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Advantages and disadvantages of publishing in open access journals


Open access describes a publishing model in which scientific articles are freely available, with no barriers to accessing content. One of the major drivers of the open access movement is the increasing role that the internet has played in scientific publishing over the years, which has made the publishing practices associated with more traditional print journals seem less relevant to the current state of the publishing field.


In 2003, this led to the Berlin Declaration On Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities, which cited the internet as ‘a global and interactive representation of human knowledge’ and sought to establish ways to make the dissemination of this knowledge more equitable. Since that time, open access publishing has continued to evolve rapidly, and a substantial majority of scientific journals are now partly or fully open access.


Open access publishing models

Typically, journals publish articles under one of three main types of open access models:

  • In the green open access model, published articles are made freely available in some form and at some time after publication, and the publisher retains the copyright. Generally speaking, this means that a copy of the accepted manuscript is deposited in a repository within weeks to months of publication, either by the journal or by the authors themselves.

  • Under the gold open access model, the journal makes the final version of the published article freely available at the time of publication and authors retain the copyright, meaning that they are free to reuse the content appropriately without needing to first obtain permission.

  • In platinum open access (also known as diamond open access), articles are made freely available at the time of publication as in gold open access; however, the authors do not pay an article processing charge (APC) to publish. Instead, the publishing costs are paid in other ways, for example by an institution or society.


Advantages of publishing in an open access journal

There are many benefits to publishing your scientific article in an open access journal.


One of the most universally appreciated features of open access publishing is the increased visibility: as there is no barrier to accessing articles, more readers are able to find and read them. Indeed, one study found that, one year after publication, open access articles had been downloaded significantly more often than non–open access articles, and had been viewed by significantly more individual readers. The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition Europe (SPARC) has also noted several studies suggesting that open access publications receive a greater number of citations than do non–open access articles.


Ultimately, making your work freely available to all readers means that it has the potential to be communicated to a much wider audience than is typically reached by traditional journals. This is especially important in ensuring a more equal distribution of research results, which otherwise may not have been available to researchers in economically disadvantaged regions, and ties in closely to the theme of Open Access Week 2020: Open with Purpose: Taking Action to Build Structural Equity and Inclusion. [The discussions surrounding open access publishing this week are intended to specifically address the ‘structural racism, discrimination, and exclusion’ that are present in scientific research and publishing and to explore how open access can help make these fields more equitable.]


Another advantage of open access publishing is that the time to publication tends to be shorter than at traditional journals, as papers are published on a rolling basis (as is the case for most online-only journals). This means that articles are published one-by-one as they are accepted, instead of waiting to publish a collection of papers together in a single print issue. This provides a clear benefit to authors, for whom efficient and rapid publication often has important career implications. In addition, rapid publication benefits the research community as a whole, as it accelerates the speed at which new research results are disseminated, and thus the overall pace of scientific research.


One key, and sometimes underappreciated, advantage of publishing in an open access journal is the ability to retain the copyright to your own work. Typically, if your paper is published in a traditional journal, the journal owns the copyright to the final work. This means that if you want to reuse and adapt one of your figures for use in another paper, for example, you would need to request permission to do so from the journal, and potentially pay a fee for the privilege. In contrast, in open access publishing the authors own the copyright of the published paper, and are therefore freely able to reuse the content (in accordance with ethical publishing standards) without any additional permissions.

Disadvantages of publishing in an open access journal

Despite the many advantages of publishing in open access journals, there are some potential drawbacks to keep in mind when considering where to publish your next paper.


One of most prevalent concerns about open access publishing is simply its reputation, as this is still considered a relatively new form of scientific publishing. Some researchers fear that the quality of open access journals is lower than that of traditional journals. Overall, however, this perception appears to be connected with the prestige of specific journals; and as print journals have been around for a longer time, it is not surprising that some of the most well-respected journals are not fully open access.


Given the increasing popularity of open access publishing, many prestigious print journals are finding ways to adapt to this new form of publishing. For example, while Nature still publishes under a traditional model, a variety of other journals within the same portfolio are fully open access. Similarly, some journals now operate under a ‘hybrid’ model, in which most of the articles are published under a traditional subscription-based model, while individual articles can be made fully open access (subject to a modified APC).


The APC is a key element to take into consideration when choosing a journal in which to publish your work. As open access journals are typically published solely online, the APC does not need to cover the costs of a print issue, and can thus be lower than those for traditional journals. That being said, open access journals do not receive any subscription fees, so in some cases they charge higher APCs in order to compensate for this. Ultimately a higher APC for open access publishing can include more features, such as no charge for colour figures, no limit on word count and retention of copyright.


However, it is important to consider carefully whether the benefits outweigh the disadvantages in this case. Many institutions and funding agencies provide different levels of support for paying APCs depending on the journal’s publishing model, and specifically encourage, or even require, publication in an open access journal, so it is worth enquiring about financial support before submitting, as this could make a big difference to what you actually end up paying directly.


In conclusion

Open access has revolutionised the scientific publishing field by making research results available to a much wider range of readers than was previously possible. With open access, the entire scientific community has equal access to the same information. In addition, the rapid publication afforded by open access journals means that this information can be accessed and used quickly and efficiently, ultimately helping to accelerate the pace of scientific research.



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