Open access

Open access
Open Access logo, originally designed by Public Library of Science

Open access (OA) refers to unrestricted access via the Internet to articles published in scholarly journals, and also increasingly to book chapters or monographs.[1]

Open Access comes in two degrees: Gratis OA is no-cost online access, while Libre OA is Gratis OA plus some additional usage rights.[2]

Open content is similar to OA, but usually includes the right to modify the work, whereas in scholarly publishing it is usual to keep an article's content intact and to associate it with a fixed author or fixed group of authors. Creative Commons licenses can be used to specify usage rights. The Open Access idea can also be extended to the learning objects and resources provided in e-learning.

OA can be provided in two ways:[3]

  • Green OA Self Archiving[4] [5][6] - authors publish in any journal and then self-archive a version of the article for free public use in their institutional repository,[7] (such as the Okayama University Digital Information Repository[8]) in a central repository[9] (such as PubMed Central), or on some other OA website.[10] What is deposited is the peer-reviewed postprint -- either the author's refereed, revised final draft or the publisher's version of record. Green OA journal publishers[11] endorse immediate OA self-archiving by their authors. OA self-archiving was first formally proposed in 1994[12][13] by Stevan Harnad. However, self-archiving was already being done by computer scientists in their local FTP archives in the '80s,[14] later harvested into Citeseer. High-energy physicists have been self-archiving centrally in arXiv since 1991.

Public access to the World Wide Web became widespread in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The low-cost distribution technology has fueled the OA movement, and prompted both the Green OA self-archiving of non-OA journal articles and the creation of Gold OA journals. Conventional non-OA journals cover publishing costs through access tolls such as subscriptions, site-licenses or pay-per-view. Some non-OA journals provide OA after an embargo period of 6–12 months or longer (see "Delayed open access journals"). Active debate over the economics and reliability of various ways of providing OA continues among researchers, academics, librarians, university administrators, funding agencies, government officials, commercial publishers, and society publishers.



Adoption statistics

A study published in 2010 showed that roughly 20% of the total output of peer-reviewed articles published in 2008 could be found Openly Accessible.[17] 8.5% of the journal literature could be found free at the publishers’ sites (“Gold OA”), of which 62% in full OA journals, 14% in subscription journals making their electronic versions free after a delay, and 24% as individually open articles (against payment) in otherwise subscription journals. For an additional 11.9% of the articles free full text copies were found elsewhere (“Green OA”) in either subject-based repositories (43%), institutional repositories (24%) or on the home pages of the authors or their departments (33%). These copies were further classified into exact copies of the published article (38%), manuscripts as accepted for publishing (46%) or manuscripts as submitted (15%).

Open Access by Discipline 2009

Of all scientific fields, chemistry had the lowest overall share of OA (13%), while Earth Sciences had the highest (33%). In medicine, biochemistry and chemistry gold publishing in OA journals was more common than the author posting of manuscripts in repositories. In all other fields author-posted green copies dominated the picture.


A study on the development of publishing of Open Access journals from 1993 - 2009 [18] published in 2011 suggests that, measured both by the number of journals as well as by the increases in total article output, direct Gold OA journal publishing has seen rapid growth particularly between the years 2000 and 2009. It was estimated that there were around 19 500 articles published OA in 2000, while the number has grown to 191 850 articles in 2009. The journal count for the year 2000 is estimated to have been 740, and 4769 for 2009; numbers which show considerable growth, albeit at a more moderate pace than the article-level growth. These findings support the notion that OA journals have increased both in numbers and in average annual output over time.

Development of Open Access

The development of the number of active OA journals and the number of research articles published in them during the period 1993–2009 is shown in the figure above. If these Gold OA growth curves are extrapolated to the next two decades, the Laakso et al (Björk) curve would reach 60% in 2019, and the Springer curve would reach 60% in 2025 as shown in the figure below.[19]

Gold Open Access Growth Projections


The Registry of Open Access Repositories (ROAR [20]) indexes the creation, location and growth of open access institutional repositories and their contents. Over 1500 institutional and cross-institutional repositories have been registered in ROAR (see figure below):

