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The Difference between Open Access and Paywall-Based Publishing Models Sharpens, as Preprints Gain in Legitimacy

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The Closed-Access Area, Manchester Town Hall, Manchester, United Kingdom, May 22, 2017 | © Courtesy of Ruth.

Even though costs associated with Open Access publishing have been found to grow, as preprints gain in increasing recognition in funding, grant and fellowship applications, Open Access publishers, such as Hindawi, may be poised to benefit from the associated disruptive change in the publishing industry.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.


As illegal file sharing begins to affect the subscription-based journal publishing market, it can both hasten a wide-ranging adoption of Open Access by both publishers and researchers and give impetus to renewed efforts to shore up the paywall-based models against challengers. More specifically, as the interview with Daniel Himmelstein indicates, given that up to 97% of back-list catalogues of some journal publishers can be accessible other than through subscription-based channels, Open Access primarily based on the author-pays model can be one of the remaining avenues to economic sustainability for publishing houses.

On the one hand, the systemic change in the publishing market that this involves may be saluted by Open Access publishers, such as Hindawi that terminated its membership in the International Association of STM Publishers. On the other hand, large publishers may seek to stem this transition to Open Access by seeking to conclude journal subscription agreements that minimize the scope for Open Access for libraries and scholars that they include, as for instance Elsevier has sought to do in its negotiations with German universities. In other words, in the short term the growing adoption of Open Access, however, is also likely to entail rapidly growing costs, largely covered by non-profit foundations, for publishing in this model, such as steep increase from 1.6 million GBP in 2014/2016 to 7.3 million GBP in 2015/2016 in the United Kingdom, as the compliance with Open Access criteria of articles published with the support of Charity Open Access Fund has been found to reach 91% in the latter period.

This growth in legitimacy that Open Access publishing models have been enjoying in recent years is also reflected in grant application and reporting criteria, such as those of the National Institute of Health, the United States, that expressly include preprints as valid products of scientific research, since they accelerate the dissemination of research findings and do not necessarily affect the scholarly rigor of the corresponding published work. As many preprint servers, such as BioRxiv, provide DOI links to their publications, the citation-readiness and discoverability of preprints can be on a par with that of traditional scientific articles. This is especially relevant for early-stage research findings and publication formats, such as medical case reports, that fall short of submission requirements with which scholarly articles are associated.

This is similarly relevant for academic post and promotion applications, as well as progress reports, that demand evidence of research and scientific productivity that increasingly includes preprints published at one of the widely recognized manuscript repositories, such as arXiv and SocArXiv, even when these do not entail a formal peer-review process.

In other words, as Open Access journal publishers, such as PLOS, argue, rather than being marked by a coexistence of toll-based and Open Access models, in 2017 the publishing market saw sharpening differences between Open Access-based publishers and platforms and their subscription-based counterparts.

By Pablo Markin


Featured Image Credits: The Closed-Access Area, Manchester Town Hall, Manchester, United Kingdom, May 22, 2017 | © Courtesy of Ruth.

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