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PLOS Community Action Publishing (CAP) FAQs 

About PLOS Community Action Publishing

Collective action is predicated on the assumption that entities that work together as a group – or collective – can achieve outcomes more effectively than working individually. Collective action, an economic, political, and sociological concept was enshrined in the work of Mancur Olson in his book The Logic of Collective Action. Common examples of “collectives” include condominium cooperatives, farm cooperatives, unions, academic library consortia, some forms of insurance and many more.

In the case of PLOS Medicine and PLOS Biology, the community goal is to cover the costs of the journals (plus a 10% capped margin) by equitably distributing cost, rather than have individual authors pay the high APCs required to cover the cost highly selective publishing. Members of the collective receive the “private benefit” of publishing in both journals with no fees. Authors from non-member institutions are subject to “non-member fees” which increase considerably year-on-year to encourage participation in the collective.

With the PLOS CAP model, any revenue above the targets is redistributed to community members at renewal.

The goal of this model is to use an alternative business model – “collective action” – to:

  • Demonstrate that highly selective Open Access journal publishing can cover its costs without charging high APCs, or indeed any APCs 
  • Equitably distribute cost amongst institutions that publish most in those two journals 
  • Cap revenue and redistribute community fees amongst community members when revenue target is reached


Collective action is predicated on the assumption that entities that work together as a group – or collective – can achieve outcomes more effectively than working individually. Collective action as an economic, political, and sociological concept was enshrined in the work of Mancur Olson in his book The Logic of Collective Action. Common examples of “collectives” include condominium cooperatives, farm cooperatives, unions, academic library consortia, some forms of insurance and many more.

In the case of PLOS Medicine and PLOS Biology, the community goal is to cover the costs of the journals (plus a 10% capped margin) by equitably distributing cost, rather than have individual authors pay the high APCs required to cover the cost of highly selective publishing. Members of the collective receive the “private benefit” of publishing in both journals with no fees. Authors from non-member institutions are subject to “non-member fees” which increase considerably year-on-year to encourage participation in the collective.

With the PLOS CAP mode, any revenue above the targets is redistributed to community members at renewal.

  • CAP focuses on making selectivity financially sustainable, NOT on revenue maximization. This means that additional revenue over and above the revenue target is redistributed to Community Action members at renewal. 
  • The model is an entirely new method for funding highly selective journals. 
  • CAP considers both corresponding and contributing author contributions in calculating publishing activity. 
  • Institutions – not PLOS – drive the transition timeline by the speed in which they join the communities. 
  • CAP integrates so-called “Read” institutions (addressing the larger concerns about “Read” institutions potentially exiting the publishing ecosystem when they no longer have to pay to read content) by recognizing the contributions/cost represented by institutions who only ever publish as contributing authors but never corresponding authors. 

This model is different from a subscription in that:

  • It covers the cost of publishing content not reading content. 
  • It transparently links fees and tiers. Historically subscription models have never been fully transparent about what constitutes the basis for their fees. 
  • The margin is capped because the goal is sustainable selective publishing – NOT revenue maximization. 
    • Revenues return to community members at renewal if/when the group achieves the revenue target. PLOS does not keep additional revenue above the target.
PLOS Biology PLOS Medicine 
Direct + Indirect Costs$1,997,015Direct + Indirect Costs$1,422,930
10% operating margin$199,70010% operating margin$142,295
Community Cost Recovery Target $2,196,715Community Cost Recovery Target$1,565,225


These are publicly available on the PLOS website at https://plos.org/resources/community-action-publishing/ and progress towards these targets will be reported annually.

While community fees alone could achieve the target, it is more realistic that community fees and non-member fees together will achieve the target since 100% participation in each community is unlikely. 

Any additional revenue above the revenue target will be redistributed to community members in the form of reduced fees the following year.  

There are two main reasons: one mission-driven, the other practical: 

  • Mission considerations: PLOS has always been deeply committed to reforming and reimagining the current practice of research assessment to focus less on individual proxy metrics for impact and more on the actual contributions of authors to research. Focusing on corresponding authors – indeed, building entire business models around their designations – further reinscribes the privileged position of corresponding authors, ignoring both the contributions of other authors and the benefits they receive when publishing.  
  • Practical considerations: Including contributing authors in the model is a key step to highlighting their roles in the research process and ensuring institutions are covering that cost. 