ROAR Growth growth map of repositories and contents, 1 Aug 2011

The Registry of Open Access Mandatory Archiving Policies (ROARMAP [21]) is a searchable international database charting the growth of Open Access mandates adopted by universities, research institutions and research funders that require their researchers to provide open access to their peer-reviewed research articles by self-archiving them in an open access repository. To date, mandates have been adopted by over 150 universities and over 50 research funders worldwide (see figure below):

ROARMAP growth curves for green open access self-archiving mandates, 1 Aug 2011

Percent green OA self-archiving averaged for the four institutions with the oldest self-archiving mandates has been compared to the percentage for control articles from other institutions published in the same journals (for years 2002-2009, measured in 2011). OA mandates triple the percent Green OA (see figure below).[19] Respective totals are derived from Thompson Reuters ISI index:

Mandates triple self-archiving rates

Manner of distribution

Like the self-archived Green OA articles, most Gold OA journal articles are distributed via the World Wide Web,[1] due to low distribution costs, increasing reach, speed, and increasing importance for scholarly communication. Open source software is sometimes used for institutional repositories,[22] OA journal websites,[23] and other aspects of OA provision and OA publishing. Gratis OA articles are free online and Libre OA articles have limited copyright and licensing restrictions.[2]

Access to online content requires Internet access, and this distributional consideration presents physical and sometimes financial "barriers" to access. Proponents of OA argue that Internet access barriers are relatively low in many circumstances, that efforts should be made to subsidize universal Internet access, whereas pay-for-access presents a relatively high additional barrier over and above Internet access itself.

OA can be provided by traditional publishers, or under other arrangements. Some OA publishers, such as Public Library of Science (PLoS), publish only OA journals; others publish OA as well as subscription-based journals.

Methods of financing gold open access publishing

In scholarly publishing, there are many business models for OA journals. Some charge publication fees (paid by authors or by their funding agencies or employers) and some do not. Some of the no-fee journals have institutional subsidies and some do not. For more detail, see open access journals.

Roughly half[24] the Gold OA journals have author fees to cover the cost of publishing (e.g. PLoS fees vary from $1,300 to $2,850[25]) instead of reader subscription fees. Advertising revenue and/or funding from foundations and institutions are also used to provide funding.

As long as subscription publication continues to prevail (as it still does for 90% of journals today, including virtually all the top journals), the institutional funds that could potentially pay Gold OA publication fees are still locked into subscriptions to the journals that their institutional users need to access. Cancelling them is not possible unless those user access needs can be fulfilled by some alternative means of access. Meanwhile, publication costs are being paid for in full by the institutional subscriptions. So the only thing lacking is access for those users whose institutions cannot afford subscriptions. What can provide both (1) access for all users lacking it and (2) an eventual alternative means of access even for users at subscribing institutions (allowing their institutions to cancel their subscriptions and free them to pay for Gold OA publication fees) is the global adoption of Green OA self-archiving mandates by all institutions and funders.[26][27][28][29]

Authors and researchers

The main reason authors make their articles openly accessible is to maximize their research impact. A study in 2001 first reported an OA citation impact advantage,[30] and a growing number of studies[31] have confirmed, with varying degrees of methodological rigor, that an OA article is more likely to be used and cited than one behind subscription barriers.[31] For example, a 2006 study in PLoS Biology found that articles published as immediate open access in PNAS were three times more likely to be cited than non-open access papers, and were also cited more than PNAS articles that were only self-archived.[32] This result has been challenged as an artifact of authors self-selectively paying to publish their higher quality articles in hybrid OA journals,[33] whereas a 2010 study found that the OA citation advantage was equally big whether self-archiving was self-selected or mandated.[34]

Scholars are paid by research funders and/or their universities to do research; the published article is the report of the work they have done, rather than an item for commercial gain. The more the article is used, cited, applied and built upon, the better for research as well as for the researcher's career.[35][36] Similarly, the more quickly it is accessible, the better;[35] open access can reduce publication delays, an obstacle which led many research fields to traditions of widespread preprint access.[37]

Some professional organizations have encouraged use of OA: In 2001, the International Mathematical Union communicated to its members that "Open access to the mathematical literature is an important goal" and encouraged them to "[make] available electronically as much of our own work as feasible" to "[enlarge] the reservoir of freely available primary mathematical material, particularly helping scientists working without adequate library access."[38]

Authors who wish to make their work openly accessible have two options. One option is to publish in an OA journal ("Gold OA"). An open access journal may or may not charge a processing fee; open access publishing does not necessarily mean that the author has to pay. Traditionally, many academic journals levied page charges, long before open access became a possibility. When OA journals do charge processing fees, it is the author's employer or research funder who typically pays the fee, not the individual author, and many journals will waive the fee in cases of financial hardship, or for authors in less-developed countries.

