Open access

Open access (OA) refers to research outputs which are distributed online and free of cost or other barriers,[1] and possibly with the addition of a Creative Commons license to promote reuse.[1] Open access can be applied to all forms of published research output, including peer-reviewed and non peer-reviewed academic journal articles, conference papers, theses,[2] book chapters,[1] and monographs.[3]

Academic articles (as historically seen in paper-based academic journals) have been the main focus of the movement. Conventional (non-open access) journals cover publishing costs through access tolls such as subscriptions, site licenses or pay-per-view charges. Open access research is advanced by a range of distribution mechanisms and business models. These include:

  • Self-archiving - green: After peer review by a journal, the author posts the same content the journal will be publishing to a web site controlled by the author, the research institution that funded or hosted the work, or which has been set up as a central open access repository.
  • Open access journal: The publisher of the journal makes all articles and related content available for free on the journal's web site.
  • Hybrid open access journals[11] at least partially funded by subscriptions, and only provide open access for those individual articles for which the authors (or research sponsor) pay a publication fee[10]

Advantages and disadvantages of open access have generated considerable discussion amongst researchers, academics, librarians, university administrators, funding agencies, government officials, commercial publishers, editorial staff and society publishers.[12] Reactions of existing publishers to open access journal publishing have ranged from moving with enthusiasm to a new open access business model, to experiments with providing as much free or open access as possible, to active lobbying against open access proposals. There are many publishers that started up as open access publishers, such as PLOS and BioMed Central.

Gratis and libre open access

In order to reflect actual practice in providing two different degrees of open access, the further distinction between gratis open access and libre open access was added in 2006 by two of the co-drafters of the original BOAI definition.[13] Gratis open access refers to online access free of charge, and libre open access refers to online access free of charge plus some additional re-use rights.[13] Libre open access is equivalent to the definition of open access in the Budapest Open Access Initiative, the Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing and the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities. The re-use rights of libre OA are often specified by various specific Creative Commons licenses;[14] these almost all require attribution of authorship to the original authors.[13][15]

Open access publishing

One option for authors who wish to make their work openly accessible is to publish in a journal or book that makes research output immediately available from the publisher.[16] This is sometimes referred to as gold open access.[1]

There are many financial models for open access publications.[17] Open access can be provided by commercial publishers, who may publish open access as well as subscription-based journals, or dedicated open-access publishers such as Public Library of Science (PLOS) and BioMed Central.

Article processing charges

In one model of open access, journals generate revenue by charging publication fees in order to make the work openly available at the time of publication.[18][7][8] The money might come from the author but more often comes from the author's research grant or employer. Some publishers will waive all or part of the fee for authors from less developed economies. Journals charging publication fees normally take various steps to ensure that editors conducting peer review do not know whether authors have requested, or been granted, fee waivers, or to ensure that every paper is approved by an independent editor with no financial stake in the journal. While the payments are often incurred per article published (e.g. BMC journals or PLOS ONE), there are some journals that apply them per manuscript submitted (e.g. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics until recently) or per author (PeerJ). As of June 2018, only 26% of journals in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) required payment of article processing charges. A 2013 study showed this practice was higher in journals with a scientific or medical focus (43% and 47% respectively), and lowest in journals publishing in the arts and humanities (0% and 4% respectively).[19] Traditionally, many academic journals levied page charges, long before open access became a possibility.

There currently is a growing global debate[20][21][22][23][24] regarding open access's ideology and ethics and its related Article Processing Charge fees (APC) as they are being created and managed by academic journal and monograph publisher conglomerates together with some national and international academic institutions and government bodies. One controversy is "double dipping", where both authors and subscribers are charged.[25] Groups offering open access solutions include the Publishers for Development and Research4Life projects and activities.

Subsidized open access publications

No-fee open access journals, also known as "platinum" or "diamond"[7][8] have no fees for readers and no article processing charges or publication fees for authors.[26] They use a variety of business models. As summarized by Peter Suber:[27] "Some no-fee OA journals have direct or indirect subsidies from institutions like universities, laboratories, research centers, libraries, hospitals, museums, learned societies, foundations, or government agencies. Some have revenue from a separate line of non-OA publications. Some have revenue from advertising, auxiliary services, membership dues, endowments, reprints, or a print or premium edition. Some rely, more than other journals, on volunteerism. Some undoubtedly use a combination of these means".

