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Green OA vs. Gold OA. Which one to choose?

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The previous version of this post was written almost two years ago by my colleague and unfortunately it included some information that could be seen as misleading. That is why I have decided to rewrite the post. The title is very up to date, since nowadays every journal offers some kind of open access option. So, the question is more about how to make your article open access, than whether to do it or not. If you are a scholar you should take care about the public availability of your work. The previous version of the post is here.

What is the green and gold division all about? Initially, the idea to match different types of openness with various colours was introduced by the Sherpa/Romeo database, which is a very useful tool in determining the open access policy of each journal. A gold journal in Sherpa/Romeo terminology is an open access journal, which means that the journal’s content available on the publisher’s website is free for readers. A green journal, according to the database, is a journal which publishes non-free content, but which allows its authors to republish their articles in open access repositories. This permission concerns both the author’s version of the article (so called pre-print) and the peer-reviewed version (post-print). Thus, while the article on the publisher’s website is pay-walled, the author can place the same text somewhere on the Internet.

The terms green and gold open access originated from the Sherpa/Romeo database, but nowadays are commonly used in a slightly different way. Gold open access usually means any kind of open access on the publisher’s side. Therefore, we can say that an author published his or her works in gold open access if these works are freely available on the journal’s website. This might be achieved by publishing in a fully open access venue (gold journal on Sherpa/Romeo), or by choosing a so called hybrid journal. Hybrid journals are generally paywalled, but offer the possibility for authors to open individual articles by paying an extra fee. The other kind of gold open access is delayed open access, when articles become free for readers on the publisher’s website after some time (usually 12 months) after initial publication. All these kinds of publisher-side open access are usually called gold open access and according to Bo-Christer Björk, cover 22-23% of academic publishing.

The big advantage of gold open access is that not only articles are free on publishers’ websites, they are also usually licensed under a more liberal license than standard copyright (usually one of the Creative Commons licenses is applied). This means that gold open access is usually libre open access, in contrary to the green one, which is simply gratis in most cases.

Green openness is achieved by other means. While an article is still paywalled on the publisher’s website, an author can submit it to an open access repository or publish it on his or her blog, etc. Thanks to tools such as Google Scholar, it is relatively easy to find the open access version of a large number of paywalled articles.

First of all – find a good journal

Which kind of open access is better for authors? This is a very complicated question. It is really theoretical, since the very first question that an author asks himself or herself is “WHERE I can publish my work”. And he or she thinks primarily of choosing a journal (in the case of papers) or a publisher (for books). Academic reputation is orientated around the publisher. Thus, the most important choice an author can make is on the publishing venue. If you need advice about where to publish have a look here.

So, you have chosen a journal. It is possible that the best journal for you is a fully open access one. That is great, because it is probably the best option for an author. You do not have to worry whether your colleagues from Eastern Europe will have access to this venue. They will be able to find it easily, and read with no obstacles. Your open access work will be hosted on a professional platform, which is well optimized for search engines and it will have a DOI number so it will be discoverable. What is also important, is that everyone will have access to the final, typeset pdf, which will make citations easier.

Do authors have to pay for gold open access?

Sometimes it may occur that the fully open access venue you have chosen is charging authors for publication. This is possible, although it is not very popular at the moment. For example, the Directory of Open Access Journals currently indexes 10 189 journals that do not charge authors, and only 409 that do. On the other hand, the so called author-pays model is the simplest one for academic publishers and that is why a lot of large, reputable publishers promote it and why it is likely that there will be more and more journals of this kind. So if the journal you have chosen requires you to pay for publication do not panic. There is nothing strange about it and you will probably be able to find funding for your publication. Read my step by step guide on how to get your Article Processing Charges funded.

The real choice starts when it occurs that the best journal to publish your research in is a so called hybrid journal. It is likely, since a lot of good journals are subscription based but also offer the option to publish articles in open access. This model has all the advantages of gold open access publishing, but it usually involves much higher Article Processing Charges than in the case of fully open access venues. In fact, this option is only possible for authors working for wealthy institutions.

Is green a good option?