The other option is author self-archiving ("Green OA"). To find out if a publisher or journal has given a green light to author self-archiving, the author can check the Publisher Copyright Policies and Self-Archiving list[39] on the SHERPA RoMEO web site. To find out by journal, the author can check the EPrints Romeo site,[40] which is derived from the SHERPA/RoMEO dataset. The EPrints site itself also provides a FAQ [41] on self-archiving. Extensive details and links can also be found in the Open Access Archivangelism blog[42] and the Eprints Open Access site.[43]

While open access is currently focused on scholarly research articles, any content creators can now decide how to make their content available and, if they wish, they can share their work openly. Creative Commons provides a number of licenses with which authors may easily indicate which uses are allowed.


For the most part, the direct users of research articles are other researchers. Open access helps researchers as readers by opening up access to articles that their libraries do not subscribe to. One of the great beneficiaries of open access may be users in developing countries,where currently some universities find it difficult to pay for subscriptions required to access the most recent journals.[44] Some schemes exist for providing subscription scientific publications to those affiliated to institutions in developing countries at little or no cost.[45] All researchers benefit from OA as no library can afford to subscribe to every scientific journal and most can only afford a small fraction of them – this is known as the serials crisis".[46]

Open access extends the reach of research beyond its immediate academic circle. An OA article can be read by anyone – a professional in the field, a researcher in another field, a journalist, a politician or civil servant, or an interested hobbyist. Indeed, a 2008 study revealed that mental health professionals are roughly twice as likely to read a relevant article if it is freely available.[47]

The Directory of Open Access Journals lists a number of peer-reviewed open access journals for browsing and searching. Open J-Gate [48] is another index of articles published in English language OA journals, peer reviewed and otherwise, which launched in 2006. Open access articles can also often be found with a web search, using any general search engine or those specialized for the scholarly/scientific literature, such as OAIster and Google Scholar. Results may include preprints that have not yet been peer reviewed, or gray literature that will remain unreviewed.

Research funders and universities

Research funding agencies and universities want to ensure that the research they fund and support in various ways has the greatest possible research impact.

Research funders are beginning to expect open access to the research they support. Forty-two of them (including all seven UK Research Councils[49]) have already adopted Green OA self-archiving mandates, and four more (including two in the US) have proposed to adopt mandates (see ROARMAP)

Canada's Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council,[50] which made a commitment to open access in October 2004, has not yet adopted or proposed a mandate but the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) proposed a mandate in 2006 and adopted it in September 2007,[51] the first North American public research funder to do so.

In May 2006, the US Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA) was proposed toward improving the NIH Public Access Policy. Besides points about making open access mandatory, to which the NIH complied in 2008, it argues to extend self-archiving to the full spectrum of major US-funded research. In addition, the FRPAA would no longer stipulate that the self-archiving must be central; the deposit can now be in the author's own institutional repository (IR). The new U.S. National Institutes of Health's Public Access Policy took effect in April 2008 and states that "all articles arising from NIH funds must be submitted to PubMed Central upon acceptance for publication".[52] It stipulates self-archiving in PubMed Central rather than in the author's own institutional repository, which some consider a strength and others a weakness.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Policy on Access to Research Outputs[53] provides a number of options to researchers, including publication in open access journals, or making their manuscripts available in an online repository such as PubMed Central Canada.

In April 2006, the European Commission[54] recommended: «EC Recommendation A1 : "Research funding agencies... should [e]stablish a European policy mandating published articles arising from EC-funded research to be available after a given time period in open access archives...». This recommendation has since been updated and strengthened by the European Research Advisory Board (EURAB).
The OpenAIRE (Open Access Infrastructure for Research in Europe) project has hence been started. The EC Open Access pilot covers about 20% of the budget of the Seventh Research Framework Programme.[55]

To somewhat improve on the EC's (and FRPAA's) allowable embargo (of up to six months), EURAB has revised the mandate: all articles must be deposited immediately upon acceptance: the allowable delay applies only to the time when access to the deposit must be made open access rather than to the time when it must be deposited. This is intended to permit individual users to use an eprint request "email eprint" button found on some archives to send a semi-automatic email message to the author requesting an individual eprint during the embargo period: This is not open access, but in the view of at least some advocates it provides for some needs during any embargo, and might help hasten the demise of embargoes altogether, while facilitating the adoption of self-archiving mandates by funders and universities.

