The traditional publishing industry underwent a paradigm shift over the last decade, an expected outcome of the internet accessibility worldwide. With the steady increase in the number, and quality, of open access (OA) journals, many researchers are left wondering whether they should go that route or not. When deciding whether to make one’s research OA, it is important to consider the advantages and disadvantages, as well as the different avenues for OA publishing.
Advantages and Disadvantages of OA publication
There are many advantages to OA publication, which are summarized in the following three points:
OA increases visibility. OA publishing increases the potential audience of a paper by removing price and copyright restrictions. Studies suggest that OA articles are downloaded more often, and reach a wider audience, than those published in subscription-based journals. Furthermore, high-quality articles published in subscription-based journals that are made OA by the authors are cited more than those that are not.
Removing most of the copyright restrictions further facilitates the spreading of information. It means that people can reuse the research data, redistribute it, translate it, or migrate it to other mediums.
OA is being adopted by more institutions. Most researchers get access to subscription publications through the library they are affiliated to, which pays the subscription fee. Unfortunately, these fees have been steadily rising faster than inflation and library budgets. Harvard University, for example, has recommended its users to consider publishing their research in OA journals instead of subscription-based publications, noting that it could no longer afford their price increases.
The conflict with pricing and library budgets will only get worse as research continues to grow, and more and more journals are created. The percentage of subscription journals that libraries will be able to cover with their budgets will be less every year, prompting more researchers to consider OA journals.
OA is better for science. OA removes barriers to research by facilitating access to knowledge for scientists, but it goes beyond the research community. Publishing in an OA journal eases the diffusion of knowledge to the general public. Research shows that OA papers are more likely to be cited in sources like Wikipedia than subscription-based journals. An OA paper can have more influence in shaping the opinion of the lay public which can sway government policy on issues regarding science.
Despite the advantages of OA publication, there are still some who are cautious about it. Some of their objections have become less important as OA publications continue to grow, but others are still worth considering.
Publishing OA means settling for low-ranking journals. It is often thought that because OA journals are newer, they always rank lower than more established traditional journals. Although that might have been true in the beginning, nowadays it is possible to find OA journals with quite respectable impact factors. In fact, Thomson Scientific found already in 2004 that there was at least one OA journal that ranked among the highest 20 percent in each of the subject areas they investigated, including Medicine.
Subscription-based journals are more prestigious. A similar disadvantage worth considering is prestige. Although OA journals also involve peer-review and selection, subscription-based publications tend to reject a greater percentage of submitted manuscripts than OA journals. As an example, the OA journal PLOS One accepts 70% of submitted papers, while Nature reported accepting only 8% of submitted manuscripts in 2011. High rejection rates increase a journal’s publication costs, but also increase the journal’s prestige because less authors are able to have their research published there.
Some scientists caution not to forgo prestige for OA, in spite of its advantages. They argue that prestige is still very important in advancing a researcher’s career, especially in the early stages. Scientists should opt for the highest ranking journal they can get their paper in, and perhaps turn to OA later when their careers are more well established.
Fortunately, there are different models of OA publication to choose from. Researchers who want to pursue publication in an established subscription-based journal and reap the benefits of OA can have their cake and eat it too.
Models of OA Publication
Gold OA. Journals that follow a gold OA policy charge authors article-processing fees to have their research published. Costs vary widely among journals, ranging from a few dollars to several thousand dollars.
Diamond OA. Journals that follow the diamond-model of OA are subsidized by universities or other research organizations, or rely entirely on volunteers, such that neither authors nor readers need to pay.
Green OA. In this model of OA publication, authors submit a manuscript to a subscription-based journal and then archive it in online repositories. Repositories are collections of OA articles, such as PubMed Central for medical research. Most subscription-based publishers allow authors to do this.
Furthermore, authors who are unable to find a suitable OA journal in their field can still opt to make their research OA without resorting to repositories. Many subscription-based journals offer authors the option to make their papers OA by paying an additional fee.
If you are thinking about publishing in an OA journal, experts recommend verifying three key points. First, investigate the legitimacy of the OA journal to avoid predatory publications that scam authors for money. Ask about the peer-review process to ensure it is valid and thorough. Check in which databases the journal is indexed to gauge the exposure your paper will have. Last, verify the journal’s reputation. Look for journals whose editors are respected and where other known authors have published. Look at the metrics used to measure the performance of the journal, and compare it to other journals in the field.
To sum up, provided that the journal is legitimate and reputable, OA publishing is recommendable. It benefits readers by making knowledge accessible, researchers by increasing visibility, and science by increasing the speed of research.
For further reading, check out the following resources:
1 Gargouri Y, Hajjem C, Lariviere V, Gingras Y, Carr L, Brody T, Harnad S. Self-Selected or Mandated, Open-Access Increases Citation Impact for Higher Quality Research. PLOS One. 2010; 5(10): e13636. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0013636.
2 Suber P. Open Access. The MIT Press Essential Knowledge Series. 2012. https://mitpress.mit.edu/sites/default/files/9780262517638_Open_Access_PDF_Version.pdf.
3 Pincock S. Publishing: Open to possibilities. Nature. 2013; 495: 539-541. https://www.nature.com/naturejobs/science/articles/10.1038/nj7442-539a.
– Written by Marisa Granados, Research Medics Editorial Desk –