By including contributing authors, the PLOS Community Action Publishing model begins the process of integrating so-called “Read” institutions into “publishing-based” models. Institutions that are affiliated with contributing authors but never corresponding authors “exit” business models focused on corresponding author designation. Their money goes with them. 

  • Given the well-articulated concerns about the shift-to-OA placing undue burden on research intensive institutions to carry the costs for all academic publishing (while read institutions read for free), finding novel ways of integrating these institutions fairly is an important step in evolving business models.   

Community Action Publishing is currently only available for PLOS Biology and PLOS Medicine. However, each of our other journals offers a flat fee model for institutions who want to eliminate APCs for their authors publishing in any PLOS journal.

PLOS is currently experimenting with different models for several reasons:

1. Diversity in multiple models allows PLOS experiment in a financially sustainable way.

2. We prefer to iterate in small steps, focusing on addressing specific problems. In the case of community action publishing, we’re addressing the high cost of APCs for highly selective journals. In the case of the flat fee model for the other five journals, we’re focusing on high administrative overhead of managing many APCs (which is why PLOS ONE – our biggest journal – is part of that model).

3. Experimentation with two models simultaneously allows us to compare results, gather customer and market feedback in real time, report to the marketplace in real time, and iterate as changes need to be made – all without “putting all our eggs in one basket”.

No. PLOS intentionally cross-subsidizes the PLOS Medicine and PLOS Biology APCs to keep them lower than the “true APC” (the APC value that would actually cover cost). This is the problem with funding highly selective OA journals with APCs. They typically have to be very high APCs to cover cost. This is why we’re piloting the collective action model.

Highly selective journals have high publishing costs due to high rejection rates and bespoke author services. To make these articles Open Access using individual article processing charges (APCs), the resulting APCs are usually very high ($5K USD or more).

Rather than charge the costly “true APC” that would cover the cost of publishing in those journals (~$6100 USD for PLOS Medicine and ~$5400 for PLOS Biology), we have historically deflated the APC to make it more affordable. With the PLOS Community Action Publishing effort, we will eliminate APCs altogether.

Member fees

The pilot term is January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2023

 MED FeeBIO Fee
Tier 1$37,950$36,305
Tier 2$23,100$27,060
Tier 3$18,480$23,290
Tier 4$12,375$19,525
Tier 5$7,920$14,045
Tier 6$5,445$10,275
Tier 7$3,960$7,880
Tier 8$2,640$5,480
Tier 9$1,650$3,425
Tier 10$990$2,055
Tier 11$660$1,370
Tier 12$330$685

Fees included in your proposal are for a one year commitment. If you wish to commit to more than one year, please request multi-year pricing.

The fees for participating in the PLOS CAP communities for PLOS Biology and PLOS Medicine are based on an institution’s projected average annual publishing activity in each of the journals.

How ‘publishing activity’ is calculated: The projected average annual publishing activity for each institution is calculated based on the number of articles for which an author affiliated with the institution was a corresponding author or a contributing author. In calculating the activity, contributing-author articles have been weighed at half that of those for corresponding authors.

To facilitate fee modeling, each
institution’s average publishing activity has been adjusted to reflect a projected increase in future publishing activity (an 84% increase for PLOS Biology and a 65% increase for PLOS Medicine). However, this adjustment does not change the level of an institution’s publishing activity relative to other institutions or affect the relative fee for each institution. The activity reflects the annual average over 5.75 years of publishing.

How tiers are set: The tiers have been set so that, to the extent possible, the difference in activity between one tier and the next is relatively uniform. The natural distribution of activity over 12 tiers yields the activity ranges for each journal shown in the table on the left.

Neither institutions nor authors are counted. Rather, we total publication activity for a given institution from 2014 – Q3 2019. The model evaluates how often an institution was affiliated with both corresponding and contributing authors, assigns a weighting to both activities. That total “publishing activity” then determines tier assignments.