A growing number of universities are providing institutional repositories in which their researchers can deposit their published articles. Eighty-six individual universities and eighteen faculties and departments have already adapted self-archiving mandates (including Harvard, MIT, Stanford, U. College London, U. Edinburgh) and ten further individual multi-university mandates (in Europe and Brazil) have been proposed. Eprints maintains a Registry of OA Repository Mandatory Archiving Policies (ROARMAP) and EnablingOpenScholarship (EPS) provides universities with OA policy-building.[56]

In May 2005, 16 major Dutch universities cooperatively launched DAREnet, the Digital Academic Repositories, making over 47,000 research papers available to anyone with internet access.[57] From 1 January 2007, at the completion of the DARE programme, KNAW Research Information has taken over responsibility for the DAREnet portal. On 2 June 2008, DAREnet has been incorporated into the scholarly portal NARCIS.[58] At the end of 2009, NARCIS provided access to 185,000 open access publications from all Dutch universities, KNAW, NWO and a number of scientific institutes.

Public and advocacy

Open access to scholarly research is argued to be important to the public for a number of reasons. One of the arguments for public access to the scholarly literature is that most of the research is paid for by taxpayers through government grants, who therefore have a right to access the results of what they have funded. This is one of the primary reasons for the creation of advocacy groups such as The Alliance for Taxpayer Access in the US.[59] Examples of people who might wish to read scholarly literature include individuals with medical conditions (or family members of such individuals) and serious hobbyists or 'amateur' scholars who may be interested in specialized scientific literature (e.g. amateur astronomers). Additionally, professionals in many fields may be interested in continuing education in the research literature of their field, and many businesses and academic institutions cannot afford to purchase articles from or subscriptions to much of the research literature that is published under a toll access model.

Even those who do not read scholarly articles benefit indirectly from open access.[60] For example, patients benefit when their doctor and other health care professionals have access to the latest research. As argued by open access advocates, open access speeds research progress, productivity, and knowledge translation.[61] Every researcher in the world can read an article, not just those whose library can afford to subscribe to the particular journal in which it appears. Faster discoveries benefit everyone. High school and junior college students can gain the information literacy skills critical for the knowledge age. Critics of the various open access initiatives[who?] point out that there is little evidence that a significant amount of scientific literature is currently unavailable to those who would benefit from it.[62] While no library has subscriptions to every journal that might be of benefit, virtually all published research can be acquired via interlibrary loan.[63] Note that interlibrary loan may take a day or weeks depending on the loaning library and whether they will scan and email, or mail the article. Open Access online, by contrast is faster, often immediate, making it more suitable than interlibrary loan for high paced research.

Due to the benefits of open access, many governments are considering whether or not to mandate open access to publicly funded research. However, some organizations representing publishers, such as the DC Principles group in the United States, feel that such mandates are an unwarranted governmental intrusion in the publishing marketplace. Lobbying on both sides is fierce, both for pro-OA and contra-OA.

In developing nations, open access archiving and publishing acquires a unique importance. Scientists, health care professionals, and institutions in developing nations often do not have the capital necessary to access scholarly literature, although schemes exist to give them access for little or no cost. Among the most important is HINARI,[64] the Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative, sponsored by the World Health Organization. HINARI, however, also has restrictions. For example, individual researchers may not register as users unless their institution has access,[65] and several countries that one might expect to have access do not have access at all (not even "low-cost" access) (e.g. South Africa).[65]

Many open access projects involve international collaboration. For example the SciELO (Scientific Electronic Library Online),[66] is a comprehensive approach to full open access journal publishing, involving a number of Latin American countries. Bioline International, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping publishers in developing countries is a collaboration of people in the UK, Canada, and Brazil; the Bioline International Software is used around the world. Research Papers in Economics (RePEc), is a collaborative effort of over 100 volunteers in 45 countries. The Public Knowledge Project in Canada developed the open source publishing software Open Journal Systems (OJS), which is now in use around the world, for example by the African Journals Online[67] group, and one of the most active development groups is Portuguese.

