English: A water horizon in northern Wisconsin...
English: A water horizon in northern Wisconsin, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s no doubt that open access (OA) is becoming more and more popular with authors. A recent article by Mikael Laakso and Bo-Christer Björk, published in BioMedCentral Medicine, found that in 2011 around 340,000 articles were published in just over 6,700 OA journals (defined as those included in the Directory of Open Access Journals) – approximately 17% of the total papers published in 2011. Of these, about half (166,700) were published as gold OA articles — journals requiring the payment of an article publication charge (APC).

So what do authors themselves think about OA? Does it affect where they choose to publish? What are their reasons for publishing – or not publishing – in an OA journal? The results of a recent Wiley survey provide some interesting answers.

In May 2012, we contacted more than 100,000 of our journal authors asking for feedback on their attitude to OA publishing (defined as where the author, their institution, or funding body pays a fee to ensure that the article is made free for all to read, download, and share online). Of the 10,600 who responded, about one-third have already published at least one OA article, while nearly 80% believe that OA is growing in their field (note, proportionately more researchers from the biological sciences responded than from any other field).

Inevitably, there are significant variations by subject discipline. Over half of all responding authors who have already published in an OA journal work in health-related or biological sciences; conversely, only 12% work in the social sciences. The top three barriers to OA publishing are:

  1. A dearth of high-profile titles (especially true in areas such as social sciences)
  2. Lack of funding
  3. Concerns over quality.

Professional research experience also appears to impact an author’s decision to publish OA – researchers with five or more years experience are significantly more likely to have published an OA article than those with less (83% versus 17%). Geographical location may also play a part, with half of all OA authors coming from the US, the UK, China, Germany, or Australia – with the exception of China, all countries where there has been pro-OA lobbying for some time.

OA is not currently a significant factor in where authors choose to publish – in fact it doesn’t even make the Top 10. Instead, authors cite factors such as subject area/scope of the journal, impact factor (IF), society affiliation, international authorship/readership, and production quality (e.g., editing, quality of figures, etc. as their main influences.

In response to the question, “I would publish in an OA journal if . . .,” respondents cited quality and profile issues as their main requirements (IF, rigorous peer review process, high production values, well-respected editorial board, well-regarded by peers), while value-added services such as speed of publication and article-level metrics are currently considered much less important. Conversely, the main reasons for not publishing in an OA journal are around concerns about profile, quality, and lack of funding, which is cited by 44% as a factor.

Funding seems to be a key issue, with only 18% of authors receiving full funding for article publication.  Additionally, young researchers are nearly twice as likely not to have funding as their older colleagues; somewhat counter-intuitively, however, they don’t see this as any more of a barrier to publishing OA.  Presumably OA will rapidly move up the ranks as a factor in where researchers choose to publish as funder mandates start to kick in – the introduction of the RCUK mandate on April 1, 2013, and corresponding increase in APC funding for articles arising from UK funded research, should be a good indicator.

Overall, the results are encouraging for the future of gold OA publishing. A continuing commitment on the part of publishers and societies to publish high quality, high IF journals through a strong and sustainable peer review process looks likely to attract increasing numbers of authors to publish in OA journals. And there are also opportunities to launch new high-quality OA journals in disciplines where these don’t currently exist – as long as the funding is available to support them.

But there’s the rub. If gold OA is to succeed as a means of providing immediate public access to research articles, then authors across all disciplines need better access to APC funding. While the UK government has already committed to finding some additional funds for APCs following publication of the Finch Group report, it is still not clear how much will be available. And in Brussels, there seems to be little likelihood of much additional funding for gold OA in the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 budget. Let’s hope that, in order to achieve the “significant social and economic benefits” of making research outputs freely available that the RCUK hopes for, they and other funding bodies will be prepared to put their money where their mouth is.

