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Case Study Findings Show Transitioning Scientific Journals to Gold Open Access is Feasible and Sustainable

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Biochemical Baoding Balls Generate Power (Still Life), July 7, 2015 | © Courtesy of Surian Soosay via Flickr.

The successful conversion of RSC Advances published by the Royal Society of Chemistry into Gold Open Access since October 2016 indicates the maturity of the Open Access model, its acceptance by the scientific community and the continued growth of the journal after the transition to Open Access.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.

In their recent research report published on March 2017, Emma Wilson and Jamie Humphrey describe the effects that the transition of RSC Advances, a major journal in the field of chemistry, to Gold Open Access has had on the journal performance in terms of article submissions, topics covered and author countries. Launched in 2011, RSC Advances has been conceived of as a subscription-based mega-journal targeting a broad scientific audience, such as early-career and emerging-market researchers, which represents the decision of the Royal Society of Chemistry to expand its existing portfolio of journals.

On the strength of its article submission numbers that rapidly grew to circa 13,000 from over 90 countries, such as China (48%), India (14%), USA and Canada (4%), South Korea (4%) and Iran (4%), in 2016, RSC Advances has decided to switch to Open Access. This decision has been triggered by the rapid expansion of the Gold Open Access market that in terms of articles published has been estimated to grow by approximately 30% between 2003 and 2011. Currently, Gold Open Access accounts for between 10.2% and 16.6% articles published in the scientific, technical and medical (STM) segment. This sector is dominated by a handful of mega-journals, such as PLoS ONE launched in 2006, of which over 15 exist in the STM market.

Moreover, across sciences, not only Gold Open Access enjoys growing adoption, as the per-discipline share of articles published in this format ranges from 3% (physics and astronomy) to 13.9% (medicine), but also Green Open Access that provisions a combination of limited-period subscription paywalls for most recent articles with Open Access to archives has a highly significant market presence. In fact, in the majority of scientific fields, Green Open Access, the adoption rates of which range from 4.6% (medicine-related areas) to 25.9% (earth sciences) of articles published, garners stronger preference levels than Gold Open Access.

However, for the Royal Society of Chemistry the tipping point in terms of Open Access adoption has been apparently reached in 2016, when across its portfolio of 44 journals more than 10% (4,000) of articles have been published in Gold Open Access, whereas it has first introduced hybrid Open Access financed by article processing charges (APCs) in 2006 and by 2012 only 0.2% of its articles have been published in this format. Furthermore, Open Access mandates and the growing amount of Open Access funding, such as through subscription cost offset schemes that have supported 92% of its Open Access publications, have contributed to a significant increase in articles published in Open Access by the Royal Society of Chemistry between 2012 and 2015.

Even through in the field of chemistry the impact factor of Gold Open Access journals tends to trail behind that of hybrid Open Access journals, the improving reputation and growing mainstream acceptance, such as by large journal publishers, of Open Access journals have apparently provided additional reasons for converting RSC Advances into Gold Open Access with discounted APCs and need-based APC waivers.

At the same time, as this case study has shown, flipping a scientific journal into Open Access is not likely to significantly affect submission levels, topics’ range, article quality or rejection rates as compared to the pre-Open Access period.

By Pablo Markin

Featured Image Credits: Biochemical Baoding Balls Generate Power (Still Life), July 7, 2015 | © Courtesy of Surian Soosay via Flickr.

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