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Is converting journals to open access less popular than 10 years ago?

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2014 was the year of groundbreaking conversions to open access. The most publicized-one was the transition of Nature Communications, which revealed that open access is attractive even for the most reputable journals worldwide. The conversion of 8 Central European Journals was also accomplished this year by De Gruyter Open, and was a significant change for researchers in the region, and hopefully it will prove to be important for global community. Due to this recent development I was quite surprised when I came back to the paper by David J. Solomon, Bo-Christer Bjork and Mikael Laakso “A longitudinal comparison of citation rates and growth among open access journals”, which has been already discussed on this blog.

The thing which surprised me is the graph attached to the text, representing the number of journals that converted to open access each year. The graph is based on data from SCOPUS and DOAJ. According to this data the number of journal conversions had been growing gradually year by year from 1995 to 2000, but then it started to decline, which is hard to explain. Eventually, in 2012, it reached a lower value than in 1997.

At the very same time the global number of open access journals was growing continuously, which means that launching new journals has become a more popular strategy than converting more established ones. What does this mean? Have publishers already converted all the journals they consider suitable for open access? Are all the remaining conventional journals profitable enough to remain on the market with their current model?

There is a large number of regional journals that have very small circulations. For them open access is a chance to reach a broader audience. What happened to their publishers that they do not want to make them open? Are conditions different than 10 years ago?

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    1. Unfortunately, it might be true in some cases. However, there is a growing pressure to lower subscription costs or to allow discounts for libraries, which are paying APCs to the same publisher that is selling them subscriptions, thus there is hope that it might change in the future.

    1. First of all DG is converting journals to open access, we have accomplished dozen or more conversions in 2014, secondly big part of DG Open journals is still free of publication charges. Of course it will change, but at this moment it is good way to avoid double dipping.

  1. Sorry for the delay, I was doing my best to gather as much information as possible to comment on the hypothetical double dipping at De Gruyter.

    At this time, De Gruyter offers the open access option for all its journals. In the case of traditional journals the charge for open access is the same as for those that are fully open, which have already introduced APC (the majority haven’t done so yet). There are more than 300 traditional journals at DG, and the demand for open access publishing seems to be quite low in these venues, as in the last 4 months only 4 authors asked to open their articles.

    De Gruyter has no official policy to prevent double dipping. We are however working on it.

    1. DG is chargin for open access option in traditonal journals the same fee, as it charges (or is going to charge) in case of fully open access journals (500 euro for humanities, 1500 euro for molecular biology, biology and biomedicine and 1000 euro for the rest). I have stressed this information, because majority of publishers charge more in hybrid journals than in fully open access ones:

  2. I was the lead author on this paper though not noted as such. My guess, though without any real data supporting it is that this is just simply a natural process, nothing nefarious or concerning. As OA became better known, understood and accepted as a legitimate means of publication, the journals most prone to flip did so. As the ones most prone to flip flipped, the number continuing to flip tailed off. As there are probably a multitude of factors that influence whether or not and when a journal flips to OA, the symmetric and essentially normal distribution above would be consistent with this hypothesis.

    Please note (if you read the methodology section carefully) it was not always clear when journals flipped and when it was not, we made assumptions based on a set of criteria stated in the appendix. I don’t think this influenced the results that much but be aware in many cases the dates used in that graph were an educated guess and perhaps not always educated.

    1. Thank you for your reply! I’ve added your name to the text. Probably it got accidentally lost in the editorial process of the blog post, and I’m sorry about that.

      The question is, will we see another wave of journals’ conversions to open access? What changes in the academic publishing system will make old journals, which are now are profitable in a current subscription-based model, converting to open access?

      In my opinion European open access policies may have this effect. But this is nothing certain.

      1. Thank you, no problem about the authorship. I agree the conditions especially in Europe are getting much more favorable for flipping journals and I think the numbers are going to (or have) start to go up.

        The three of us, Bo-Christer, Mikael and I, are working on a project for the Office of Scholarly Communication at Harvard on flipping journals. What has been done, when does it make most sense, what funding/resource models have been successful etc. We are just in the data gathering stage but there is a lot going on and many success stories. The report should be released by next February and I believe a draft version for public comment somewhat earlier.

        In thinking about it so more, there may have been another bias in that graph above. As you noted the data were journals listed in the DOAJ that were also in Scopus. When journals flip, particularly when it is not done with the help of a professional publisher, getting the journal registered in the DOAJ might not be a priority. The journal probably gets registered eventually but it is quite possible a number of journals flipping in 2011 or 2012 were not registered in the DOAJ at the time we pulled the data and got missed.

        1. Indeed, late DOAJ submissions might be a source of a possible bias. But, theoretically, late submissions to DOAJ from journals converted in previous years should influence numbers for the year 2011 or 2012 to the same degree as for previous years, unless something had changed. Indeed, this is possible that change of share of big publishers in a total number of conversions have changed number of late submissions.

          When have you been collecting your data? DOAJ was closed for new submissions sometimes in 2013 and 2014. I think that your data must had been collected earlier. However, If they hadn’t, and you were collecting them when there was no new submissions to DOAJ, it might have influenced the data for most recent years.

          I am glad to hear about the incoming report. If you would like to share some more information about it, for example some partial results or something, feel free to contact me at I would be happy to write something about your report here or publish your guest post, etc.

          1. We downloaded the DOAJ data on August 9, 2012. The bias I was referring to was that if it took 6 months for a particular journal to get registered in the DOAJ after it flipped in say April 2012, it would have been missed but if another journal flipped in April 2011 and took 6 months to get registered it would have been included. Actually the 2012 data isn’t even a full year and in retrospect we probably should not have included it in the figure. I don’t think this is necessarily a big factor, it just might have resulted in some of the journals that actually did flip in the last few years being missed when they would have been counted if they had flipped earler.

            Thanks for the offer. It’s really up to Peter Suber who is overseeing the project what gets released when. I expect once material is released he will appreciate having it disseminated as much as possible.

          2. I think Peter Suber has known the blog already, since he commented here several times. It will be great if you tell him about my offer!

            By the way, I’ve added a new post based on the recent NPG/Palgrave Macmillan survey results. The post is about amount of funding that researchers can spend on open access fees. Asia seems to be a world leader according to NPG data. I am interested in your opinion about it:


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