If your institution cannot pay the Article Processing Charge for open access publication in a hybrid journal, or if you have chosen a journal that does not offer a gold open access option (which is quite rare), then the last possible solution is green open access. In some cases, it offers almost the same benefits as gold open access, but the main problem is the restrictions imposed on self-archiving by toll access publishers. They are necessary, because when self-archiving gains popularity among authors, paywalled journal content is less attractive to readers. Thus publishers have to protect themselves from cancellations and limit somehow the possibilities of self-archiving. One may even say that green open access is a self-limiting phenomenon. Michael Eisen recently called it “parasitic”. This is an appropriate metaphor, since green open access relies on toll access journals, which provide essential services to authors publishing in this model (such as management of peer review), and as a typical parasite, green OA cannot kill its host. Limits on the host’s health are limits on the growth of the parasite.

In some cases, only self-archiving of a pre-print version is allowed by a publisher. So, an author can submit to a repository or personal website an article which is different to the one published on the journal website and available for subscribers. This kind of self-archiving is a poor alternative to gold open access. Publishing pre-prints is generally good for academic debate, but when an academic can only access a pre-print version, he or she cannot use the article without knowing what was changed in the final version. Fortunately, 70% of publishers allow authors to self-archive post-print (the peer-reviewed version of an article, have a look here for more statistics). Usually, self-archiving of post-prints is allowed after an embargo period which may last 6, 12, or 24 months or even longer. There are some publishers that allow unembargoed self archiving of post-print, but in my opinion, this is going to change when a larger number of authors starts to use this option. Moreover, these publishers impose other restrictions. Some of them limit the option of self-archiving to institutional repositories or authors’ websites. This excludes disciplinary repositories, which are bigger, more popular and very often more professional than institutional ones. It is also often forbidden to republish the publisher’s pdf version, so self-archived articles usually have different pagination than the original works, which may lead to difficulties in citing them. Publishers’ policies toward green open access vary and are changed from time to time, so if you planning to publish an article remember to spend some time investigating this issue. You can start with a Sherpa/Romeo search, but it is a good idea to also verify the information found there on the publisher’s website.

If you decided to go along the green road it is essential to choose a good repository, which offers good visibility. The more popular the repository is, the easiest it will be to find your work, also with external search engines, like Google or Bing. As research has shown some of the less popular repositories may make your work invisible.

Taking all of this into account, it seems to me that gold open access is the best for authors, but is not always available. If I have the choice to publish in a fully open access venue that is not read by scholars in my field, or to publish in a subscription based journal that allows some kind of green open access, which is known to my colleagues, I would rather choose the second option. Anyway, I would not publish in a journal that does not offer open access of any kind. It is simply obsolete.

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    Plans by universities and research funders to pay the costs of Open Access Publishing (“Gold OA”) are premature.

    Funds are short; 80% of journals (including virtually all the top journals) are still subscription-based, tying up the potential funds to pay for Gold OA; the asking price for Gold OA is still high; and there is concern that paying to publish may inflate acceptance rates and lower quality standards.

    What is needed now is for universities and funders to mandate OA self-archiving (of authors’ final peer-reviewed drafts, immediately upon acceptance for publication) (“Green OA”).

    That will provide immediate OA; and if and when universal Green OA should go on to make subscriptions unsustainable (because users are satisfied with just the Green OA versions) that will in turn induce journals to cut costs (print edition, online edition, access-provision, archiving), downsize to just providing the service of peer review, and convert to the Gold OA cost-recovery model; meanwhile, the subscription cancellations will have released the funds to pay these residual service costs.

    The natural way to charge for the service of peer review then will be on a “no-fault basis,” with the author’s institution or funder paying for each round of refereeing, regardless of outcome (acceptance, revision/re-refereeing, or rejection). This will minimize cost while protecting against inflated acceptance rates and decline in quality standards.

    Harnad, S. (2010) No-Fault Peer Review Charges: The Price of Selectivity Need Not Be Access Denied or Delayed. D-Lib Magazine 16 (7/8).

    1. Steve Harnad’s analysis seems exactly correct. Mandate immediate green archival (typically CC-BY-NC). Optionally, when circumstances allow, go immediately to CC-BY (as “gold” or “diamond” open-access.)

      There is virtually zero excuse to not deposit articles in institutional repositories aside from publisher FUD.


    1. Green OA is not self-publishing, it is self-archiving: making peer-reviewed, published journal articles accessible free for all potential users on the web, instead of accessible only to users at institutions that can afford to subscribe to the journal in which it was published.

