Commonly raised questions about Open Access (OA):
- 1: Is access really a problem?
- 2: Is Open Access content peer reviewed?
- 3: How does funding Open Access relate to funding research?
- 4: Are high author charges needed for a high quality Open Access journal?
- 5: How does Open Access relate to publisher quality?
- 6: How does Open Access affect academic societies’ revenues?
Not even a top research institution like the University of Minnesota can afford access to all scholarly literature. Access barriers are frequently a problem, particularly at institutions that focus primarily on teaching, and for researchers without a professional network to get copies from external colleagues.
As journal prices rise much faster than inflation or library budgets, more journals are cancelled. Library Journal’s 2020 Periodicals Price Survey estimated annual journal price increases at 6%.
Interlibrary loan can help fill access gaps, but some publishers’ license agreements restrict the use of e-journals for interlibrary loan.
A journal’s peer review process is unrelated to whether it is Open Access or subscription-based. Most editorial and review work is done for free, through academia’s gift economy.
The Directory of Open Access Journals is one way to find out about (fully) OA journals’ review policies.
An author may also provide Open Access to their peer-reviewed article by depositing a version of it in a repository, such as the University Digital Conservancy. Authors can retain rights for such sharing by using the BTAA Author’s Rights Addendum or the U of M Open Access Policy.
The costs of funding scholarly publications have mostly been paid by university libraries, and most research funding has come from federal agencies or indirectly through university salaries. That disconnect has contributed to unsustainably increasing publication prices.
At a macro-economic level, the cost of OA publishing to the community is less than the cost of the traditional publishing system, since OA publishers use technology to reduce costs (e.g., no longer printing and mailing physical journal issues), while vastly increasing the accessibility of research. That increased research access then increases the effectiveness of subsequent research money. Funders get "more bang for their buck."
At a micro-economic level, transitions to OA may need to be managed. When writing a grant proposal, the anticipated costs of OA publishing could be incorporated, but there are many OA venues do not charge author fees.
Some high-quality OA journals are supported by other business models, not author fees.
For those journals that do charge a large author fee for OA, there is no direct connection between the fee and the actual research publication cost.
- Some fee revenue may go to high shareholder profits: 37% for Elsevier in 2018
- Some fee revenue may go to commission non-research-article content, such as book reviews, commentaries, and editorials. This front matter could produce subscription revenue, even if the research articles were made Open Access.
- Advertising income covers some costs, substantially so for the highest-profile journals like Nature.
- Some journals claim increased costs because of high submission/low acceptance rates, despite most peer reviews being done for free. That issue is sometimes addressed by funneling submissions to associated journals (Nature Cell Biology, Nature Medicine, etc.) without requiring significant additional editorial work or costs.
A publisher’s quality depends on its peer review and editorial processes, not whether its publications are Open Access or subscription-based. Print-based vanity presses are long-standing; now some are online. See these tips for Assessing publishers and conferences.
There is no evidence that publishing revenues are declining or at risk due to Open Access policies and public access requirements. The BTAA Author’s Rights Addendum and the U of M Open Access Policy allow journals, and their peer review processes, to operate as they always have, while providing open access through authors depositing their works in a public repository.
Freely accessible online archives have been shown to supplement journal readership, not replace it. Nearly all new physics articles are freely available in the arXiv, but subscription-based journals continue to thrive. The American Physical Society and the Institute of Physics Publishing were unable to identify any subscriptions lost as a result of arXiv over ten years.