No, CAP tiering and fees are not related to APCs. There is no relationship between the APCs that authors have paid historically and the fees structure of CAP. Intentionally decoupling cost-per-article from the fees structure is one innovation of this model. 

Fees are based on historical publishing activity (in both the corresponding and contributing author positions from 2014-Q3 2019) relative to the total revenue target to be covered by the group and certain uptake assumptions of how many institutions will join each community and when they’ll join.

Publishing activity is counted by determining the number of times an institution was associated with a corresponding author AND the number of times an institution was associated with contributing authors. Papers where the institution is affiliated with the corresponding authors are weighted as 1 article and papers where the institution is affiliated with the contributing author are weighted as ½ article. (Multiple contributing authors from the same institutions are counted only once). 

  • Example: University XYZ has published 10 papers in PLOS Medicine between 2014-Q3-2019. Six of those papers were affiliated with corresponding authors and four were affiliated contributing authors. UXYZ thus had eight “publishing activities” in the time period evaluated since the six papers each count as “one” publishing activity and the four contributing author papers count as two publishing activities (4 papers x ½).

The PLOS CAP pilot is three years from Jan 1, 2021-Dec 31, 2023. We plan on re-tiering all institutions publishing in both journals every three years (barring any major changes recommended by communities’ members). Mid-year 2023, PLOS will recalculate publishing activity (over a rolling 6 year period) for any institutions affiliated with corresponding or contributing authors in either journal. The revised tiers and fees will then be applied to the 2024-2026 period. We will be soliciting feedback annually from community members on the model as well as monitoring publishing activity for both journals to ensure the tiers are optimized to member savings and PLOS cost recovery targets.

We wanted to use as broad a time period as we could to mitigate against publishing activity fluctuations year-over-year. We chose to go back as far as 2014 but could not wait until the end of 2019 so we went ahead and used three quarters of 2019 on top of 2014-2018.

The margin is additional revenue on top of direct and indirect costs needed to reinvest in the journals. Merely covering cost with no “surplus” risks the journals financial sustainability. That said, PLOS is capping the margins on both journals because we have determined that 10% is sufficient for reinvestment. Additional revenue is unnecessary as we are not trying to grow the journals for revenue’s sake. Therefore, we will return any revenue above the target to the PLOS Community members at renewal.

Yes. Tiers and fees are recalculated once every three years. Tiers/fees will be remodeled in the summer of 2023 for the second pilot period starting in 2024.

Participating in CAP

Any institution may participate in one or both PLOS Communities. If institutions have a prior publishing history with either journal (either affiliated with corresponding or contributing authors in anything published from 2014 through Q3 of 2019) PLOS has already assigned it a tier and fees based on that publishing activity. Contact institutionalaccounts@plos.org for fees or visit the PLOS CAP website at plos.org/resources/for-institutions

Institutions with no prior publishing history during the time period evaluated are welcome to join at the lowest tier fees in both PLOS Communities.

There are two independent communities.

No. An institution may join either community independently.

PLOS is not engaging in the “transactional discounting” often associated with traditional consortial agreements because this is a collective and changes in what one entity pays directly impact everyone else’s costs. The fairness and transparency of the model go away with transactional discounting.

However, we will offer discounts for entities that can minimize our administrative burden. For consortia paying through one invoice (who have no other agreements with PLOS) we are offering a 1% discount.

Read institutions are included in various ways in this model:

1. By including the affiliations of contributing authors as well as corresponding authors, the model integrates institutions that only ever publish as contributors and never lead authors and consequently fall into the “read” category in many models. See the FAQ above “Why does the model include contributing author affiliations?”

2. Any institution with no historical publishing history in either journal during the period we evaluated (2014- Q3 2019) are considered “read” institutions and can participate at the lowest tier of either community. Participation acts as “insurance” in the event that your authors do choose to publish either as corresponding or contributing authors in future.

No, you can enter and leave the PLOS Community at will. However, three years is the ideal commitment period as we work together to build both publishing communities.

