Opportunities and Challenges

While most actors who have a stake in the research enterprise support open access and embrace its principles, it is still true that publishers as well as the funders and institutions that support scholarship have yet to institute policies and reward structures that encourage and support researchers who would like to publish open access. As a result the social good of open access often has to be weighed against the practicalities of efficiency, career incentives, and research funding.

Open Access Opportunities

The greatest benefit of open access is that it enables the results of scholarly research to be disseminated more rapidly and widely:

  1. More people can read the results of scholarly research, including those who would otherwise not be able to access that information because they cannot afford the subscription to an expensive journal.
  2. New ideas can be dispersed more rapidly and widely, which in turn triggers new research studies; it serves as an impetus for knowledge.
  3. Scientific research shows that publishing in open access, because of the worldwide visibility without barriers, demonstrably leads to more citations and more impact.
  4. Businesses also have broad access to the most recent scientific ideas, which they can then build upon. Open access contributes to the knowledge economy and provides an economic boost.
  5. Since open access also implies wider reuse, recent knowledge can be put to immediate use in teaching as open educational resources.

Open Access Challenges

Researchers experience a number of disadvantages, most of which relate to the transition to the open access publication model. It is only in the longer term that the extra effort required brings concrete benefits to researchers themselves. This may affect the priority they attach to switching to this new publication model.

The disadvantages they experience:

  1. In many disciplines, researchers are rated by their ability to publish in journals with a high impact factor. However, it takes some time before new journals, both traditional and open access, can acquire an impact factor. Related to this, the value of the impact factor as a valid and accurate measure of a journal’s quality has become a topic of debate. Increasingly, researchers are asking research evaluators (institutions and funders) to judge research on its individual merits, and not where it has been published.
  2. The number of high-quality, fully open access journals varies enormously across the different disciplines. Some disciplines, including law and the humanities do not have a large pool of suitable venues in which to publish.
  3. Publishing in open access journals sometimes involves additional administration, whereas delivering articles to traditional journals can usually be done easily online.
  4. In this transition period most research institutes have not yet made provisions for the payment of Author Processing Charges (APCs). This therefore entails additional, often substantial, costs for researchers. However, many universities are beginning to respond by setting up funds to cover open access publication fees and it is good to inquire about this.
  5. Researchers can be spammed by open access publishers of often dubious quality (“predatory journals”), which colours their perception of the open access publication model.
  6. Supplying publication data and the full text of publications to repositories (to satisfy “green open access”) means extra work for researchers.

Scenario – Setting Priorities

Let’s consider this scenario: Siobhan is a PhD student under your supervision and is preparing a manuscript for submission to journals. Her research has a strong public health aspect and she would like to publish open access. All of the prestigious journals in her discipline allow authors to submit articles for consideration as either open access, with an accompanying $2,500 fee, or not. Siobhan does have some research funding available to her (~ $10,000) and is struggling with whether or not she should submit her article as an open access article and pay the fee. What advice would you give to Siobhan?

Dig Deeper

To learn more about the benefits and challenges of open access, review: Adema, Janneke and Eelco Ferwerda. (2014). Publication Practices in Motion: The Benefits of Open Access Publishing for the Humanities. In New Publication Cultures in the Humanities: Exploring the Paradigm Shift. (pg 131-147). Licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND.

May, Christopher. (2018). Academic Publishing and Open Access: Costs, benefits and options for publishing research. Licensed under CC-BY-NC.

Portions of this section has been adapted from information found on the Open Access Netherlands website.