Open access

Luisa Veras de Sandes-Guimarães

Open access can be understood as a process of decentralization that makes it possible to increase the dissemination and use of scientific knowledge (Cardoso, Caraça, Espanha, Triães, & Mendonça, 2009). This possibility is even more accentuated with the growing advances of the internet in technological terms and in terms of its reach. However, as Solomon and Bjork (2012) state, much of the web’s potential is underused, because the business model of the scientific publication industry is based on the sale of subscriptions for access to content, which continue to become more and more expensive.

In fact, the price of periodical subscriptions has risen substantially over recent decades and the budgets of university libraries have not been able to keep up. This has made it difficult for libraries to maintain the same number of subscriptions and has created a barrier to access to published knowledge content (King & Tenopir, 1998). Other authors like McCartan (2010), McGuigan and Russell (2008) and Luethi (2008) agree with the previous argument, showing that this preoccupation is still valid. Princeton University, for example, has come to almost totally block the ceding of authors’ rights to publishers for the articles published by university researchers, maintaining open access for almost all of the institution’s publications.

The justification for this initiative is in fact valid, given that, as shown by Creagh (2011), universities pay millions of dollars a year for periodical subscriptions, and people or institutions that are not subscribers (costs can range up to $25,000 a year for a single periodical), are frequently denied access to research which has been financed by the taxes they have paid.

Due to the barriers imposed by higher and higher costs, user access to scientific periodicals has become more and more restricted, thus reducing the potential impact of articles which are restricted or only available at a cost. To the extent that this impact is crucial to the career of researchers, because it measures the progress and productivity of research and serves as a way to obtain benefits from their respective universities and funding agencies (Harnard et al., 2004), the greater the impact of a periodical, the better it is for science and the scientific community.

The first steps in the direction of open access (the Budapest Open Access Initiative (2002) and the Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing (2003)) point to the establishment of two strategies for open access. The first is self-archiving. In this case, authors deposit, in an open access archive, their published articles or those accepted for publishing by a participating periodical. The second step is the creation or migration of articles to open access, in which institutions and editors guarantee complete access to the content of the periodicals that they have. This initiative defines open access as free and unrestricted availability in electronic form to the literature that researchers produce and make available to all interested parties without expecting a financial return (this includes post-prints and pre-prints).

These and other initiatives have advanced the cause of the open access movement, putting a certain amount of pressure on publishers that continue to retain copyrights and impose high prices for subscriptions. The important thing, however, is that access and the consequential impact of research has been the subject of great debate lately. Its increasing impact has been confirmed by studies conducted in recent years.

According to a study by Swan (2010), publications that offer open access have had, in general, a greater impact than publications with restricted access. The author examined studies about the impact of open access periodicals (31 studies in total) showing that 27 of them found a greater impact for open access periodicals than for restricted access periodicals.

Another important aspect related to open access and electronic scientific periodicals is the rise of new and diversified business models for open access periodicals. These models, including ten proposals made by Wilinsky (2006), have been advanced as alternatives to the traditional model of commercial publishers. Concerns about this issue have led to various initiatives, including the creation of Open Journal Systems (OJS), free software to manage electronic periodicals created by the Public Knowledge Project of the University of British Columbia.

Publication and financing models for scientific journals

According to Dubini and Giglia (2009), there are two main models for publishing scientific periodicals, the traditional model, Toll Access, and the new alternative, Open Access.

In the traditional model, readers pay for subscriptions to a specific journal (in print or electronically), for access to just one article online (pay-per-view) or, as happens most of the time, institutions or consortiums pay large publishers (Elsevier, Emerald, Springer, Taylor & Francis, Willey-Blackwell) or source or reference databases (Jstor, Ebsco, Proquest, Web of Science, Scopus) for access to a broad portfolio of online scientific periodicals (Big Deal)(Guanaes & Guimarães, 2012; Solomon & Björk, 2012). In Brazil, the periodical portal of CAPES offers practically all of the country’s universities access to the complete text of close to 24,000 periodicals, costing around 61 million reais a year (Almeida, Guimarães, & Alves, 2010).

For the open access model, there are various forms of publication and financing for journals. In terms of publication, the models that most appear in the literature are: the gold route, the green route and hybrid models. The gold route signifies that the open access periodical makes articles available openly immediately after publication on the periodical’s website (Björk, Sylwestrzak, & Szprot, 2014). The green route is considered to be a complement to the gold route and focuses on self-archiving scientific research published through traditional media in institutional repositories or area specific repositories (Swan, Willmers, & King, 2014).