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Alice Meadows

Alice Meadows

I am a Co-Founder of the MoreBrains Cooperative, a scholarly communications consultancy with a focus on open research and research infrastructure. I have many years experience of both scholarly publishing (including at Blackwell Publishing and Wiley) and research infrastructure (at ORCID and, most recently, NISO, where I was Director of Community Engagement). I’m actively involved in the information community, and served as SSP President in 2021-22. I was honored to receive the SSP Distinguished Service Award in 2018, the ALPSP Award for Contribution to Scholarly Publishing in 2016, and the ISMTE Recognition Award in 2013. I’m passionate about improving trust in scholarly communications, and about addressing inequities in our community (and beyond!). Note: The opinions expressed here are my own


49 Thoughts on "Open Access — What Do Authors Really Want?"

“Professional research experience also appears to impact an author’s decision to publish OA – researchers with five or more years experience are significantly more likely to have published an OA article than those with less (83% versus 17%). ”
Noooo! Someone with >5 years experience will have published more papers (on average), hence even if a decision to publish in an OA journal was random, they would have been more likely to have published in an OA journal.

The question is whether it is random vis a vis gold OA journal status, such as based solely on quality, or whether more senior researchers are more willing to take the gold leap, have more money, etc. We do not really have the data to decide this. Is the survey going to be published? In a gold OA journal perhaps?

We definitely need to dig deeper on this and the other data, so we are now undertaking a full analysis of the results and do plan to publish a more in-depth study – almost certainly on a gold OA basis.

Thanks Alice, I look forward to it. If it is not on a gold OA basis we will be forced to make fun of you.

There are alternatives. E.g., ALPSP’s Learned Publishing makes some content OA after a slight delay, and Against the Grain makes all content OA two months after publication. I know because I have had many articles published there and they now reside OA on my web site.

We have been asked to write this up for Learned Publishing, David – they offer a gold option to make articles available immediately on publication, so that’s what we are planning to do. Your comment did get me thinking though – I wonder how many journals now offer that option – and how many OA articles they have published. Does anyone have any information on this?

In all of the research I have conducted with authors about their scholarly dissemination practices, authors consistently say they are driven by the academic reward system to publish in the “best” journals in their fields. That almost always means publishing in a conventional (non-OA) journal. Older, tenured scholars are sometimes willing to publish in OA journals that may have less recognition because it matters less to the authors’ advancement.

Very useful! The core finding seems to be that gold OA can grow if it gets funded and the quality journals are there. Both are problematic of course but the opportunity seems clear. There appears to be no race to the bottom which many have feared, not yet anyway. If serious money shows up this might change a bit as the money will surely be spent. Ideology does not seem to be much of a factor except in generating the money.

In any case it will take several years for the money to appear, if ever, and the administrative details will take even longer. The US research community is facing potentially severe budget cutbacks at the moment. I know of no Federal funding agency asking for APC money at this time but it could come later. So we are basically looking on a decadal timescale, which is normal for a transition of this size. Whether there will be a transition is a funder policy, therefore political, issue not a business decision. The publishers are not in charge, the funders are. This should surprise no one.

David I agree about the time line. It took about a decade to go from page charges to subscription model.

In the end, it will take direct funding of individuals to publish in the OA Gold system. If there is no funding some if not most of the Gold journals will simply wither on the vine.

The article says there are now some 6,700 OA journals. Are there 6,700 subscription based journals? For this many journals to have been created so fast seems to me to reflect opportunism vs scholarship.

Harvey, this figure from the Biomed study that Alice cites provides a rough picture of the gold OA takeoff: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7015/10/124/figure/F2. Gold OA is the top region. It is a good study, albeit based on limited data.

This still amounts to only about 8% of all articles published so it is far from dominant. A few gold mega-journals publish a huge number of articles each but most gold journals publish relatively few. Given that publishing is a business I have no problem with opportunism and Alice’s findings suggest that scholarship is also still central. The two are not mutually exclusive.

But I am an analyst not a moralist, so I do not presume to tell science how to do its job.

Hi Harvey, there are many more than 6,700 subscription journals – it’s hard to find an exact number but, for example, there are over 19,000 journals in the Scopus database at present.

Moreover many of the OA journals appear not to be in Scopus (or WOS). Here is a fascinating quote from Laasko and Bjork that illustrates the data problems with OA:

“Nearly half of all full immediate OA articles published during 2011 were outside of Scopus and two thirds outside of Thomson Reuters Web of Knowledge, meaning that a large portion of article OA article volume lacks coverage in major publication indexes.” (results section)

The fog of revolution.