A 2004 study of open access publishing by Kristin Antelman found that in philosophy, political science, electrical and electronic engineering and mathematics, open access papers had a greater research impact.[68]

Libraries and librarians

Many librarians have been vocal and active advocates of open access. These librarians believe that open access promises to remove both the price barriers and the permission barriers that undermine library efforts to provide access to the journal literature,[69] see also the Serials crisis. Many library associations have either signed major open access declarations, or created their own. For example, the Canadian Library Association endorsed a Resolution on Open Access in June 2005.[70] Librarians also educate faculty, administrators, and others about the benefits of open access. For example, the Association of College and Research Libraries of the American Library Association has developed a Scholarly Communications Toolkit.[71] The Association of Research Libraries has documented the need for increased access to scholarly information, and was a leading founder of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC).[72]

There is question, however, as to the extent to which Open Access will solve the serials crisis. In a Nature Web Focus forum, Kate Worlock discusses whether Open Access is truly the answer to the crisis, or if it is simply an ends to a means in a world with shrinking library budgets. The argument from the publisher is that while the cost of publications have "undisputedly [sic] risen more sharply than the library budgets," the library budget is too small of a portion of the university's (in this example) overall budget at roughly 2%.[73]

At most universities, the library houses the institutional repository, which provides free access to scholarly work of the university's faculty. Some open access advocates believe that institutional repositories will play a very important role in responding to open access mandates from funders.[74] The Canadian Association of Research Libraries has a program[75] to develop institutional repositories at all Canadian university libraries.

An increasing number of libraries provide hosting services for open access journals. A recent survey by the Association of Research Libraries [76] found that 65% of surveyed libraries either are involved in journal publishing, or are planning to become involved in the very near future.


One early proponent of the publisher-pays model was the physicist Leó Szilárd. To help stem the flood of low-quality publications, he jokingly suggested in the 1940s that at the beginning of his career each scientist should be issued with 100 vouchers to pay for his papers. Closer to our own day, but still ahead of its time, was Common Knowledge. This was an attempt to share information for the good of all, the brainchild of Brower Murphy, formerly of The Library Corporation. Both Brower and Common Knowledge are recognised in the Library Microcomputer Hall of Fame.[77]

The modern Open Access movement (as a social movement) traces its history at least back to the 1960s,[citation needed] but became much more prominent in the 1990s with the advent of the Digital Age. With the spread of the Internet and the ability to copy and distribute electronic data at no cost, the arguments for open access gained new importance. The fixed cost of producing the article is separable from the minimal marginal cost of the online distribution.

Probably the earliest book publisher to provide open access was the National Academies Press, publisher for the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine, and other arms of the National Academies. They have provided free online full-text editions of their books alongside priced, printed editions since 1994, and assert that the online editions promote sales of the print editions. As of June 2006 they had more than 3,600 books up online for browsing, searching, and reading.

An explosion of interest and activity in open access journals has occurred since the 1990s, largely due to the widespread availability of Internet access. It is now possible to publish a scholarly article and also make it instantly accessible anywhere in the world where there are computers and Internet connections. The fixed cost of producing the article is separable from the minimal marginal cost of the online distribution.

These new possibilities emerged at a time when the traditional, print-based scholarly journals system was in a crisis. The number of journals and articles produced had been increasing at a steady rate; however the average cost per journal had been rising at a rate far above inflation for decades, and budgets at academic libraries have remained fairly static.[citation needed] The result was decreased access - ironically, just when technology has made almost unlimited access a very real possibility, for the first time. Libraries and librarians have played an important part in the open access movement, initially by alerting faculty and administrators to the serials crisis. The Association of Research Libraries developed the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), in 1997, an alliance of academic and research libraries and other organizations, to address the crisis and develop and promote alternatives, such as open access.