A distinction should be made between periodicals which are ‘gratis’ open access and ‘libre’ open access. These describe two different kinds of openness. Gratis refers to works that may be accessed freely, but have limited options for reuse: libre refers to works that can be reused, subject to the licensing chosen by the periodical (Swan et al., 2014). The Creative Commons licenses used for libre are: CC BY (Attribution) and CC BY-SA (Attribution-Sharealike).

In terms of hybrid models, Bernius, Hanauske, König e Dugall (2009) explain that most scientific periodicals provide partial open access to their content, so that the access to some parts of the periodical, like summaries, abstracts and editorials can be free. On the other hand, delayed open access means that the publisher allows journal articles to be accessed freely after a given period of time (an embargo), normally a year, after which the exclusive rights to the article return to the author (Bernius et al., 2009). Optional open access means that the publishers let the author decide whether the article will have open access or not. However, the author has to pay a fee, which in the case of Springer is $3,000 per article, which may lead authors to avoid this option. Finally there is retrospective open access which grants free access to the content of the journal’s older articles, after a certain period of time has passed (Bernius et al., 2009).

Financing models for open access periodicals

For periodicals that wish to maintain open access by waiving fees for journal readers, there are various options which may be combined to help finance the periodical. Crow (2009) explored the most commonly used models, dividing them into two categories: 1) Supply side models: processing fees for articles, advertising, sponsorship, subsidies (internal and external), donations, fundraising, contributions in kind and partnerships. 2) Demand side models: versioning (offline media), contextual electronic commerce, proportional usage fees, licenses in convenient formats and added value services.

Article processing charges (APCs) signify charging authors or their institutions fees to subsidize the costs of processing and publishing articles. According to Crow (2009), APCs are based on the premise that authors and their institutions are the direct beneficiaries of the publication of scientific periodicals. Thus, APCs seek to distribute the costs of publishing periodicals among those individuals and institutions that most benefit from the publication of their respective articles (Crow, 2009).

According to Solomon and Björk (2012), BioMed Central and the Public Library of Science (PLoS) are considered the two pioneering publishers in the charging of APCs and in making the academic community aware of the potential of APCs for the financing of open access publications on a large scale. However, as Björk and Hedlund (2009) emphasize, these publishers have encountered difficulties in trying to charge fees directly to the authors and are trying to attract direct financing from universities in the form of institutional membership. According to a study by Crow (2009), APCs are normally totally or partially subsidized, whether by a research grant (34%), foundation grant (5%), their department (8%) or their institution’s library (27%). The paying of these fees by authors is relatively low (5%) (Crow, 2009).

Crow (2009) estimates that around half of open access periodicals charge APCs, with some charging fees for all the articles submitted and others charging for those that have been accepted for publication. Solomon and Björk (2012) state that charging fees for submissions is logical, given that part of the costs of the publication of a scientific periodical stem from managing the peer review process, which occurs before an article’s publication. Since the articles rejected as well as the articles accepted are subject to submission fees, this could lead to a reduction in the number of inappropriate articles submitted (Crow, 2009). On the other hand, Solomon and Björk (2012) state that this practice is being followed more rarely than expected due to the publisher fears that this could deter potential authors.

In examining 989 periodicals that use Open Journal Systems (OJS), Edgar and Wilinsky (2010) found that submission and publication fees were two of the least used financing models for these periodicals ((3% used the former and 9% the latter). Subscriptions for printed reviews (one of the versioning strategies) and subsidies from institutions, governments and foundations represent the largest source of financial resources (Edgar & Wilinsky, 2010). This low usage of APCs by the journals examined may have to do with the fact that almost 50% of the periodicals in the sample used by Edgar and Wilinsky (2010) come from developing countries and, at least in Brazil, the use of APCs is not a common practice.

Mueller (2011) analyzed 193 periodicals that were indexed in the SciELO (Scientific Electronic Library Online) in October 2008 and identified just 19 (9.84%) that charged publication fees for their articles. Most of the periodicals (82.9%) counted on, however, some form of external financing, coming from: federal agencies (76.68%), state agencies (11.39%), commercial entities (7.25%) and non-commercial entities (11.39%). However, some of the editors that Mueller (2011) contacted stated that “external support has helped maintain our journal, but it isn’t enough to cover all the expenses involved in publishing and certainly doesn’t allow us to make any improvements” (Mueller, 2011, p. 218).


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