I’ll tell you what would impress me. A publishing company that would pay for the content, reviewing and editing they largely get for free. No other business I’m aware of gets its product, its quality control and its vetting for free, and then sells it back to the very same community for a price. Start paying for reviewing, at least!

More on this idea here: http://conservationbytes.com/2012/01/29/knowledge-slavery/

These concepts are cliche and unrealistic. The economics of scientific publishing have been well-explored, and you can read about why authors and reviewers aren’t directly paid in the book reviewed here: http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2012/04/11/review-how-economics-shapes-science-by-paula-stephan/.

The problems begin when you begin to consider that most papers have to be rejected many times before they find their ultimate home. Should you be paying for rejection each time, in hopes you get paid later? Reviewers get other rewards, including prestige, insights into early research in their field, etc.

The “pay” for science publishing is indirect. In fact, the rational economics are such that more authors are paying publishers now than ever before. Explain that!

Spoken like a true publisher. I’ve already covered the issue of rejections here. Prestige, eh? Well, that pays handsomely, doesn’t it? The fact is that most scientists wallow in financial destitution, while scientific publishing companies are some of the most profitable businesses in the world (e.g., Elsevier).

Reviewers get rewards? On what planet do you live? Clearly you have never been part of the peer-review cycle!

Just how are my concepts “cliché”, you condescending, plutocratic Luddite

It’s surprising to me how quickly on this blog civility can break down among what I presume to be an otherwise rational group.

Every revolution attracts its crusaders who are notoriously impatient to the point of rudeness (and beyond).

The concepts that are cliche are the ones regarding paying authors and reviewers. These have been tried, and no improvement noted (in the case of reviewers). Some journals in the medical space provide CME credits to reviewers, which helps with retention of some reviewers, but most do it because they have a sense of altruism, because they find the work interesting, because they want to see what’s going on in their field a bit early, and because they are just passionate about what they do. The economics of academic life make being paid for publication (at least for journal articles) a misfit concept. The rewards are sizable and indirect.

My challenge to you was to explain why, instead of the model moving to authors-paid or reviewers-paid, it has moved to authors pay and reviewers continue to work for free. My link was to point you to a post that explains why this is — essentially, because the rewards of publication (which transforms non-rival and non-excludable information into rival, excludable information, which can be then used for patents, academic advancement, future grants, and so forth) are so high that now authors are rationally (see interview with author of that book) paying for publication events. There is no scarcity of content seeking publication to drive publishers to pay for it. Most publishers are incurring costs in order to reject a significant portion of what’s submitted to them.

I appreciate you devolving to ignorant name-calling at the end. I wasn’t sure what kind of intellectual encounter I might have with you, and that let me know a lot more. Great insights.

Not every academic publisher works like Elsevier. I would put them at one end of the spectrum, and at the other end would be a not for profit academic society that publishes one or two journals. In between you have a range of small and medium sized publishers with differing levels of profitability. You estimate that paying reviewers would cost about €48,000 per journal per year. Maybe if you’re Elsevier you can absorb that kind of increase in overhead. But if you’re a smaller “boutique” publisher you might have no choice but to raise rates to cover the increased costs. If you raise your rates too fast and you’re perceived as “boutique” not essential, librarians decide you’re not worth the money anymore and cancel. That’s unsustainable. Something similar could happen with Gold OA. If you have to hike your publication fees, authors might decide you’re not worth the value and publish elsewhere. It seems like paying reviewers could have the unintended consequence of strengthening the big guys (who could weather the increased costs) by knocking out the little guys (who couldn’t).

Some further economic consequences of paying reviewers:
-high quality reviewers could demand higher rates
-deep-pocketed journals could afford the best reviewers
-editor rejections without review would go up (financial incentive to reject early)
-conversely, increased pressure to publish articles that got mixed reviews
-harder to prove: reviewers who tend to give favorable reviews would be used more often and be rated more highly (financial incentive, plus they agreed with the editor’s original assessment)
-fewer reviews per article

When paying reviewers, the financial disincentive for reviewing articles you ultimately reject is concrete and immediate. The financial incentive – increasing the quality of your journal – is more nebulous and indirect. These pressures would shift review power to editors and away from reviewers. Also, the more money a journal has, the better it is able to manipulate the system.