The first online-only, free-access journals (eventually to be called "open access journals") began appearing in the late 1980s. Among them was Bryn Mawr Classical Review,[78] Postmodern Culture[79] and Psycoloquy.[80]

The first free scientific online archive was, started in 1991, initially a preprint service for physicists, initiated by Paul Ginsparg. Self-archiving has become the norm in physics, with some sub-areas of physics, such as high-energy physics, having a 100% self-archiving rate. The prior existence of a "preprint culture" in high-energy physics is one major reason why arXiv has been successful.[81] arXiv now includes papers from related disciplines, such as computer science and mathematics, but computer scientists mostly self-archive on their own websites and have been doing so for even longer than physicists. (Citeseer is a computer science archive that harvests, Google-style, from distributed computer science websites and institutional repositories and contains almost twice as many papers as arxiv.) arXiv now includes postprints as well as preprints.[82] The two major physics publishers (American Physical Society and Institute of Physics Publishing) have reported that arXiv has had no effect on journal subscriptions in physics; even though the articles are freely available, usually before publication, physicists value their journals and continue to support them.[83][84]

The inventors of the Internet and the Web — computer scientists — had been self-archiving on their own FTP sites and then their websites since even earlier than the physicists, as was revealed when Citeseer began harvesting their papers in the late 1990s. The 1994 "Subversive Proposal"[85] was to extend self-archiving to all other disciplines; from it arose CogPrints (1997) and eventually the OAI-compliant generic GNU software in 2000.[86]

In 1997, the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) made Medline, the most comprehensive index to medical literature on the planet, freely available in the form of PubMed. Usage of this database increased a tenfold when it became free, strongly suggesting that prior limits on usage were impacted by lack of access. While indexes are not the main focus of the open access movement, free Medline is important in that it opened up a whole new form of use of scientific literature - by the public, not just professionals.[87] The Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR),[88] one of the first Open Access journals in medicine, was created in 1998, publishing its first issue in 1999.

In 1998, the American Scientist Open Access Forum[89] was launched (and first called the "September98 Forum").

In 1999, Harold Varmus of the NIH proposed a journal called E-biomed, intended as an open access electronic publishing platform combining a preprint server with peer-reviewed articles. E-biomed later saw light in a revised form[90] as PubMed Central, a postprint archive.

It was also in 1999 that the Open Archives Initiative and its OAI-PMH protocol for metadata harvesting was launched in order to make online archives interoperable.

In 2000, BioMed Central, a for-profit open access publisher, was launched by the then Current Science Group (the founder of the Current Opinion series, and now known as the Science Navigation Group).[91] In some ways, BioMed Central resembles Harold Varmus' original E-biomed proposal more closely than does PubMed Central.[92] BioMed Central now publishes over 170 journals.[93]

In 2001, 34,000 scholars around the world signed "An Open Letter to Scientific Publishers",[94] calling for "the establishment of an online public library that would provide the full contents of the published record of research and scholarly discourse in medicine and the life sciences in a freely accessible, fully searchable, interlinked form". Scientists signing the letter also pledged not to publish in or peer-review for non-open access journals. This led to the establishment of the Public Library of Science, an advocacy organization. However, most scientists continued to publish and review for non-open access journals. PLoS decided to become an open access publisher aiming to compete at the high quality end of the scientific spectrum with commercial publishers and other open access journals, which were beginning to flourish.[95] Critics have argued that, equipped with a $10 million grant, PLoS competes with smaller OA journals for the best submissions and risks destroying what it originally wanted to foster.[96]

The first major international statement on open access[6] was the Budapest Open Access Initiative in February 2002, launched by the Open Society Institute.[97] This provided a definition of open access, and has a growing list of signatories.[98] Two further statements followed: the Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing[99] in June 2003 and the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities in October 2003.

In 2003, the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities was drafted and the World Summit on the Information Society included open access in its Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action.

In 2006, a Federal Research Public Access Act was introduced in US Congress by senators John Cornyn and Joe Lieberman.[100][101] The act continues to be brought up every year since then, but has never made it past committee.[102]

In 2007, MIT OpenCourseWare, an initiative of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to put all of the educational materials from their undergraduate and graduate level courses online, hit a monthly traffic record of over 2 million visits.[103] Since then, university students have also begun sharing notes and knowledge through open access platforms. Platforms like GradeGuru are providing an open access community for students to share notes and peer review their materials.

The idea of mandating self-archiving was mooted at least as early as 1998.[104] Since 2003[105] efforts have been focused on open access mandating by the funders of research: governments,[106] research funding agencies,[107] and universities.[108] These efforts have been fought by the publishing industry.[109] However, many countries, funders, universities and other organizations have now either made commitments to open access, or are in the process of reviewing their policies and procedures, with a view to opening up access to results of the research they are responsible for.