Open access monographs are subsidized through a variety of means as well. Knowledge Unlatched and crowdsource funding in order to make a work available open access.[28][29]

Open access repositories

Self-archiving, also known as green open access, refers to the practice of depositing articles in an open access repository, where it can be accessed for free.[30][31][32][33][34] Repositories may be specific to an institution, a discipline (e.g.arXiv), a scholarly society (e.g. MLA's CORE Repository), or a funder (e.g.PubMed Central). Open access self-archiving was first formally proposed in 1994[35][36] by Stevan Harnad in his "Subversive Proposal". However, self-archiving was already being done by computer scientists in their local FTP archives in the 1980s,[37] later harvested into CiteSeer.

Many publishers permit authors to self-archive in an open access repository, but may place restrictions on which version of the work may be shared and/or require an embargo period following the original date of publication. What is deposited can be either a preprint, or the peer-reviewed postprint – either the author's refereed, revised final draft or the publisher's version of record. Some publishers require delays, or an embargo, on when a research output in a repository may be made open access.[38] 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.

Distribution and search technology

Like the self-archived green open access articles, most gold open access 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 open access repositories,[40] open access journal websites,[41] and other aspects of open access provision and open access publishing.

Access to online content requires Internet access, and this distributional consideration presents physical and sometimes financial barriers to access. Proponents of open access 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.

There are various open access aggregators that index open access journals or articles. ROAD[42] (the Directory of Open Access scholarly Resources) synthesizes information about open access journals and is a subset of the ISSN register. The OALibrary provides open and free access to a large database of scientific research papers, covering all topics.[43] Users may browse to find open access journals by country or by subject. SHERPA/RoMEO lists international publishers that allow the published version of articles to be deposited in institutional repositories. The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) contains over 8,000 peer-reviewed open access journals of varying open access policies for searching and browsing[44] Open access articles can also often be found with a web search, using any general search engine or those specialized for the scholarly and scientific literature, such as OAIster and Google Scholar.

The Open Archives Initiative (OAI) lists 2937 conforming repositories. Searching each open access repository individually is impractical. The resources in these repositories can be harvested, using the OAI Protocol and aggregated into online systems which in-turn provide access to millions of resources from a single online location.[45]

In 1998, several universities founded the Public Knowledge Project to foster open access, and developed the open-source journal publishing system Open Journal Systems, among other scholarly software projects. As of 2010, it was being used by approximately 5,000 journals worldwide.[46]

Several initiatives provide an alternative to the American and English language dominance of existing publication indexing systems, including Index Copernicus (Polish), SciELO (Portuguese, Spanish) and Redalyc (Spanish).

Policies and mandates

Many universities, research institutions and research funders have adopted mandates requiring their researchers to provide open access to their peer-reviewed research articles by self-archiving them in an open access repository.[47] Research Councils UK spent nearly £60m on supporting their open access mandate between 2013 and 2016.[48] Some publishers and publisher associations have lobbied against introducing mandates.[49][50][51]

The idea of mandating self-archiving was mooted at least as early as 1998.[52] Since 2003[53] efforts have been focused on open access mandating by the funders of research: governments,[54] research funding agencies,[55] and universities.[47]

The Registry of Open Access Repository Mandates and Policies (ROARMAP) is a searchable international database charting the growth of open access mandates. As of December 2017, mandates have been registered by over 600 universities (including Harvard, MIT, Stanford, University College London, and University of Edinburgh) and over 100 research funders worldwide.[33]


Open access itself (mostly green and gratis) began to be sought and provided worldwide by researchers when the possibility itself was opened by the advent of Internet and the World Wide Web. The momentum was further increased by a growing movement for academic journal publishing reform, and with it gold and libre OA. Electronic publishing created new benefits as compared to paper publishing but beyond that, it contributed to causing problems in traditional publishing models.

The premises behind open access publishing are that there are viable funding models to maintain traditional peer review standards of quality while also making the following changes:

  • Rather than making journal articles accessible through a subscription business model, all academic publications could be made free to read and published with some other cost-recovery model, such as publication charges, subsidies, or charging subscriptions only for the print edition, with the online edition gratis or "free to read".[56]
  • Rather than applying traditional notions of copyright to academic publications, they could be libre or "free to build upon".[56]

An obvious advantage of open access journals is the free access to scientific papers regardless of affiliation with a subscribing library and improved access for the general public; this is especially true in developing countries. Lower costs for research in academia and industry has been claimed in the Budapest Open Access Initiative,[57] although others have argued that OA may rise the total cost of publication,[58] and further increase economic incentives for exploitation in academic publishing.[59] The open access movement is motivated by the problems of social inequality caused by restricting access to academic research, which favor large and wealthy institutions with the financial means to purchase access to many journals, as well as the economic challenges and perceived unsustainability of academic publishing.[56][60]