This doesn’t sound like it would be good for science.

There is a group exploring the idea of paying reviewers, however the author would do the paying rather than the publisher.


The idea is that the author would get an independent review which, presumably, he or she could use to either revise the manuscript, or take the reviews to a journal so that the journal would not need to do it’s own peer review.

I can imagine this might be attractive to quite a few members of the author, reviewer and publisher community, but have no idea whether it would ever become mainstream.

Interestingly, paid reviewers in consumer areas are strictly frowned upon. Amazon has kicked all such reviewers out of its system.

I like the idea of getting a friend to read it before submission. Cheaper, and just as likely to work.

Wasn’t there a medical journal that experimented with paying a token sum to peer reviewers? As I recall, they found that most reviewers weren’t particularly motivated by the idea of getting $25 for their efforts. How much would one need to pay to bring in the top minds in a field to review a paper? Would we end up with a review system populated entirely by those with lots of spare time and desire to make a quick buck?

But of course reviewers are paid for reviewing monographs, and monographs are often rejected multiple times before finding a publisher. So, what’s the difference? Just that there are far more articles submitted than monographs? That monographs are individually priced and journal articles are not?

As for funding OA, I fear that the humanities will end up being underfunded in comparison with other fields, as it has been historically on the research side.

I think you answered your own questions there. Yes, because there are more articles submitted, usually not invited, and because journals are bundled and sold differently. Many journals pay for review articles and some even pay reviewers of review articles a little bit, but I was assuming we were talking original scientific content here.

I’m a little confused as to how one earns prestige from a process that is supposed to be anonymous. If anything sounds unrealistic, it’s that.

The last point is simple to explain. The new system works better than the old one and scholars are starting to understand this.

The free market theory of economics warns about the destructive effect of monopolies and scholarly publishers have spent the last twenty years showing WHY they’re bad things. Once a publisher owns a piece of content, they’re the sole source for it and can (and have) charged whatever they felt would maximize their revenue stream, free of competitive forces that would normally keep prices down. The university library can’t get that journal anywhere else, so they have to pretty much take it or leave it at whatever price that one company wants to give.

In an author pays model, each publisher is just one of many options. If their fees, reputation and services are not optimal, the author has the choice to publish elsewhere with minimal consequences. Without the monopoly effect, the amount of money that publishers extract from the system would be constrained by their need to stay competitive against others in the market. Higher tier journals could get away with higher fees, but only up to a point. Other journals are looking for a chance to lure away those best papers and take the top spot, after all.

All of this doesn’t take into account the added value of all the people who can access scientific information under OA that would be stuck with nothing but abstracts and a paywall under subscription services. Even assuming scholars are motivated by nothing but self-interest (something I don’t consider true), they like this as well because it creates more opportunities for their work to be seen and cited.

As OA journals grow in number and quality and libraries make stronger efforts to reach out to scholars and educate them about the value of OA publishing, the growth in the number of authors willing to accept APC fees is no surprise at all.

You can list that you’re a peer-reviewer for Journal X. That’s prestigious. I’ve known scientists who have jumped up and down with joy when told they could be a peer reviewer.

To your other point about the magical new competitiveness afforded by OA publishing, that will only work for commoditized OA publishing, and once OA starts to really become as differentiated by brand, process, respectability, impact, and so forth, price tiering and other similar pricing structures will appear. They are already appearing, with some OA journals charging 2-4x what PLoS does, for instance. If a price is attached to something, it will create a market. That market’s behavior is not usually only down to the lowest price point, but to explore all price points and differentiate into those price points. We may just see a tighter alignment of prestige to price in the emerging market. Today, most high-prestige journals are among the most affordable, oddly enough. Having more readers drives prices down for users, but having fewer authors in a quality-differentiated OA journal may drive prices up.

CJAB, no one is trying to impress you. At this point your vision is irrelevant. The rest of us are trying to understand where the industry is going. You clearly are not.

Thanks Alice for discussing what appears to be a very interesting survey. I hope it is published with more information.

Funding for APCs is an issue particularly in fields with less external funding. It’s not that there isn’t enough money in the system but with the money tied up in subscription fees and libraries are strapped for cash. It is necessary to essentially pay double to fund APCs without cancelling subscriptions which would not be possible until there is a much larger shift to OA. This will make a transition to widespread open access very slow and difficult.

