To publish open access or not…

Last week was open access week and I did not even hear about it. It is an event that seeks to promote “Open Access as a new norm in scholarship and research.”. So I’m a few days late, but here we go!

Until a few decades ago there was one option for researchers who wanted to publish their work in academic journals: submit to a journal of choice, get accepted (or not) and eventually get published. Large publishing companies would then charge you or your home universities for accessing their papers and journals, through subscription fees or single-download-fees. This is still, I would say, the most common model. While researchers publish and peer review papers for free (without paying or getting compensation), universities are allocating large parts of their budgets to pay for subscription packages offered by the publishing companies. Furthermore, when publishing in those journals, you give up your copy right of the article to the publisher, which means that you are not allowed to use your own articles (e.g. in dissertations) without getting an OK from the publisher.

Open Access Journals are journals which provide unrestricted access to their published papers, and unrestricted reuse policies of those papers, and are often under the so called Creative Commons Licence. This means that all Open Access journal papers can be downloaded for free. To anyone. Publishing is often rapid but papers are often still peer reviewed and indexed.

There is, as always, a catch with open access publishing. Instead of paying to access the papers, you pay to publish them. This is fine if it is just a matter of when the money is paid, but it also affects the “market”. If you pay to access papers, it is in the publishers interest to publish interesting papers that attract a lot of downloads and citations. If you pay to publish a paper, it will be in the publisher’s interest to publish many papers. This means that even though a paper is flawed, the publisher will earn more money by accepting the paper than rejecting it, at least in the short run. The effect of this has been seen in so-called “predatory publishers” whose sole purpose is to make money by charging authors for publishing their work. Sometimes extra fees apply that are not even announced until the paper is accepted, forcing researchers to either go through the review process again, or to pay the additional publication fees. Fortunately, there is a list of “questionable publishers” at the Scolarly Open Access blog by Jeffrey Beall, where you can search for journals and publishers that you have planned to publish with. A quick overview of this list shows many publishers that I get tons of e-mails with publication offers from. I also find the publisher of a journal that I did my first reviewer assignment for, which I now get weekly requests to review for. The sad part is that while I recommended rejecting the paper due to plagiarism, they published a slightly improved version.

All open access journals and publishers are, however, not bad, and the idea of open access is actually appealing since it allows access to more people. This is also good for the researcher who has a higher chance of being read and cited if more people can access their papers. The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) aims to provide a comprehensive directory of open access journals that use a quality control system. The journals included in this directory should therefore be ok to publish in, but there have been some overlap between the list of questionable publishers (link in previous paragraph) and the DOAJ.

There is also often a “publish open access” option for “regular” journals, which is a decision you make after you have been accepted. This means that the publisher has no economic interest in publishing your particular paper, but that is of course easier when they already have a stable income from subscription fees paid by universities.

So where does that leave us? Should we publish open access? I believe in the free flow of information, and I think that if universities are paying for access to journals, they could instead pay for the publication of papers. Preferably to journals that are not connected to a multinational corporation. At Lund University, there is a fund for publishing Open Access, where 50% of the fee is paid by this fund, and the rest needs to come from other sources, preferably the research project. The journals, however, need to meet some criteria, for example they need to be part of this list of Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association. or at least live up to their code of conduct (however that is evaluated).

So if you want to publish open access, for various reasons, it can be difficult to know what journals and publishers are legit, since there seem to be some overlap between what’s considered ok, and what’s considered predatory. I will (from now on) avoid publishing in, and reviewing for, journals that:

– Send out e-mails that try to convince me to publish there

– Are on a list of predatory publishers

– Are not indexed in DOAJ or elsewhere

Instead I will:

– Try to find open access journals that would suit my manuscript (and do not fit the above criteria)

– Consider paying to make my accepted papers open access, even though the journal is a hybrid (offers both models). I actually need to consider the pro’s and con’s of this more thoroughly…

Open access is a great idea but it is being ruined by companies with economic interests in the publishing business. We need to avoid supporting these types of publishers and make sure that people are informed about predatory journals, but that they also realize the benefits of good open access journals.

Feel free to comment on this post!


9 thoughts on “To publish open access or not…

  1. Thanks for a very interesting post, Lina. As you pointedly write, the OA model is not immune to greedy or irresponsible companies, but does provide, in my opinion, much better conditions for readers and journals. For my part, I am not afraid of having a bunch of bad papers circulating around, as long there exists a mechanism to rate them (see some ideas here ) but I do believe that increasing access increases the general level of science literacy and benefits the ultimate payer of everything: the normal citizen in the street.

    Best regards,


    • Thank you Hernán, I think you make a valid point and I really like your ideas for improving the system. Are in any way working towards implementing these ideas? I would be interested to learn more about it.

      As an early career researcher, I would like to submit to new journals that are open access and not necessarily indexed or highly ranked. To me I think it’s more a matter of being searchable on google scholar, not neccesarily to publish in high ranked journals. However, I’m afraid that doing that will impact my chances to get funding for future projects or positions. It seems that evaluations often are based on number of publications in journals of high impact factors. Maybe you have some thoughts on this too?


  2. There must also be a difference between the journals belonging to a publisher. Remote Sensing might be good and have a strong editorial board, while other MDPI journals might not.

  3. Pingback: Published paper: “Meteorological, agricultural and socioeconomic drought in the Duhok Governorate, Iraqi Kurdistan” | Population and Environment in the Middle East

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