Open access publishing

Open access publishing is a form of publishing that allows users free access to information published. Many publications can be published in this manner: Scholarly journals, known specifically as open access journals, open access archives or repositories,[1] magazines and newsletters, e-text or other e-books (whether scholarly, literary, or recreational), music, fine arts, or any product of intellectual activity. In this context, non-open access distribution is called "toll access" or "subscription access."

The term has also been used more broadly to include publishers of hybrid open access journals, which provide open access only for some articles. It can similarly be used for publishers of delayed open access journals, in which users gain open access to articles after a short embargo. The term can also used to describe publishers that permit or encourage self-archiving by authors and institutions.


Open access publishing is becoming increasingly popular in the web environment. While traditional means of publishing require users to pay for publishing costs, in open access publishing the publishers cover the costs and users have free access to the materials. Open access publication can thus offset the increasing cost of journal subscription and alleviate the financial burden placed on scholars and libraries. Annals of Mathematics, produced and supported by the Princeton University Department of Mathematics and the Institute for Advanced Study, The Public Library of Science (PLoS), is one example of scholarly open access publishing.


The roots of the concept of open access can be found in the ideas behind the printing press, which allowed the written word to be printed and distributed, encouraging widespread literacy; furthermore, cheaper printing became possible as paper began to replace vellum.

Probably the earliest book publisher to provide open access was the National Academies Press, publisher for the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine, and other arms of the National Academies. They have provided free online full-text editions of their books alongside priced, printed editions since 1994, and assert that the online editions promote sales of the print editions. As of June 2006, they had more than 3,600 books online for browsing, searching, and reading.

Since the 1990s there has been an explosion of interest and activity in open access journals, largely due to the widespread availability of internet access and increasing costs of journal publications. While access to scholarly information was vital to scholarship, the increasing cost of journal subscription became a heavy burden for scholars, institutions, and libraries, and open access publication was a way to offset these costs.

In 2001, Open Society Institute hosted the Budapest Open Access Initiative, which was a major step for the open access movement.

Budapest Open Access Initiative

The Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) was a conference convened by the Open Society Institute on December 1 and 2, 2001. This small gathering of individuals is recognized as one of the major historical, and defining, events of the open access movement.

The opening sentence of the Budapest Open Access Initiative encapsulates the ideas and vision behind the open access movement: "An old tradition and a new technology have converged to make possible an unprecedented public good." The old tradition is the practice of sharing the results of academic research. Universities and/or funding agencies pay faculty members to produce research and they are expected to disseminate the results in peer reviewed venues. While journals do not buy the articles from the authors or pay royalties, the internet has made it possible for everyone in the world to share knowledge freely and openly.

The thirteen original signatories of the Budapest Open Access Initiative included some of the world's early leaders in the open access movement: Leslie Chan of Bioline International; Darius Cuplinskas, Melissa Hagemann, Rima Kupryte and István Rév of Open Society Institute; Michael Eisen of the Public Library of Science; Fred Friend of the University College, London; Yana Genova of Next Page Foundation; Jean-Claude Guédon of the Université de Montréal and Open Society Institute; Stevan Harnad of the University of Southampton/Universite du Quebec a Montreal; Rick Johnson of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC); Manfredi La Manna of the Electronic Society for Social Scientists; Monika Segbert, Electronic Information for Libraries ( Project consultant; Sidnei de Souza, Informatics Director at CRIA, Bioline International; Peter Suber, Professor of Philosophy, Earlham College and The Free Online Scholarship Newsletter; Jan Velterop of BioMed Central.

Illustrating the rapid growth of open access, as of August 2006, over 360 organizations and 4,000 individuals have signed the initiative.

Manner of distribution

Many traditional media, such as certain newspapers, television, and radio broadcasts could be considered "open access." These include commercial broadcasting and free newspapers supported by advertising, public broadcasting, and privately funded political advocacy materials.

The modern open access journal movement almost exclusively distributes content over the Internet, due to its low distribution costs, scope, speed, and usefulness for scholarly communication. Open source software is sometimes used for institutional repositories,[2] open access journal websites,[3] and other aspects of scholarly open access publishing.

Some argue that the cost of distribution make complete open access publishing difficult to achieve. Broadcast media requires equipment, online content requires Internet access, and locally distributed printed media requires physical distribution. However, proponents of the open access model argue that these barriers are relatively insignificant in many circumstances, and efforts should be made to subsidize universal Internet access.