One interesting approach is SCOAP3 in high energy physics where the transition is being forced and appears at this point that it will work. It is a very narrow field with strong support for OA and relatively few journals so I doubt transferable to other fields. It will also be interesting what happens with PeerJ and whether that can be a viable model. If so, I think it has even more potential in outside of biomedicine as most researchers could come up with the membership fees PeerJ is currently charging without external funding. There is also Sage Open which focuses on the social sciences and charges a fairly low APC and seems to be growing but is still very small.

As for IF, Bo-Christer Björk and I published a study this summer that indicates there really isn’t much difference in IF for APC funded OA and subscription journals when you control for age and discipline.


One issue faced by OA publications is that non-tenured faculty are reluctant to publish in “newer” journals. This is a reputation issue among the OA publications, but it is also a function of academic cultural norms. Faculty members who seek tenure are afraid that they will receive less credit for publishing in a journal such as “Frontiers in Psychology” (OA gold) than in “Cognition” (Elsevier).

My doctoral work involved an analysis of the career trajectory of Ph.D. recipients. Pre-tenure faculty are among the most conservative; they simply cannot afford to be cutting-edge. I suspect that is why the OA publication rate goes up after 5 years. Tenured faculty can afford to publish in “newer” journals because they won’t get penalized.

That concern extends beyond just getting tenure. Associate professors also have to play it safe in order to get promoted to full professor. i have direct evidence of this from dealing with some scholars who are wary of publishing their monographs with Lynne Rienner instead of a “name” university press.

“Of the 10,600 who responded, about one-third have already published at least one OA article, while nearly 80% believe that OA is growing in their field (note, proportionately more researchers from the biological sciences responded than from any other field).

Inevitably, there are significant variations by subject discipline. Over half of all responding authors who have already published in an OA journal work in health-related or biological sciences; conversely, only 12% work in the social sciences.”

This is what post-survey stratification and weighting is for, so we can adjust for this…

Indeed these numbers sound like the relative percentages in research as a whole, or at least in US Federally funded research where NIH funds over 50% and only NSF funds a lot of social stuff. Laasko and Bjork discuss disciplines and OA. Most interesting is the low participation of the hard physical sciences due to widespread preprint availability. Another contest of sorts.

The author writes:
“Of these, about half (166,700) were published as gold OA articles — journals requiring the payment of an article publication charge (APC).”

Does Gold OA does equal APC? I didn’t think so. There are other “gold OA” publishing models. Let’s not conflate the two.

I have never heard of gold OA referring to anything else. What models do you have in mind, Joanne?

What I meant was that there are open access journals that do not charge APCs. In fact, I think the the study referenced in the article says 50% of “full immediate OA journals” charge APCs. Other funding/business models for oa journals include institutional memberships, external subsidies or endowments, individual memberships (e.g., peerj), institutional subsidy, and other models posted at (http://oad.simmons.edu/oadwiki/OA_journal_business_models) and (http://www.arl.org/sparc/publisher/incomemodels/). (Sorry… can’t figure out how to link here.)
It doesn’t change the points made in this post, but I thought it should be clarified.

Your point is well taken. The question then is whether these free OA models are gold OA? It may be that the term is deeply ambiguous, which would not be surprising. For example people sometimes say that there are just two kinds of OA, namely green and gold. In that case free OA is part of gold, a large part in fact. But gold OA also often refers just to APC based OA. It is a muddle. Revolutions are like that.

David, there seems to be a lot of confusion about the terms “Gold” and “Green” OA. The way I understand things, these are seen as “routes” rather than particular business models. “Gold” means publication of the article in an OA manner through a formal journal. “Green” means publication of the journal in an OA manner through repositories or other such less structured archives. There are many variations within both Gold and Green, and both are compatible with one another and can coexist for the same article. “Gold” does not automatically mean “published in a journal via paying an APC”, though those articles are a subset of “Gold”.

David, I think the term gold OA is systemically ambiguous, that is it is used both ways. This is characteristic of revolutions. I am pretty sure that if you look back through Kitchen discussions you will often find it referring to author pays models. This confusion may be important.