One of the many librarians involved in advocating the self-archiving approach to open access is Hélène Bosc; her work can be found in her "15-year retrospective".[110]


Opponents of the open access model feel that publishers are a part of the scholarly information chain and feel that a pay-for-access model is necessary to ensure that publishers are adequately compensated for their work. “In fact, most STM [Scientific, Technical and Medical] publishers are not profit-seeking corporations from outside the scholarly community, but rather learned societies and other non-profit entities, many of which rely on income from journal subscriptions to support their conferences, member services, and scholarly endeavors”.[111] Scholarly journal publishers that support pay-for-access claim that the "gatekeeper" role they play, maintaining a scholarly reputation, arranging for peer review, and editing and indexing articles, require economic resources that are not supplied under an open access model, though acknowledging that open access journals do provide peer review.[citation needed] The cost of paper publication may also make open access to paper copies infeasible. One of the main benefits that open access supporters argue for is that open access journals allow accessibility to developing nations that can not afford to subscribe to print journals. According to a September 2011 article in Reuters [112] only 21% of developing nations have access to the Internet - compared to 69% in developed nations. If print versions of open access journals can not be made for economic reasons, the amount of accessibility of open access journals to developing nations may have less of an impact than initially thought.

Opponents claim that open access is not necessary to ensure fair access to developing nations; differential pricing, or financial aid from developed countries or institutions can make access to proprietary journals affordable. Conventional journal publishers may also lose customers to open access publishers who compete with them. The Partnership for Research Integrity in Science and Medicine (PRISM), a lobbying organization formed by the Association of American Publishers (AAP), is opposed to the open access movement.[113] PRISM and AAP have lobbied against the increasing trend amongst funding organizations to require open publication, describing it as "government interference" and a threat to peer review.[114]

For researchers, publishing an article in a reputable scientific journal is perceived as being beneficial to one's reputation among scientific peers, and advance one's academic career. There is a concern that the perception of open access journals do not have the same reputation, which will lead to less publishing. [115] Park and Qin discuss the perceptions that academics have in regards to open access journals. One concern that academics have "are growing concerns about how to promote [Open Access] publishing." Park and Qin also state, "The general perception is that [Open Access] journals are new, and therefore many uncertainties, such as quality and sustainability, exist."

Journal article authors are generally not directly financially compensated for their work beyond their institutional salaries and the indirect benefits that an enhanced reputation provides in terms of institutional funding, job offers, and peer collaboration.[116] It could be argued, then, that the financial reward from writing a successful textbook is an important motivating factor, without which the quality and quantity of available textbooks would decrease.[dubious ]

There are those, for example PRISM, who think that open access is unnecessary or even harmful. It has been argued[who?] that there is no need for those outside major academic institutions to have access to primary publications, at least in some fields.[117]

In the entertainment industry, it is argued that, unlike science, there is no pressing social need for widespread and barrier-free access to the content.

One argument against Open Access is highlighted in a Nature (a for-profit publication) Web Focus forum, The Pros and Cons of Open Access. One argument brought up in the forum is that the supposed tax-payer right to access is blown out of proportion by the advocates of Open Access. Kate Worlock, the author of the forum article argues, "...where research is publicly-funded, taxes are generally not paid so that taxpayers can access research results, but rather so that society can benefit from the results of that research; in the form of new medical treatments, for example. Publishers claim that 90% of potential readers can access 90% of all available content through national or research libraries, and while this may not be as easy as accessing an article online directly it is certainly possible."[73] The argument for tax-payer funded research is only applicable in certain countries as well. For instance in Australia, 80% of research funding comes through taxes, whereas in Japan and Switzerland, only approximately 10% is from the public coffers.[73]

