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Scholarly Publishing @Downstate: What is Open Access?

Open Access (OA)

Definition of Open Access

In the traditional model of scholarly publishing, the publisher retains the rights to the author's work instead of the author. These publishers keep the author's work behind "paywalls" that require a fee or subscription to access. The open access model of publication removes this fee-for-access barrier. Open access scholarly literature is free to access and reuse. No payment or subscription is required. It also typically has less copyright and licensing restrictions. 

Types of Open Access

While the idea of "free to access and use" is an easy concept to understand, there are several different models this access can take. Journals and publishers vary on which type of open access model they use. 

  • Gold - Gold open access model sees the authors work published in an OA journal that is archived and free to access for all.
  • Green - Green open access model allows the author to archive a pre- or post-print version of their work in a repository (e.g. SOAR) where it will be freely available. The journal may still charge for access to the article in the journal itself. There may be an embargo or delay before the author is able to make their work freely accessible via a repository, depending on the publisher agreement,.
  • Hybrid - Sometimes called "paid open access" This model requires that a fee be paid up front by the submitting author/institution to ensure the article is freely available.

Gold and Green models of open access may include an Article Processing Charge (APC). These fees paid by the author or institution are levied by the publisher to recoup costs for publication and archiving. The amount of APC varies from journal to journal and can be quite high in some instances (~$5000 on the high end).

Though green open access generally refers to the post-print of an article, there are three basic version types that can be self archived in repositories:

  • Pre-Prints – The author's copy of article before it’s been reviewed by the publisher, or pre-reviewed.
  • Post-Prints – The author's copy of article after it’s been reviewed and corrected, but before the publisher has formatted it for publication, or post-reviewed.
  • Publisher’s Version – The final version that is formatted and appears in print or online.

It's important to note that while open access journals are free to access, they still go through the same submission process of selection and evaluation of articles as traditional scholarly journals. Peer review is still of utmost importance in reputable OA journals, unlike predatory publishers who merely fleece authors for fees.

PhD Comics explains open access.

Why Open Access Matters

The importance of free, expedited and timely access to current research has been no more apparent than during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many publishers made all of their COVID-19 research findings and articles open access. Some publishers also began facilitating rapid peer review and quick publication so that knowledge of the encroaching virus can be disseminated as quickly as possible.  

Open access has other benefits besides speeding the spread of knowledge. The open access model of publication has also been shown to:

  • Increase author visibility - No paywall or subscription required means that everyone is able to see the work.
  • Increase citation rates - Increased visibility leads to increased use in others research.
  • Drive innovation - Those not attached to institutions or unable to pay for access are still able to view and utilize the knowledge.
  • Compliance with funder policy - Many research funding organizations, like the NIH, now mandate that any published research findings should be open access.  

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