I think it’s more a confusion in usage. The definitions are clearly stated, but here at TSK and at other places, the terms are often used in an incorrect manner. This may be a case of language evolving or more likely, just a lot of people unclear on the concepts of a new developing model.

Here is Peter Suber on the subject:

There are two primary vehicles for delivering OA to research articles, OA journals (“gold OA”) and OA repositories (“green OA”).

The chief difference between them is that OA journals conduct peer review and OA repositories do not. This difference explains many of the other differences between them, especially the costs of launching and operating them.

There are other OA vehicles on which I won’t focus here, such as personal web sites, ebooks, discussion forums, email lists, blogs, wikis, videos, audio files, RSS feeds, and P2P file-sharing networks. There will undoubtedly be many more in the future.

Most activists refer to OA delivered by journals as gold OA (regardless of the journal’s business model), and to OA delivered by repositories as green OA.

The green/gold distinction is about venues or delivery vehicles, not user rights or degrees of openness. It is not equivalent to the gratis/libre distinction.

Here’s the Wikipedia entry:

Green OA Self Archiving[4][5][6] – authors publish in any journal and then self-archive a version of the article for free public use in their institutional repository,[7] in a central repository (such as PubMed Central), or on some other OA website.[8] What is deposited is the peer-reviewed postprint – either the author’s refereed, revised final draft or the publisher’s version of record. Green OA journal publishers[9] endorse immediate OA self-archiving by their authors. OA self-archiving was first formally proposed in 1994[10][11] by Stevan Harnad. However, self-archiving was already being done by computer scientists in their local FTP archives in the ’80s,[12] later harvested into Citeseer. High-energy physicists have been self-archiving centrally in arXiv since 1991.

Gold OA Publishing – [13] authors publish in an open access journal that provides immediate OA to all of its articles on the publisher’s website.[8] (Hybrid open access journals provide Gold OA only for those individual articles for which their authors (or their author’s institution or funder) pay an OA publishing fee.) Examples of OA publishers[13] are BioMed Central, the Public Library of Science, and Dove Medical Press.

That is not how language works. Usage is the reality while someone’s proposed definition is an articact, an attempt to influence usage. I am talking about usage. The term gold OA is used ambiguously. (This is my little science, applied concept analysis.) This ambiguity is a fact worth considering because systemic confusion can have significant implications especially in policy making. For example I wonder how the Finch report uses the term? Or the RCUK policy?

I do understand your point about living language and real world usage versus dictionary definitions. I made a similar point in the comments of one of Kent’s pieces about eLife, where there’s a defined difference between being indexed in MedLine and just appearing in PubMed search results, but to the researcher, that difference doesn’t actually exist.

But if we are trying to better understand and analyze (as well as implement) new models, then it’s useful on our part to be precise in our descriptions. Those terms were specifically defined by those who coined them, and in these cases, they are being used with a specific meaning. If we respond using a different meaning for the term, then that further muddles the picture, rather than bringing enlightenment.

For the record, the Finch Report actually defines Gold and Green on page 16:

A key feature of the international environment over the past decade has been the growth of the open access movement. That movement has many different strands, and definitions and distinctions have become increasingly important as it has grown: between access without payment to a version of a publication through a repository (often called green open access) on the one hand, or to the version of record via the journal’s own platform (often termed gold open access) on the other;

The words “gold” and “green” are not found anywhere in the RCUK policy document.

Reminds me a bit of the debate over the CC-BY license as defining what open access “really” means! For reasons I have given elsewhere, I find that stipulative definition both unduly narrow and pragmatically counterproductive.

Again it really depends on how Finch and RCUK use the concept, and how they are interpreted, not on the stated definition. I do not have the resources to do the study that might resolve this conjecture so will just look for examples as we go along.

It may be that I am the only one confused. I am easly confused, which is why I have made the study of confusion my life’s work. I even have a diagnostic system of 126 kinds of confusion. Vague concept leads the list.

I see Finch as using the term to suggest papers should be published via the Gold route by employing APC’s to make them immediately available. But I don’t think you’re the only one confused and that people do use “gold” as a shortcut for “gold with an APC”, and that confusion is why I think it’s important to be as precise as we can in using these terms.

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