Funding issues

The "article processing charges" for open access shifts the burden of payment from readers to authors, which creates a new set of concerns. The key concern is that if a publisher makes a profit from accepting papers, it has an incentive to accept anything submitted, rather than selecting and rejecting articles based on quality. This could be remedied, however, by charging for the peer-review rather than acceptance.[118] Secondary concerns include factors such as budget processes that may need adjustments to provide funding for the "article processing charges" required to publish in almost all open access journals (e.g. those published by BioMed Central [9]). Unless discounts are available to authors from countries with low incomes or external funding is provided to cover the cost, article processing charges could exclude authors from developing countries or less well-funded research fields from publishing in open access journals. However, under the traditional model, the prohibitive costs of some non-open access journal subscriptions already place a heavy burden on the research community; and if Green OA self-archiving eventually makes subscriptions unsustainable, the cancelled subscription savings can pay the Gold OA publishing costs without the need to divert extra money from research.[119] Moreover, many open access publishers offer discounts or publishing fee waivers to authors from developing countries or those suffering financial hardship. Self-archiving of non-OA publications provides a low cost alternative model.[120]

Another concern is the redirection of money by major funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the Wellcome Trust from the direct support of research to the support of publication. The Wellcome Trust spends over £400 million (over US$700 million) a year on biomedical research. Robert Terry, Senior Policy Advisor at the Wellcome Trust, has said that he feels that 1-2% of their research budget will change from the creation of knowledge to the dissemination of knowledge.[121] This is £4-8 million of research a year that is being lost for the cost of publication. In the past, grants from such agencies typically funded only research projects themselves, and the costs of publication were borne by journal subscribers. By adding support for Gold OA charges onto grant funding, these agencies redirect money that would otherwise have supported new research projects, with the result that access to research results greatly increases while the number of projects funded decreases. Some argue that in light of this issue, Green OA self-archiving should come before Gold OA publishing. This fulfills the need for OA. If and when Green OA in turn leads to institutions cancelling subscriptions, making subscriptions unsustainable as the means of covering the costs of publication, then that in turn will induce journals to cut costs and convert to Gold OA publishing. Meanwhile, the subscription cancellations will have released the institutional funds to pay for publishing via Gold OA fees.

Outside of science and academia, it is unusual for producers of creative output to be financially compensated on anything other than a pay-for-access model. (Notable exceptions include open source software and public broadcasting.) Successful writers, for example, support themselves by the revenues generated by people purchasing copies of their works; publishing houses are able to finance the publication of new authors based on anticipated revenues from sales of those that are successful. Opponents of open access would argue that without direct financial compensation via pay-for-access, many authors would be unable to afford to write, though some would accept the economic hardship of holding down a day job while continuing to write as a "labor of love". However, this argument has no relevance to academic publishing, because scientific journals do not pay royalties to article authors and researchers are funded by their institutions and funders.

Tests of the open access citation advantage

Two major studies[122] [123] dispute the claim that open access articles lead to more citations. Using a randomized controlled trial of open access publishing involving 36 participating journals in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities, researchers from Cornell University report on the effects of free access on article downloads and citations. Articles placed in the open access condition (n=712) received significantly more downloads and reached a broader audience within the first year, yet were cited no more frequently, nor earlier, than subscription-access control articles (n=2533) within 3 years.

There are many other studies,[124] however, both major and minor, that report that open access does lead to significantly more citations. For example, a 2010 study -- on a much larger and broader sample (27,197 articles in 1,984 journals) than the Cornell University study -- used institutionally mandated open access instead of randomized open access to control for any bias on the part of authors toward self-selectively making their better (hence more citeable) articles Open Access. The result was a replication of the repeatedly reported open access citation advantage, with the advantage being equal in size and significance whether the open access was self-selected or mandated.[125]

Comparison with other media

Many traditional media such as certain newspapers, television, and radio broadcasts could be considered "open access". These include commercial broadcasting and free newspapers supported by advertising, public broadcasting, and privately funded political advocacy materials. Minor barriers are also present in other media: broadcast media require receiving equipment, online content requires Internet access, and locally distributed printed media requires transportation to a distribution point. Many other types of material can also be published in this manner: magazines and newsletters, e-text or other e-books, music, fine arts, or any product of intellectual activity.

Within Canada funding is provided to books, magazines, newspapers, film, music and other cultural industries by the Department of Canadian Heritage in order to maintain the mission of the department, "Canadian Heritage is responsible for national policies and programs that promote Canadian content, foster cultural participation, active citizenship and participation in Canada's civic life, and strengthen connections among Canadians."[126] The artists that create work that is funded by the federal government do not lose their copyright. The artists are provided with help in finding distribution and exhibition but are not forced to make their publicly funded work freely available to all.

See also


Related types of content

Major publishers



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