Open-access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. What makes it possible is the internet and the consent of the author or copyright-holder. OA is entirely compatible with peer review, and all the major OA initiatives for scientific and scholarly literature insist on its importance. Just as authors of journal articles donate their labor, so do most journal editors and referees participating in peer review. OA literature is not free to produce, even if it is less expensive to produce than conventionally published literature. The question is not whether scholarly literature can be made costless, but whether there are better ways to pay the bills than by charging readers and creating access barriers.
This is just the beginning; there is more you can do to become part of the solution.
There are two primary vehicles for delivering Open Access research articles: OA journals and OA archives/repositoires.
OA journals perform peer review and then make the approved contents freely available to the world. Their expenses consist of peer review, manuscript preparation, and server space.
OA journals pay their bills very much the way broadcast television and radio stations do: those with an interest in disseminating the content pay the production costs upfront so that access can be free of charge for everyone with the right equipment. Sometimes this means that journals have a subsidy from the hosting university or professional society. Sometimes it means that journals charge a processing fee on accepted articles, to be paid by the author or the author’s sponsor (employer, funding agency).
OA journals that charge processing fees usually waive them in cases of economic hardship.
OA journals with institutional subsidies tend to charge no processing fees.
OA journals can get by on lower subsidies or fees if they have income from other publications, advertising, priced add-ons, or auxiliary services. Some institutions and consortia arrange fee discounts. Some OA publishers waive the fee for all researchers affiliated with institutions that have purchased an annual membership. There’s a lot of room for creativity in finding ways to pay the costs of a peer-reviewed OA journal, and we’re far from having exhausted our cleverness and imagination.
OA Archives or repositories:
OA archives or repositories do not perform peer review, but simply make their contents freely available to the world. They may contain unrefereed preprints, refereed postprints, or both.
Archives may belong to institutions (such as Iowa Research Online), or disciplines, such as physics and economics.
Authors may archive their preprints without anyone else’s permission, and a majority of journals already permit authors to archive their postprints. When archives comply with the metadata harvesting protocol of the Open Archives Initiative, then they are interoperable and users can find their contents without knowing which archives exist, where they are located, or what they contain. There is now open-source software for building and maintaining OAI-compliant archives and worldwide momentum for using it. The costs of an archive are negligible: some server space and a fraction of the time of a technician.
Institutional Open Access Mandates
An open access institutional mandate is a policy adopted by an institution (and put forth by the faculty senate) that requires authors to make their published, scholarly articles available by self-archiving their final, peer-reviewed drafts in a freely accessible central or institutional repository. Open access materials are freely accessible to potential users online.
ROARMAP, the searchable Registry of Open Access Repository Mandatory Archiving Policies, indexes the world’s institutional, funder and governmental OA mandates. Links to some OA mandates:
Journal prices have increased significantly. Publishing is increasingly concentrated in for-profit publishers.
Journal prices have increased significantly for more than two decades. Library budgets have not kept pace. A major factor in these increases has been the concentration of journal publishing among a small number of for-profit publishers. In FY 2010 the UI Libraries spent 28% of its entire acquisitions budget with five publishers—Elsevier, Springer, Wiley, Nature and Sage. One dollar in every seven spent on books and journals (print and electronic) went to Elsevier alone.
The average chemistry journal now costs $4227. The average for physics is $3649. For 2013 the cost for titles in EBSCO’s Academic Search Premier are expected to be between 5-7%(LJ Periodical Pricing Survey 2012).
Academic libraries are purchasing fewer journal titles and monographs. Some primary publishers are aggregating or “bundling” electronic content, with pricing incentives that make pre-determined “all or nothing” packages of journal titles the only cost-effective purchase option. Libraries lose the ability to select titles of most value to the local community and could commit larger portions of their budgets to fewer publishers. Mergers and acquisitions between commercial publishers are increasing. Mergers and acquisitions typically result in higher journal prices.
Manage Your Copyrights
When you publish a journal article you are often asked to sign a publication agreement, written by the publisher and their lawyers. Often publishers create significant barriers for authors who want to reuse their work, or allow others to use it. Negotiating changes to these standard agreements can help authors avoid unfortunate barriers to reuse and sharing.
Some research funders request or require that work created with their funds be made available openly on the web (example: the NIH requires grant receivers to deposit articles into PubMed Central, see Hardin Library’s web site for details). Funder policies can be reviewed in the University of Nottingham’s SHERPA/JULIET web site. Other institutions also have open access policies or mandates.
Know your rights as an author. As the author of a work, you are the copyright holder unless or until you transfer your rights. Please visit our Copyright guide and the Author’s Rights page in particular.
Copyright law gives the creator of copyrighted works exclusive rights, including:
- To reproduce the work in copies (e.g., through photocopying)
- To distribute copies of the work
- To prepare transitional or other derivative works
- To perform or display the work publicly
- To authorize others to exercise any of these rights
Learn More About Open Access and Changes in Scholarly Publishing
The University of Iowa Libraries has several resources for learning more about these issues.
- Visit our web site on scholarly publishing and learn about the array of issues that affect the system of publishing.
- Talk to a University of Iowa author who has published in an open access journal.
- Contact your librarian and ask questions or have a conversation about the issues.