Stakeholders and concerned communities

The intended audience of research articles is usually 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.[61] Some schemes exist for providing subscription scientific publications to those affiliated to institutions in developing countries at little or no cost.[62] All researchers benefit from open access 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".[63]

Open access extends the reach of research beyond its immediate academic circle. An open access 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 layperson. Indeed, a 2008 study revealed that mental health professionals are roughly twice as likely to read a relevant article if it is freely available.[64]

Author citation advantage

The main reason authors make their articles openly accessible is to maximize their research impact.[65] There have been claims of higher citation rates for open access authors.[66] The overall citation rates for a time period of 2 years (2010–2011) were 30% higher for subscription journals, but, after controlling for discipline, journal age and publisher location, the differences largely disappeared in most subcategories, except for those launched prior to 1996.[67] A study in 2001 first reported an open access citation impact advantage,[68]

Two major studies dispute the claim that open access articles lead to more citations.[69][70] A randomized controlled trial of open access publishing involving 36 participating journals in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities found that open access articles (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.[69]

Many other studies, both major and minor and with varying degrees of methodological rigor, find that an open access article is more likely to be used and cited than one behind subscription barriers.[71]

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.[66] This result has been challenged as an artifact of authors self-selectively paying to publish their higher quality articles in hybrid open access journals,[72] whereas a 2010 study found that the open access citation advantage was equally big whether self-archiving was self-selected or mandated.[73]

A 2010 study of 27,197 articles in 1,984 journals used institutionally mandated open access instead of randomized open access to control for 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.[73]

A 2016 study reported that the odds of an open access journal being referenced on the English Wikipedia are 47% higher than for paywalled journals, and suggested that this constitutes a significant "amplifier" effect for science published on such platforms.[74]

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.[75][76] Open access can reduce publication delays, an obstacle which led some research fields such as high-energy physics to adopt widespread preprint access.[77]

Some professional organizations have encouraged use of open access: 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."[78]

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.[79] As a means of achieving this, research funders are beginning to expect open access to the research they support. Many of them (including all seven UK Research Councils) have already adopted green open access self-archiving mandates, and others are on the way to do so (see ROARMAP).

In 2008, the NIH Public Access Policy, an open access mandate was put into law, and required that research papers describing research funded by the National Institutes of Health must be available to the public free through PubMed Central within 12 months of publication.


A growing number of universities are providing institutional repositories in which their researchers can deposit their published articles. Some open access advocates believe that institutional repositories will play a very important role in responding to open access mandates from funders.[80] EnablingOpenScholarship (EPS) provides universities with OA policy-building.[81]

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.[82] 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.[83] 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.

In 2011, a group of universities in North America formed the Coalition of Open Access Policy Institutions (COAPI).[84] Starting with 21 institutions where the faculty had either established an open access policy or were in the process of implementing one, COAPI now has nearly 50 members. These institutions' administrators, faculty and librarians, and staff support the international work of the Coalition's awareness-raising and advocacy for open access. Members agree to the following COAPI Principles:

  1. The immediate and barrier-free online dissemination of scholarly research resulting in faster growth of new knowledge, increased impact of research, and improved return on public research investments
  2. Developing and implementing institutional open access policies
  3. Sharing experiences and best practices in the development and implementation of Open Access Policies with individuals at institutions interested in cultivating cultures of open access
  4. Fostering a more open scholarly communication system through cultural and legislative change at the local, national, and international levels[85]

In 2012, the Harvard Open Access Project released its guide to good practices for university open-access policies,[86] focusing on rights-retention policies that allow universities to distribute faculty research without seeking permission from publishers.

In 2013 a group of nine Australian universities formed the Australian Open Access Support Group (AOASG) to advocate, collaborate, raise awareness, and lead and build capacity in the open access space in Australia.[87] In 2015, the group expanded to include all eight New Zealand universities and was renamed the Australasian Open Access Support Group.[88] It was then renamed the Australasian Open Access Strategy Group, highlighting its emphasis on strategy. The awareness raising activities of the AOASG include presentations, workshops, blogs, and a webinar series on open access issues.[89]

Libraries and librarians

As information professionals, librarians are 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 scholarly record,[90] as well as helping to address 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.[91]

Librarians also lead education and outreach initiatives to 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.[92] 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).[93][94]

At most universities, the library manages the institutional repository, which provides free access to scholarly work by the university's faculty. The Canadian Association of Research Libraries has a program[95] to develop institutional repositories at all Canadian university libraries.

