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Do the researchers who pay APCs live in another world?

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With this post I start a presentation of the results of our Key Challenges of Research Communication De Gruyter Open Author’s Survey.

We know more or less the percentage of academic papers published in different types of open access. Bo-Christer Björk, one of the most well known researchers of open access market estimated that open access papers are around one third of all newly published articles. Approximately 25% of all recent articles are published in gold open access (including open content in hybrid journals and delayed open access journals). But we do not have so much data on how dispersed the open access article output is among researchers.

We can imagine that there is a group of scholars (practitioners of openness) that publish virtually everything openly. On the other hand, there might be researchers who do not know, or are not interested in open access, publishing everything in the traditional model. But also a third group may exist who publish in both models, depending on various factors. Different configurations of these groups may result with the same total open access publishing output, while indeed each configuration creates a market with a totally different structure and with different possibilities of growth. With this post I would like to examine which configuration is more likely to be true in the case of the green and gold open access model. I will relay the data from the recent survey by De Gruyter Open. The major conclusions that I want to present in this post are:

1) Gold open access is relatively well distributed among researchers in our sample.
2) Article Processing Charges are extremely unevenly distributed among researchers (big share of all APCs comes from small amount of authors).
3) Green open access papers are more concentrated than gold ones are. A smaller number of authors than in the gold OA are responsible for a majority of the output.

All these conclusions should be compared with the results of other research on open access.

About the survey

Emails containing links to the survey were sent to 107,296 scholars listed on De Gruyter’s Open mailing lists in a period from December 2015 to January 2016. You can have a look at the survey questionnaire here.

We received 1012 responses to the survey, so the response rate was 0,94%.

Response rate below 1% is rather low, it means that our respondents must be seen as a group of self-selected volunteers, with extraordinary interests in the subject of the research (research communication) or with extraordinary sympathy towards De Gruyter Open’s brand, rather than a representative sample of global researchers.

This is a common bias of all large scale surveys on open access (no truly representative study so far). In the case of our survey it resulted in the over-representation of authors who publish open access works. We were trying to diminish this effect at the stage of research design by avoiding the phrase “open access” in the invitation to take part in the research and in the introduction to the survey, but we did not achieve satisfying results. Therefore we should keep it in mind (when talking about the results), that our respondents have more knowledge on open access and more sympathy towards it than other researchers.

Who was surveyed?

Our respondents work or study in 44 different countries. 89% of them (901) are based in Europe, with a more or less equal share of academics from rich Northern European countries and from less wealthy Southern-Eastern Europe. Non-European based researchers come from all parts of the world, and the biggest group is from South Africa (46 people, so 4,5%).

52,76% of our respondents (534 academics) come from countries with GDP per capita lower than 20,000 USD in 2014. 45.05% (456) are from countries with GDP per capita higher or equal to this amount.

91 respondents declared to have no publishing output in the last 3 years and 21 failed to answer all the questions about published works, and so were classified as incomplete observations.


Gold open access model for academic articles

844 respondents declared that they published a paper in a peer-reviewed journal in the last 3 years. Among them the median share of gold open access papers in an individual article output in the last 3 years is 33.33%. They published 2846 gold OA papers, which is 35,85% of all articles published recently by our respondents. This number shows the scale of over-representation of people who publish in open access in our sample (as you remember, the share of open access papers in the general population is somewhere around 25%).

At least among our respondents, the gold open access articles output is well dispersed. 630 authors published one or more papers in a gold open access model in the last 3 years (74.6% of all who recently published an academic article). This is a surprisingly high outcome, even taking into account the over-representation of open access practitioners visible in the previous statistic.

This outcome suggests that a model with a big number of researchers who publish in gold open access from time to time, might be a better representation of open access publishing than a model in which a small group of highly motivated practitioners are producing the lions share of the output. However this should be confirmed by further research. What is more, 20% of all surveyed article authors published more than 71.42% of all their works in gold open access.

APCs paid

We already knew that the majority of open access journals probably do not charge for publication, however those which do produce the vast majority of all open access papers. In addition, our research shows that a big share of APCs comes from a relatively small number of researchers.

Despite the over-representation of authors who publish in the gold OA model, only 150 authors (17,8% of those who publish an academic paper recently) declared paying an Article Processing Charge for an open access paper in last 3 years. They paid for 481 open access articles, which are 6.05% of all papers published by our respondents. 1% of article authors that responded to the survey (8 people) are responsible for 34.09% of this amount.

The mean share of author-pays open access articles in an individual research output is only 7,1% and the median is 0%. However for the top 10% of fee paying authors, the share of paid OA is as much as 27,3% or more of all their works.

This means that articles that APCs were paid for are extremely unevenly distributed among researchers. This uneven distribution, visible among our respondents, is also probably the reason why the share of works that APC were paid for in our sample differs so much from what we know from analysis of publishing market.

Articles archived in repositories

28,6% of researchers who published an academic article in the last 3 years (240 people) published at least 1 green open access paper among them. They published 1037 articles this way, which is 13,07% of all academic articles published by our respondents.

Green OA constitutes around 10% of all recently published papers, according to Bo-Christer Björk. However the survey also shows that green open access papers are more concentrated than gold ones are. A smaller number of authors than in case of gold OA are responsible for a majority of the output (however, the distribution is more even than in case of APCs). The median of the green open access share in individual research output is 0%. The top 30% of green open access practitioners have 8,42% or more of their portfolio published in this model, while 10% have 66,6% or more published works archived in repositories. 8 respondents with the highest green OA outcome are responsible for 15,5% of the total number of articles published in this way.

Are people who publish in gold open access the same people who publish in green model? How do people who publish in different forms of open access vary from other researchers? This will be examined in my next post. I will publish part of the dataset and my R code together with this post.

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