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Will academic publishing become more pluralistic thanks to open access?

Will open access help to overcome global inequalities

November 28, 2014

Achieving a big number of subscribers for new, local journals is very difficult, thus the only reasonable way for this kind of journals is to go open access. Thanks to openness, local journals that were invisible on a global publishing market can fight for an international audience and recognition.

Recently, I had the pleasure to discuss a couple of interesting problems considering scholarly communication during my interviews with Emanuel Kulczycki and Bo-Christer Björk. The most interesting ones, from my point of view, were those connected to the role of open access in reinforcing an international discussion, or, if you prefer, in making this discussion more balanced. I looked further into this issue and here is a post summarizing some of the most important points from the articles I found related to this problem as well as my thoughts. I hope that I will continue discussing this problem in the future, hopefully supported by an interview with a Latin American researcher.

It is not a secret that countries vary in general wealth and in their expenditure on science, and that students and researchers working in less developed countries have fewer opportunities to make a significant input in the scientific discussion. In Eastern Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa there is less money for research, and not as many good universities as in Western Europe and the US. Even more striking is the fact that scholarly communication is so inconceivably spatially concentrated. Northern American and Western European publishers provide nearly 90% of all the journal titles indexed by ISI citation databases (McVeigh, 2004: 4), and the large majority of well known journals is based in only four countries: the US, the UK, Germany and the Netherlands. What is more, the serials published there have on average a much higher Impact Factor than those based elsewhere (Björk, Solomon, 2012: 6).

In well developed countries openness is slowly becoming a part of the mainstream approach to academic publishing and almost every big publisher is dealing with open access, although there are a lot of questions and problems around it. Meanwhile, research has shown, that the real leaders of openness are outside the global publishing center, and probably at this moment, the periphery of the academic world benefits most from open access.

Where are the leaders of openness?

Ten years ago, in 2004, only 1,5% of all North American journals indexed by ISI were open access, for Western Europe this percentage was even smaller – 1,1%. For Eastern Europe it was 6,7%, for Middle East and Africa 8,8%, for Asia and Pacific 14,9% and for Central and South America 42,3% (McVeigh, 2004: 4). And we are only talking here about the journals that underwent the rigorous inclusion procedure by Thomson Reuters, so we can be pretty sure that they were reputable, and these numbers do not include the so called predatory, bogus serials.

A later study, conducted on the SCOPUS database in 2011, has shown that while the share of open access journals in Europe was at the time 6,93% and 4,90% in North America, it was 73,91% for Latin America, and above 15% for Asia, Africa and Australia (Miguel et. All 2011: 1140). From the preprint of this article we can also learn that in Latin America social sciences are the avant garde of openness, having 81% of journals open. This is in contrast to the situation in other regions, where social sciences are less open than STM (Miguel et. All 2 2011: 26). And the difference between 3% of open access journals in social sciences in North America and in Europe and 81% of open access journals in social sciences in Latin America is huge.

Why is Latin America so much about open access? It is not clear, but probably also because it pays. Studies have shown that in case of new (launched after 1996) journals based outside of the 4 top publishing countries (USA, UK, Germany, Netherlands), open access ones have on average higher Impact Factor than conventional serials. This is because of the fact that achieving a big number of subscribers for new, local journals is very difficult, thus the only reasonable way for this kind of journals is to go open access. (Björk, Solomon, 2012: 6) Thanks to openness, local journals can fight for an international audience and recognition. Moreover, Evans and Reimar using Web of Science data, report that open access content has 8% more citations, but with a clearly higher level of around 20% for countries originated from developing countries (ibidem: 3).

Emerging players

It is clear that open access creates an unprecedented chance for academic journals based outside of the mainstream publishing countries to reach a broad audience and achieve high impact. Researchers based in Latin America for example want to reach an international audience and that is why they are pushing toward openness. Very often they write in English, as they do not want to limit their audience to Latin America alone. I think that the reason for the surprising leadership of social sciences in openness in Latin America lies partially in the fact that local social researchers believe that their local studies are not very likely to be published by journals based in Europe or in the US. An author of studies on social problems in Brazil or Peru might not believe that their papers will be attractive for an editor or reviewer from Germany, and this is probably the reason why they create a huge demand for local, open access, high quality journals. I am very curious if something similar will happen in Eastern Europe. A huge number of high profile local journals here have already switched to open access and it is going to be a fight for global recognition (some of them are published by De Gruyter Open), although at this moment general support for the idea of openness seems to be quite weak here, and the academic community is still much more conservative than in Western Europe and in Latin America.

If some of them will be able to succeed it is good for the whole academic sector and entire publishing industry, since more good journals with different origins and characteristics, means a more competitive market, high quality and lower prices.

At the very end I would like to thank to all of the authors of articles on open access that themselves are open access.


Björk, B. C., & Solomon, D. (2012). Open access versus subscription journals: a comparison of scientific impact. BMC medicine, 10(1), 73.
McVeigh, M. E. (2004). Open access journals in the ISI citation databases: analysis of impact factors and citation patterns: a citation study from Thomson Scientific (p. 125). Thomson Scientific.
Miguel, S., Chinchilla‐Rodriguez, Z., & de Moya‐Anegón, F. (2011). Open access and Scopus: A new approach to scientific visibility from the standpoint of access. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 62(6), 1130-1145.
Miguel, S., Chinchilla‐Rodriguez, Z., & de Moya‐Anegón, F. (2011). Open access and Scopus: A new approach to scientific visibility from the standpoint of access. Preprint http://digital.csic.es/bitstream/10261/67330/1/open_access_scopus_scientific_visibility_standpoint_access.pdf.

This entry was posted on November 28, 2014 by Witold Kieńć and tagged , , , , , .

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