If you are interested in making your work open access you have a variety of options. You can choose to publish with an open access journal, or self-archive your work on a subject or an institutional repository. Note that all publishers have different policies on this, and that you have room to negotiate for your own requirements.
If you’re interested in open access but unsure of where to start, talk your subject specialist librarian. They can help guide you to good journals, and discuss scholarly communication trends in your discipline.
If you’re not used to the idea, being asked to pay any fee can seem like a scam or like you’re bribing a publisher to publish you. That’s just not the case for the majority of open access journals. Even many subscription journals charge page fees to authors, so it’s not unique to open access.
Traditionally, journals were funded by subscriptions paid by libraries, individuals, as well as institutional or grant funding. While that is still the prevalent model, the price of journals—particularly online access through databases—has far outstripped inflation, and leaves many libraries struggling to pay for access. Open access journals are often still funded by institutions or grants, and do not charge publication fees. This is more common in certain disciplines, but you can find open access journals across the board that don’t require a fee.
In others, the journal does charge a fee that goes to the cost of editing, layout, web hosting, and the other costs built into running a journal. This has the added benefit of making the article available to anyone, even those without access to libraries who can subscribe to journals. This is called “gold” open access.
Note that this term is also used for commercial publishers who charge fees for making articles available open access in a subscription journal. Since 2012, this practice has become extremely common as more and more funding bodies, particularly federal grants, require that work be made open access within a designated time period. Commercial publishers often have an embargo on making work open access that exceeds the grant requirements, and so the only way the author can comply with the funder is to pay the open access fee. These certainly can be written into research grants, but you will need to be thinking about this far in advance of publication in that case.
Some open access journals offer a fee waiver program if you wouldn’t be able to pay the fee (example PLOS). You can see a real-life example of how someone manages to make work open access at the NeuroDojo blog. If you work in biological or medical sciences, PeerJ provides an innovative model with a lifetime publication fee starting at $99.
Be wary of publication fees when you haven’t been told up front what the fee is.
This term was popularized by librarian Jeffrey Beall to describe publishers that provide little or no peer review or editorial oversight, and charge high publication fees (particularly if these are not stated up front). A controversial but influential 2013 investigation by John Bohannon for Science found that a number of journals listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals accepted a low quality scientific paper for payment of a fee. Note that this investigation only looked at open access journals, so there is no way to compare to other low quality subscription journals. Nevertheless, by the time this report came out, the Directory of Open Access had already begun an initiative to improve the quality of their listings by requiring all publishers to reapply for inclusion of their journals with stricter standards. This initiative is now complete, and means that you will be able to trust it as a source for determining information about a journal.
For Further Reading
Bohannon, John. “Who’s Afraid of Peer Review?” Science 342, no. 6154 (October 4, 2013): 60–65. doi:10.1126/science.342.6154.60. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/342/6154/60.
Heller, Margaret. "A Clean House at the Directory of Open Access Journals." ACRL TechConnect Blog. (November 30, 2015). http://acrl.ala.org/techconnect/post/a-clean-house-at-the-directory-of-open-access-journals.