Methods of financing

Advertising is a major source of funding for media, web sites, and search engines that does not charge for content. Public broadcasting relies on government funding and voluntary donations from consumers.

Direct, private funding from the author for web hosting is very common, and is also a traditional mechanism for wealthy print authors. In addition, non-profit organizations often freely distribute advocacy materials and some fund public art or the production of artistic works.

In scholarly publishing, there are many business models for open access journals. Some charge publication fees (paid by authors or by their funding agencies or employers) and some of the no-fee journals have institutional subsidies.

Advantages for the author

The main motivation for most authors to publish in an open access journal is increased visibility and frequency of citations. Research citations of articles in a hybrid open access journal has shown that open access articles are cited more frequently or earlier than non-open access articles[4]

An example of open access publishing: Public Library of Science


The Public Library of Science (PLoS) is a nonprofit open-access scientific publishing project that aims to create a library of open access journals and other scientific literature under an open content license. As of January 2008, it publishes PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, PLoS Biology, PLoS Medicine, PLoS Computational Biology, PLoS Genetics, and PLoS Pathogens. PLoS ONE was launched at the end of 2006.

Open access and open access license

Open access is a core principle of PLoS:

All material published by the Public Library of Science, whether submitted to or created by PLoS, is published under an open access license that allows unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.[5]

To allow free dissemination of knowledge, PLoS adopts the Creative Commons Attribution License (CCAL), which is a license that allows authors to choose from a range of limited rights in between traditional copyright (all rights reserved) and public domain (no right reserved).

The Public Library of Science (PLoS) applies the Creative Commons Attribution License (CCAL) to all works we publish (read the human-readable summary or the full license legal code). Under the CCAL, authors retain ownership of the copyright for their article, but authors allow anyone to download, reuse, reprint, modify, distribute, and/or copy articles in PLoS journals, so long as the original authors and source are cited. No permission is required from the authors or the publishers.[6]


The Public Library of Science began in early 2001, as an online petition initiative by Patrick O. Brown, a biochemist at Stanford University, and Michael Eisen, a computational biologist at the University of California, Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The petition called for all scientists to pledge that from September of 2001, they would discontinue submission of papers to journals that did not make the full-text of their papers available to all, free and unfettered, either immediately or after a delay of several months. Some now do this immediately, as open access journals, such as the BioMed Central stable of journals, or after a six-month period from publication, as what are now known as delayed open access journals, and some after 6 months or less, such as the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Many others continue to rely on self-archiving.

Joined by Nobel-prize winner and former NIH-director Harold Varmus, the PLoS organizers next turned their attention to starting their own journal, along the lines of the UK-based BioMed Central, which has been publishing open-access scientific papers in the biological sciences in journals such as Genome Biology and the Journal of Biology since late 1999.

As a publishing company, the Public Library of Science began full operation on October 13, 2003, with the publication of a peer reviewed print and online scientific journal, entitled PLoS Biology, and have since launched six more peer-reviewed journals. The PLoS journals are what they describe as "open access content"; all content is published under the Creative Commons "attribution" license[7] (Lawrence Lessig, of Creative Commons, is also a member of the Advisory Board). The project states (quoting the Budapest Open Access Initiative) that: "The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited."

Business model

To fund the journal, PLoS charges a publication fee to be paid by the author or the author's employer or funder. In the United States, institutions such as the National Institutes of Health and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute have pledged that recipients of their grants will be allocated funds to cover such author charges. PLoS still relies heavily on donations from foundations to cover the majority of its operating costs[8].


The initiatives of the Public Library of Science in the United States have inspired similar projects in Europe, most notably the "Berlin Declaration" developed by the German Max Planck Society, which has also pledged grant support for author charges.


Self-archiving involves depositing a free copy of a digital document on the World Wide Web in order to provide open access to it. The term usually refers to the self-archiving of peer reviewed research journal and conference articles as well as theses, deposited in the author's own institutional repository or open archive for the purpose of maximizing its accessibility, usage, and citation impact.

Self-archiving is one of two general methods for providing open access. The other is open access publishing in an open access journal. The former is sometimes called the "green" and the latter the "golden" road to open access.

