinic-Pathological Conference (CPC), Evaluation, Images in Medicine, Mini Review and Perspective, are lower and range from $1,850 to $700 depending on the journal.

Type C articles (Code Report, Data Report, Opinion, General Commentary) are at an APC of $450 for all journals.

Type D articles are published free of charge. These include Focused Reviews, Grand Challenges, Frontiers Commentaries, Book Reviews and Editorials. Young Minds articlesour scientific outreach journal for kids, are also free of charge.

Fee support

Authors and institutions with insufficient funding are eligible for full or partial fee support for the article processing charge. There is a clear separation between funding requests and editorial decisions; fee support requests are considered independently from the outcomes of an independent and rigorous peer-review process.

Our philosophy ensures that all articles deemed worthy of publication by our review process will be published. In 2017 to date:  

  • More than 2,500 full or partial fee support have been granted to authors from 96 different countries
  • 13% of all articles — across all journals and demographics — were published with full or partial fee support. 16% of this total were granted to requests from the USA; 35% were granted to European authors.
  • The cost of fee support has increased to a total of ~US$5 million per year, an increase of 61% from 2016.

To find out more about how to receive fee support, read more here.

Frontiers APCs in context

The Frontiers APC policy supports our editorial and engineering teams to provide a world-class service at competitive prices. For the sake of benchmarking, a 2017 report commissioned by the European Commission estimates:

  • The average revenue generated by a subscription article is around  €4,000 – €5,000 per article.
  • By contrast, the average revenue generated by an Open Access article is €1,500 – €2,500.  

In 2017, the average APC of a Frontiers article was €1,425 (or US$1,685). The current APC adjustment for well established journals will consolidate the average APC across all of Frontiers at €1,650 (~US$1,950) by 2019.

Figures 1 and 2 below show APC price ranges across publishers for Hybrid Open Access in subscription journals (extra charge for making an article open access in a subscription journal) and Gold Open Access journals (fully open access journals).

Figure 1

Figure 1. (A) Ranges with average revenue per subscription article (red); range with average APCs in Hybrid Open Access journals (blue) and Gold Open Access journals (gold). (B) Maximum and Minimum APC in Gold-Hybrid Open Access journals by publisher. (C) Maximum and Minimum APC in Gold Open Access journals by publisher. Frontiers’ ranges and average are shown for 2017 and for the 2019 projected value. All converted to US$ for ease of comparison. Price ranges as found on publishers’ websites in November 2016.

figure 3

Figure 2. APC ranges for top publishers. Gold-Hybrid journal ranges are in green and Gold Open Access journals are yellow. Figure supplied by Delta Think (2016 Report, Delta Think):

What the APCs pay for in Frontiers

High quality journals — widely read, highly cited: First and foremost, the APC revenue is invested to enable our staff of 370 and external editorial boards of leading researchers to operate world-class journals on our Open Science Platform. We build and maintain multiple tools along every stage of the publication process, so that quality is upheld at scale through our rigorous peer review. The track record shows that the Frontiers formula works: Frontiers journals consistently rank among the leading journals in the world in both the 2016 Impact Factor (2016 Journals Citation Reports, Clarivate Analytics, 2017) and the 2016 CiteScore (Scopus), as reported in our annual journal reports.

The full spectrum of academia on one platform: Frontiers’ mission is to integrate the full spectrum of academic disciplines onto a single Open Science platform, thus opening exciting new possibilities in cross-disciplinary research, collaboration and education. Over the past 10 years we have expanded from our first journals in life science into the medical fields, physical sciences, engineering, humanities and social sciences and most recently sustainability research. Today, Frontiers spans over 450 academic disciplines.

The APC policy supports our Platform approach to publishing, providing numerous strategic advantages. Namely, this approach

  • Catalyses cross-disciplinary integration
  • Provides consistent peer-review standards that span disciplines
  • Allows new disciplines to emerge through Research Topics, Frontiers’ article collections on cutting edge topics, driven by a grass-roots dynamic
  • Permits authors in fields with limited research budgets to benefit from Open Access and the enhanced digital services that Frontiers offers

Digital Innovation: Frontiers is an Internet-native Open Science Platform and invests significantly into digital technologies, offering our authors, readers and editors measurable value from a large repertoire of services.

Aimed at maximising quality and impact of research articles, our award-winning platform includes our Digital Editorial Office, the Collaborative Review Forum, mechanisms for post-publication discussion, a suite of article, author and journal impact metrics, the Research Topics platform that allows for grassroots, organic launching of themed article collections, free eBook production, and Loop, which enhances discoverability and dissemination of articles and brings visibility to Frontiers authors, reviewers and editors with online profiles.

We believe digital innovation is a crucial component to fuel the Open Access transition and to allow society to maximally benefit from research. The cost of innovation is built into our APC structure.


We established our APC policy to be inclusive, transparent and effective. In the ten years of our activity, 100% of our income has been reinvested back into our mission of making science open, providing the resources to launch and build world-class journals spanning 450 academic disciplines. We believe that an average APC of about ~US$ 2’000 will provide sustainable support to empower all research communities with  high-quality Open Access publishing.

Learn more about the quality and impact of the Frontiers Journal series:

Learn more how Open Science enables research excellence :

Learn more how Open Science accelerates innovation and benefits humanity:

Learn more about Frontiers commitment to the academic community:

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