An increasing number of libraries provide hosting services for open access journals. A 2008 survey by the Association of Research Libraries[96] found that 65% of surveyed libraries either are involved in journal publishing, or are planning to become involved in the very near future.[97]

In 2013, open access activist Aaron Swartz was posthumously awarded the American Library Association's James Madison Award for being an "outspoken advocate for public participation in government and unrestricted access to peer-reviewed scholarly articles".[98][99] In March 2013, the entire editorial board and the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Library Administration resigned en masse, citing a dispute with the journal's publisher.[100] One board member wrote of a "crisis of conscience about publishing in a journal that was not open access" after the death of Aaron Swartz.[101][102]

The pioneer of the open access movement in France and one of the first librarians to advocate the self-archiving approach to open access worldwide is Hélène Bosc.[103] Her work is described in her "15-year retrospective".[104]


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.[105] 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.[106] 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.[107] 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 claim that there is little evidence that a significant amount of scientific literature is currently unavailable to those who would benefit from it.[108] While no library has subscriptions to every journal that might be of benefit, virtually all published research can be acquired via interlibrary loan.[109] 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 fast-paced research.

Low-income countries

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,[110] 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,[111] 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).[111]

Many open access projects involve international collaboration. For example, the SciELO (Scientific Electronic Library Online),[112] 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 group, and one of the most active development groups is Portuguese. This international perspective has resulted in advocacy for the development of open-source appropriate technology and the necessary open access to relevant information for sustainable development.[113][114]


The main argument against open access, author's paid fee based journals, is the possible damage to the peer review system, diminishing the overall quality of scientific journal publishing. For example, in 2009, a hoax paper generated by a computer program was accepted for publication by a major publisher under the author-pays-for-publication model.[115] In a similar incident, a staff writer for Science magazine and popular science publications targeted the open access system in 2013 by submitting to some such journals a deeply flawed paper on the purported effect of a lichen constituent. About 60% of those journals, including journals published by the major academic publishers Sage Publications and Elsevier the Journal of Natural Pharmaceuticals, accepted the faked medical paper, although journals published by notable open access publishers PLOS, BioMed Central, and Hindawi Publishing Corporation rejected the fake article. This study did not also submit the fake article journals published under a subscription model.[116] As a result, this experiment was criticised for being not peer-reviewed itself and for having a flawed methodology and lack of a control group.[117][118] Many newer open access journals also lack the reputation of their subscription counterparts, which have been in business for decades. This effect has been diminishing though since 2001, reflecting the emergence of high quality professional open access publishers such as PLOS and BioMed Central.[67]

Opponents of the open access model continue to assert that the pay-for-access model is necessary to ensure that the publishers are adequately compensated for their work. 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. Opponents claim that open access is not necessary to ensure fair access for developing nations; differential pricing or financial aid from developed countries or institutions can make access to proprietary journals affordable. Some critics also point out the lack of funding for author fees.[119]

Lack of diversity

Open access does not mean there is access is equal to all. Some people have difficulties accessing the internet and, thus, the articles, but there is also inequality in terms of what is published and by whom.[120] The lack of diversity in academia and research, in reviewers and publishers, and in librarians (those who help others find sources) leads to many people's voices being unheard.[121][122]



A study published in 2010 showed that roughly 20% of the total number of peer-reviewed articles published in 2008 could be found openly accessible.[123] Another study found that by 2010, 7.9% of all academic journals with impact factors were gold open access journals and showed a broad distribution of Gold Open Access journals throughout academic disciplines.[124] 8.5% of the journal literature could be found free at the publishers’ sites (gold open access), of which 62% in full open access journals, 14% in delayed-access subscription journals, and 24% as individually open articles in otherwise subscription journals. For an additional 11.9% of the articles, open access full text copies were available via green open access 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%).[123]

In the 2010 study, of all scientific fields chemistry had the lowest overall share of open access (13%), while Earth Sciences had the highest (33%). In medicine, biochemistry and chemistry gold publishing in open access journals was more common than author self-archiving. In all other fields self-archiving was more common.

In 2009, there were approximately 4,800 active open access journals, publishing around 190,000 articles.[125] As of October 2015, this had increased to over 10,000 open access journals listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals,[126] though this number has fallen to 9,500 in January 2017. A study of random journals from the citations indexes AHSCI, SCI and SSCI in 2013 came to the result that 88% of the journals were closed access and 12% were open access.[7]

In August 2013, a study done for the European Commission reported that 50% of a random sample of all articles published in 2011 as indexed by Scopus were freely accessible online by the end of 2012.[127][128][129] A 2017 study by the Max Planck Society put the share of gold access articles in pure open access journals at around 13 percent of total research papers.[130]

The Registry of Open Access Repositories (ROAR) indexes the creation, location and growth of open access open access repositories and their contents.[33] As of December 2017, over 4,500 institutional and cross-institutional repositories have been registered in ROAR.[131]

See also


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