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Despite New Journals Being Launched, the Viability and Effectiveness of Open Access Models Remain in Question

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Northwest Corner of Bright Lake, Century Park, Shanghai, China, May 6, 2009 | © Courtesy of Jonathan/Flickr.

Whereas the American Association for the Advancement of Science enters into partnerships with Chinese research organizations and universities to launch peer-reviewed Open Access mega-journals, the economic foundations of the Open Access models for book publishing and the public benefit from funding preprint servers continue to be uncertain.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.


As the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), a non-profit journal publisher, has been seeking to diversify its revenue sources beyond paywalls to its scientific journals, such as Science, experimental metered access to its magazine-related news website, and Green Open Access to its journal archives, on January 31, 2018, it has announced a Science Partner Journals program for publishing English-language rigorously reviewed journals in what amounts to Gold Open Access, since all articles are planned to be immediately accessible to the general public under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.

While this Open Access journal initiative is based on the partnerships between the AAAS and the China Association for Science and Technology (CAST) and Nanjing Agricultural University (NAU), the economic viability of the newly launched journals, e.g., Research and Plant Phenomics respectively, remains to be established, even though the AAAS already published Science Advances, an online-only Gold Open Access from 2015. Despite the double-digit growth, e.g., around 30%, in the Open Access book publishing in recent years, an industry report published on August 29, 2018, the revenue share of this sector in the scientific book publishing industry has been found to remain below 0.5%.

The underperformance of Open Access books in revenue terms could be a response to a larger-scale crisis in the scientific monograph market and cannot necessarily be compared with the significant, growth-trajectory development that Open Access journals have experienced in the last decade globally. At the same time, the Open Access sector as a whole may need to continue to apply experimental business models to its publishing practices, such as subscriptions for access to recent publications or institutional partnerships, in order to achieve financial sustainability.

Moreover, Open Access article publishing formats, such as preprints, attract external funding based on their ability to facilitate the dissemination of scientific findings. However, empirical findings on the effectiveness of preprints as vehicles for promoting access to critical scientific information, such as that concerning disease outbreak causes, remain mixed, as a recent study by Johannsson, Reich, Meyers and Lisitch published on April 3, 2018, in PlOS Medicine indicates.

Although the currently limited adoption of preprints by the scientific communities, which could be less than 5% for some research areas, is likely to grow in the future, governmental and institutional funders may be looking for alternative or complementary models for implementing Open Access in cutting-edge scientific fields.

In this context, collaborative journal publishing ventures, such as that between the AAAS and the CAST and NAU, may further promote Open Access, especially among publishers that have based their business models on journal subscriptions. Indeed, the Science journal of the AAAS had been transitioning to Open Access based on the Green Open Access model that combines article processing charges with subscription-based access to articles published in the last 12 months.

This also reflects the larger-scale transformation of the publishing industry in recent years.

By Pablo Markin


Featured Image Credits: Northwest Corner of Bright Lake, Century Park, Shanghai, China, May 6, 2009 | © Courtesy of Jonathan/Flickr.

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