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Primary Publications in Open Access

Learn more about publishing open access from Jessika Rücknagel.

Earlier I talked about the current scholarly publishing system and the problem of paying for access to literature. Now we take a closer look at how open access contributes to solving this problematic situation and how the transition from the well established system is currently handled when it comes to gold open access.

“The golden path […] refers to the initial publication of scholarly works as articles in open access journals, as an open access monograph, or as a contribution to an open access collective work or conference proceedings.” ( 2020) In the initial definition, gold open access was related to publishing in open access journals “regardless of the journal’s business model (Suber, P. 2019). Publishers can either be for-profit or non-profit, with many non-profit publishers originating from the scholarly community (e.g., scientific societies or research organisations).

Publishing scholarly information as gold open access means that the publication is immediately freely accessible. Through the associated open content licence, authors have already clarified which rights of use apply to their work.

When clarifying which procedures and workflows differ from the traditional subscription-based system, it is prudent to start with the aspect of financing. Some publishers seek to cover their costs by charging authors with a publishing fee. The amount of this fee varies enormously depending on the journal/publisher and is not always in proportion to the service provided. The range of such publication fees can be between a few hundred or several thousand euros. Alternative financing models for open access publishers are, among others crowdfunding, membership models, support from funding organisations or institutional and individual commitments. This enables many open access journals to refrain from charging author fees and still ensure the sustainable operation of the publication medium.

12,124 from a total of 17,681 (as of May, 28th 2022) indexed journals in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) do not charge any APCs. Within the DOAJ you find only pure open access journals. As a consequence, all journals with a so-called hybrid publishing model are excluded from this directory. The hybrid model is very problematic, because it means that a subscription-based journal generates additional revenue by offering its authors to pay publishing fees so that this specific article is published open access. Libraries still have to subscribe to allow their researchers to read the closed-accessed articles. For this reason the publisher receives payment from two different models (“double dipping”). Publishers frequently assure that measures have been taken to prevent double dipping, but the exact price calculations remain opaque. You should avoid publishing in a hybrid journal unless there is a transformation effort on the part of the journal, which was the initial thought behind developing the model. However, as long as hybrid journals provide additional revenue, there is little incentive for publishers to transition to full open access and replace the subscription income with the income from APCs. The cOAlition S discussed similar arguments as to why the hybrid model will not lead to a transformation of the publishing system in the long run. (European Science Foundation, 2022. Why hybrid journals) Matthias (2018) elaborates related issues and highlights the fact that price calculations are non-transparent and that publication in a hybrid open access journal can lead to worse discoverability, as the metadata (see chapter 2.32) for the open access articles remain behind the paywall.

This is also the reason why many funding organisations and institutions do not cover publishing fees for authors, if they publish in hybrid journals. Worth mentioning here are the Plan S criteria, which entail that scholars who are granted funding by a member organisation of the cOAlition S are obligated to publish immediately in open access and to provide the work under a CC BY licence. When choosing a pure open access journal or a journal with a transformation agreement the publication costs are covered by the funder. cOAlition S provides the Journal Checker Tool (European Science Foundation, 2022. Journal Checker Tool) to check whether or not a journal complies to the Plans S criteria.

© This work by Jessika Rücknagel is licensed under CC BY 4.0.
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