  • Your corresponding authors will be exposed to the increased non-member fees after a period of paying no fees
  • The time to transition away from APCs takes longer (as the speed and consistency of institutional agreements drives the transition)
  • Other members of the PLOS Community may see increased costs
  • You may be ineligible for redistribution of funds when revenues exceed the Community target
  • You will not receive a refund as your authors will still benefit if their articles are published during the term for which you paid

Yes, institutions with no publishing history are welcome to participate at the lowest tier for each community.

Participation acts as “insurance” in the event that one of your authors wants to publish as a contributing author or corresponding during the pilot period. The annual fee is considerably less than non-member fees in most cases.

Several funders have indicated interest in participating. We are working with them to determine the best way for them to participate, enabling the PLOS Community to more quickly achieve its revenue target. We will communicate when/how/if funders will participate upon confirmation.

Technically collectives fail when the shared goal can’t be achieved due to individual actors undercutting the collective’s efficacy as a group – the so-called “free rider” problem. PLOS mitigates against this risk by creating an alternative, parallel revenue stream (non-member fees) that allows for slower PLOS Community Action Publishing uptake and/or variable participation. Non-member fees ensure that authors from non-member institutions are still contributing to each journals’ financial sustainability.

No. Their authors are simply charged non-member fees. See the table below:

Non-member Fees by Year202120222023
Biology$4,000$5,300$5,500
Medicine$4,000$5,300$6,300

Author non-member fees

As of January 1, 2021, neither PLOS Biology nor PLOS Medicine will have APCs. Instead, Community Action Publishing fees and non-member fees will cover the publishing costs.

Authors from institutions who are not members of the communities will be subject to the following non-member fees.

Non-member Fees by Year202120222023
Biology$4,000$5,300$5,500
Medicine$4,000$5,300$6,300

Currently, no. Assuming we see the level of uptake required to make the model feasible, we intend to ONLY charge corresponding authors non-member fees.

These are the current submission scenarios for 2021-2023:

1. All corresponding and contributing authors are members – No non-member fees.

2. Corresponding author is a member but some/all contributing authors are not – No non-member fees.

3. Corresponding author is NOT a member but some/all contributing authors are members – Corresponding author is subject to the non-member fee for that year with a 25% discount thanks to the contributing author member(s) status.

4. Neither corresponding author nor contributing authors are members – Full non-member fee

  • Corresponding authors whose institutions are not PLOS Community Action Publishing members who are published in either journal are subject to non-member fees during the transition period (see table above). If they are unable to pay non-member fees, they may apply for waivers as per the standard fee-waiver mechanisms offered by PLOS. See PLOS Publication Fees.

    • For the PLOS Biology and PLOS Medicine Communities, Research 4 Life countries are automatically members of each community and researchers will never be subject to fees.
    • Additionally, their institutions will be contacted post-submission, pre-acceptance to encourage them to join the relevant PLOS Community to help their authors avoid fees. If they join before article acceptance, the corresponding author will not be subject to APCs.
    • PLOS historically spends between $1.5- $3M USD annually to support waiver requests from authors who cannot pay fees. Moving to non-APC models allow us to reduce the number of waivers we need to cover while ensuring authors are still able to publish with PLOS.

If an author associated with a secondary publish institution (an institution that has only been affiliated with co-authors but never corresponding authors) publishes as a corresponding author for the first time, they will see no non-member fees. Their participation in the PLOS Community effectively acts like insurance and significantly saves the institution and author on non-member fees. When it comes time for renewal, all institutions’ tiers will be recalculated based on publication trends from 2020-2022 (most likely – we have to confirm how many year’s we’ll evaluate) and any secondary publish institutions that publish as corresponding authors during that period will move into the “primary publish” institutional group.

Participation acts as “insurance” in the event that one of your authors wants to publish as a contributing author or corresponding during the pilot period. The annual fee is considerably less than non-member fees in most cases.

Authors will still receive membership benefits if their articles are published during the term for which the institution has already paid (institutions will not receive a refund for a partial term). After the end of the term, corresponding authors will be subject to the non-member fees of that year.

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