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Preprints and Retrieval Tools Help Implode the Distinction between Open Access and Subscription-Based Journals

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20140417, April 17, 2014 | © Courtesy of foam/Flickr.

As the growing availability of the self-archived and preprint versions of articles published in paywall-protected journals widens the gray zone between subscription-based and Open Access publishing models, the scientific journal publishing market undergoes a sea change with possibly momentous consequences.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.


While the differences between Open Access and paywall-based article publishing models continue to be publicly discussed, scientific journal representatives begin to take stock of the growing acceptance in the publishing industry for an increased transparency of its procedures, such as in relation to peer reviews. For academic institutions, such as universities, these are not abstract discussions, since dynamically increasing costs of journal transcriptions are likely to translate into higher tuition fees for their students or lower research budgets for their faculty. By contrast, over time, as Open Access increases its mainstream acceptance, the necessity to purchase journal subscription portfolios is likely to diminish, even though researchers will need to be provided with funding sources that cover article processes charges the payment of which the transition to the Open Access model involves.

Other than increasing research visibility, such as by as much as 60% as opposed to toll-based journals, publishing in Open Access can also increase the transparency of the procedures behind the acceptance or rejection of submitted manuscripts. Not infrequently these decisions form the basis for promotion and hiring decisions that tend to be opaque in traditional, subscription-based journals. Open peer reviews promise to change that, are pioneered by Open Access journals and meet with growing acceptance, even if in principle, across the journal publishing industry. At journals that have already implemented open peer review, such as Berlin-based Open Access Nature Communications journal, more than 60% of scientific authors have assented to the publication of reviews, which can be either signed or remain anonymous, together with their articles. While the adoption of open peer reviews remains in early stages, it indicates decreasing differences between Open Access and paywall journals.

Likewise, the rise of preprint repositories and archives, such as ArXiv and PubMed, further contributes to the blurring of the boundaries between the Open Access and subscription sectors of the journal publishing markets, as recent studies indicate that up to 47% of all scientific articles are de facto openly accessible, when not only articles published in Gold, Green or hybrid Open Access taken into account, but also preprint versions of publications later accepted at subscription-based journals. In other words, according to the data of platforms that aggregate information on openly accessible scientific articles, such as Unpaywall, only 53% of articles are behind paywalls, which significantly differs from the market share of 72 for toll-based scientific papers that Crossref provides.

Moreover, as self-archiving, university repositories and preprint servers for pre-typeset or non-copyedited versions of final publications become widely implemented and popular around the world, in some scientific areas the share of de facto Open Access publications can reach up to 60%, according to 2014 data. In other words, these developments show that Open Access and paywall-based article publishing models become increasingly overlapping, rather than starkly differentiated.

By Pablo Markin


Featured Image Credits: 20140417, April 17, 2014 | © Courtesy of foam/Flickr.

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