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I received the following bizarre email:

Apr 26, 2013

Dear Andrew Gelman

You are receiving this notice because you have published a paper with the American Journal of Public Health within the last few years. Currently, content on the Journal is closed access for the first 2 years after publication, and then freely accessible thereafter. On June 1, 2013, the Journal will be extending its closed-access window from 2 years to 10 years. Extending this window will close public access to your article via the Journal web portal, but public access will still be available via the National Institutes of Health PubMedCentral web portal.

If you would like to make your article available to the public for free on the Journal web portal, we are extending this limited time offer of open access at a steeply discounted rate of $1,000 per article. If interested in purchasing this access, please contact Brian Selzer, Publications Editor, at

Additionally, you may purchase a Noncommercial Common Use License (NCUL) for $500. This license enables readers to use your article for noncommercial purposes without the need to purchase permissions, and it also permits free reproduction of your article. The NCUL does NOT permit reproduction in commercial products such as book chapters or Journal articles. Permission must still be purchased for such use. If interested, please contact Brian Selzer, Publications Editor, at


Brian Selzer
Publications Editor
American Public Health Association

Huh? I guess this is the last time I will publish something in the American Journal of Public Health. How rude! I supply them with content for free (this is part of the “research and service” aspect of my job), and this is their attitude? “A steeply discounted rate,” indeed.

P.S. More here. I can’t actually remember writing anything for the AJPH and I searched their website and couldn’t find any papers by me there.


  1. Rahul says:

    Psychologically, this is interesting: When explicitly offered this option, one is annoyed. But by default, lots of journals are perpetually gated but that doesn’t attract as much anger.

    e.g. Journal of the American Statistical Association? Not even a closed-access window. No backdoor access via PubMed Central either. Funnily it didn’t even offer me the usual, ridiculously priced $35-an-article download option. Just a curt rebuff “There are no offers available at the current time.”

    Being asked to pay $1000 to “open access” an article is somehow more annoying than never being given any options and the article staying perpetually closed access.

    Or am I misreading the situation?

    • Brian says:

      I think it’s more the extending of the “window” that’s annoying.

    • Andrew says:


      It’s all just a little bit rude. They could say something like: “Thank you for freely supplying us with material that we are making money off of.” Instead we get “we are extending this limited time offer of open access at a steeply discounted rate of $1,000 per article,” as if they’re selling vacation time shares or something.

  2. Justin says:

    Even worse is that much of that research in their journal was probably funded by the taxpayer. It should be free by default.

    • Sandi says:

      If funded by the NIH, the articles are indeed free, through the public access policy mandated by NIH. It doesn’t mean they are supported on specific journal websites though- journals can lock access any way they want, but NIH funded articles–no matter what journal they’re published in–are available at:

  3. John Hall says:

    The whole system seems very silly to me. Pay the world’s greatest minds to do all this research, allow people with a university library card read it, and then massively over-charge any person outside the university who wants to read it. They do realize that it is essentially free to upload stuff to ssrn. It’s of course driven by tenure and other academic considerations. I’m not against journals as a concept, just the crazy pricing scheme.

    • Wayne says:

      The system is disturbing, and you’ve described it well: take some minimum number of credits at a university and 95% of all references (and many books, too) are at your fingertips whether on campus or off. You can actually look and decide which ones go where you need them to go. Then, POOF, you graduate or fall below some threshold and only have access to about 5% references (books not included, of course) and the rest you’d have to pay an exorbitant fee just to find out that it doesn’t deliver on what the abstract says.

      It seems to me that the publishers are setting themselves up to be iTunes’d. There’s a rapid decentralization of scholarship occurring (new countries, schools like MIT and Stanford are delivering content online for free, open source software and data sources allows direct access to tools, arXiv, etc), a growing distrust of the peer-review process in several disciplines, and a growing body of crowd-sourced alternatives to gatekeepers.

  4. jimi adams says:

    Yeah, that was a pretty unfortunate decision on the part of the APHA. I (and several of my colleagues) emailed them in response to let them know that this would be the reason we would not be submitting there in the future. Moreover, NIH recently partnered with them on a special issue in my area, and I let the editors of that special issue know the same, hoping that NIH might put some pressure on them to reconsider. I mention this to ask if you might consider also letting them know how it will impact your likelihood of submitting there in the future. I suspect hearing from folks like yourself on the matter would have more impact than mine did, but I also suspect the more such emails, the better.

  5. Frank says:

    I was going to recommend that you self-archive the article (green OA and all), but, according to SHERPA, that journal doesn’t even let you self-archive a pre-print of your article! That is about as closed as it gets.|&mode=simple&la=en&version=&source=journal&sourceid=10303

  6. That’s incredible. Dealing with people who think this is ok has got to be the worst way of “disseminating” research, short of hoarding typed copies in your damp garage.

  7. Roger says:

    Do you have a contract with them that allows them to unilaterally change terms later? I would think that you could post the paper without any negative repercussions.

    • Rahul says:

      Are there anecdotes of anyone getting a take-down request by the publisher for posting a pre/post-print online? I wonder.

      Do the journals police this?

  8. konrad says:

    Would it be possible to retract the article at this point? If so, would it then be possible to self-publish an essentially identical version on archiv (with a note explaining the history)?

  9. rlrogers says:

    I have heard of journals issuing take-down requests or (more often) barring publication because of pre-prints in databases like ArXiv, but that is rare. Many copyright agreements say you have the right to share pdfs with colleagues and some specifically state their policy with respect to posting on your personal website.

    I would dig up the copyright form that you signed when your paper was published and see if it explicitly states the paywall window. YOU are legally not allowed to suddenly change the paywall timepoints on your own (you would be sued) and they should not be able to either, unless of course you signed a blanket statement that gives all rights to the publisher under all circumstances in all formats. It depends on the journal whether or not you signed all rights away, and I’d recommend in the future finding a way to avoid that if possible.

    At many journals changing the open access window post publication would be a violation of contracts.

    • Justin says:

      Assuming the journals have a half decent lawyer writing their contracts, they probably have a clause allowing them to change terms later. It’s fairly standard in many other contracts where it’s big company vs little guy.