    2. Green OA accordingly needs to be mandated by all institutions and funders, in all disciplines

    3. The majority of journals do not embargo Green OA, but for those that do, institutions and funders can still mandate immediate-deposit, of the author’s refereed final draft, in the author’s institutional repository, immediately upon acceptance for publication, whether or not the publisher embargoes Green OA.

    4. Authors can provide immediate OA to all unembargoed deposits, and immediate “Almost-OA” to embargoed deposits via the repository’s eprint-request Button, with which any would-be user can request an individual eprint for research purposes wth one click and the author can fulfill the request with one click.

    5. Articles deposited in institutional repositories are picked up by all the major search engines and are not less but more visible and accessible than articles that are only available from behind publishers’ paywalls.

  3. I agree with Stevan that the price for gold OA is very high and I don’t understand why we should embrace a model where costs are simply tranferred from readers to authors. I see gold OA as the publishers’ move to stay in the game and maintain their revenue stream.

    I disagree, however, that green OA alone is enough to make publishers cut costs. Instead, I believe that as long as we depend on journals for managing (not performing as this is done by external scholars and offered to journals for free), journals will continue to use high rejection rates as a means to build their prestige and publishers will continue to capitalise on journal prestige to offer “Big Deals” with extorionate subscription fees.

    There is a new trend gaining momentum in the scholarly communication landscape right now, which is to decouple research evaluation from journals. Independent peer review will inevitable also come in different flavours creating different kinds of dependencies and conflicts of interest. We try to promote a not-for-profit, community-based flavour of independent peer review with our organisation Open Scholar C.I.C. ( and our flagship project LIBRE | liberating research ( Journal-independent peer review however is at an embryonic stage and a lot needs to change to see it flourish, if it ever does…

    1. Stevan, I totally agree that green OA is adequately addressing the OA problem and on the importance of self-archiving mandates. I am just saying that OA is not our community’s only problem. We should all be thankful to you personally for your contribution in promoting green OA, but we need to also start working on fixing other equally important problems, such as the way research is evaluated. Perhaps we need to create a new “movement” for fixing peer review, so that it is not confused with the OA movement. I would then hope to see OA people to also support the open peer review movement as I see them complementary in bringing about a new era of ethical, society-conscious scholarly communication.

  4. So what to choose? Gold OA or Green OA? In my view, it is difficult at this point to consider Green OA as an alternative to the traditional model of publishing in science. At least not under the regime of the current paradigm, that places such strong emphasis on prestige and recognition. Green OA offers no mechanisms for promotion, and neither does it assure scientists that publishing in this model can serve their career in a measurable way. What is more, Green OA may still be regarded as something adjunct to the existing publishing model: first publish your paper in a regular journal, and once the embargo has been lifted, consider submitting it to some repository.

  5. The following is a schematic overview of the conventional versus the Open Access publishing model (‘Gold OA’). In the Conventional Model, authors achieve research results and prepare their manuscripts. Typically, the copyright has to be signed over to the publishers. The manuscripts are usually submitted to so-called legacy journals which have been active in astronomy for a long time and which provide a number of services, including pre-publication peer-review be international referees, copy-editing, distribution (e.g., making sure that the electronic version gets indexed by important search engines), recognition (for instance through measures like the Journal Impact Factor or through the reputation these journals have achieved among the astronomy community), and archiving/preservation. Access is based on subscriptions which provide immediate access. In addition, special forms of open access may apply, for instance delayed OA (in astronomy, core journals become available to all users after 1, 2, or 3 years), partial OA (e.g., certain section sof A&A), or through Green OA in case authors deposit their manuscripts on subject-based or institutional repositories. While the whole publishing model (conventional as well as OA) involves many hidden costs, the most visible costs in the conventional model are the subscription fees, together with pages charges, if they apply.

  6. This much lower cost was mentioned (at the 48:35 min. point in the video) by Ivy Anderson, Director of Collection Development and Management at the California Digital Library, the second speaker in the event at Columbia University (whose presentation begins at the 18:50 min. point in the video). However, she also pointed out that arXiv is primarily a repository. It’s not a publishing platform.

    1. Thank you for pointing this out. Every OA journal should be categorized to gold OA, since definition of gold OA is that an article is published in an OA or hybrid journal. APCs have nothing to do with green or gold division. There are plenty (even majority) of open access journals which do not charge authors, so the article is quite misleading in its current form. I will improve it. Thanks once again.

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