Self-archiving was first explicitly proposed as a universal practice by Stevan Harnad in his 1994 posting, "Subversive Proposal," although computer scientists had been doing it spontaneously in anonymous FTP archives since at least the 1980s (as sites such as CiteSeer) and physicists since the early 1990s, on the web (arXiv).

About 91 percent of peer-reviewed journals surveyed by EPrints already endorse authors self-archiving preprint and/or postprint versions of their papers.[9] Whereas the right to self-archive postprints is a copyright matter, the right to self-archive preprints is merely a question of journal policy.[10]


There are two major concerns regarding open access publishing. First, some question whether the open access model is appropriate for all genres, particularly works in entertainment industries. Second, some claim that the open access model does not work for publications that require heavy editorial work, such as textbooks.

First, outside of science and academia, it is unusual for producers of creative output to be financially compensated on anything other than a pay-for-access model (notable exceptions include open source software and public broadcasting). Successful writers, for example, support themselves by the revenues generated by people purchasing copies of their works; publishing houses are able to finance the publication of new authors based on anticipated revenues from sales of those that are successful. Opponents of open access would argue that without direct financial compensation via pay-for-access, many authors would be unable to afford to write, though some would accept the economic hardship of holding down a day job while continuing to write as a "labor of love."

In the entertainment industry, it is argued that, unlike science, there is no pressing social need for widespread and barrier-free access to the content.

Second, opponents of the open access model assert that the pay-for-access model is necessary to ensure that the publisher is 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, though acknowledging that open access journals do provide peer review.

Textbook publishers generally make an even greater investment in the editing process and electronic textbooks have yet to become widely accepted. For researchers, publishing an article with original results in a reputable scientific journal usually does more to enhance one's reputation among scientific peers and advance one's academic career. Journal article authors are generally not directly financially compensated for their work beyond their institutional salaries and the indirect benefits that an enhanced reputation provides in terms of institutional funding, job offers, and peer collaboration. It could be argued, then, that the financial reward from writing a successful textbook is an important motivating factor, without which the quality and quantity of available textbooks would decrease.


  1. Peter Suber, A Very Brief Introduction to Open Access, December 29, 2004. Retrieved May 15, 2008.
  2., Budapest Open Access Initiative. Retrieved May 17, 2008.
  3. Open Journal System, Public Knowledge Project. Retrieved May 17, 2008.
  4. G. Eysenbach, Citation Advantage of Open Access Articles, PLoS Biology Vol. 4, No. 5, e157. Retrieved May 15, 2008.
  5. PLoS, PLoS Core Principles. Retrieved May 17, 2008.
  6. PLoS, Open Access License. Retrieved May 17, 2008.
  7. Creative Commons, Attribution 2.5 Generic. Retrieved May 17, 2008.
  8. Declan Butler, Open-access journal hits rocky times, Nature 441, 914 (22 June 2006). Retrieved May 17, 2008.
  9. EPrings, Journal Policies—Summary Statistics So Far. Retrieved May 17, 2008.
  10. EPrints, question of journal policy, Self-Archiving FAQ. Retrieved May 17, 2008.


  • Brown, D. 2005. "National Institutes of Health Ushers in New Age of Open-Access Publishing." Journal—American Dietetic Association. 105, no. 5: 696-697.
  • Butler, D. 2003. "Scientific Publishing: Who Will Pay for Open Access?" Nature. no. 6958: 554-555.
  • Eysenbach G. 2006. "Citation Advantage of Open Access Articles." PLoS Biology. 4, no. 5.
  • Esanu, Julie M., and P.F. Uhlir. Open Access and the Public Domain in Digital Data and Information for Science: Proceedings of an International Symposium. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2004. ISBN 0309091454.
  • Held, M.J., M.F. Ham, V. Siegel, A. Costello, and D. Osrin. 2004. "Open-Access Publishing." The Lancet. no. 9428: 24-25.
  • Hood, Anna K. Open Access Resources. SPEC kit. Washington, D.C.: Association of Research Libraries, 2007. ISBN 1594077932.
  • Lessig, Lawrence. Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity. New York: Penguin Press, 2004. ISBN 1594200068.
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  • Park, Ji-Hong. Factors Influencing the Adoption of Open Access Publishing. Thesis (Ph.D.)—Syracuse University, 2007, 2007. ISBN 9780549036296.
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External links

All links retrieved December 21, 2018.


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