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Though Overall Global Open Access Levels Declined in 2017, Gold and Hybrid Open Access Follow Upward Trajectories

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Academiegebouw, Groningen, Netherlands, August 9, 2008 © Courtesy of Bert Kaufmann/Flickr.

Paradoxically, though the 2017 levels of Open Access article output have markedly declined across geographic regions and academic fields, the underlying trends tentatively point to the growing or stable levels of Gold Open Access over the last decade with rising levels of hybrid Open Access in recent years, based on university-level data from the Netherlands. A recent report indicates possible reasons for these developments.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.


In their preprint article published on January 11, 2018, Jeroen Bosman and Bianca Kramer have presented the results of their qualitative inquiry into the yearly levels of Open Access based on Web of Science and oaDOI data around the world. While their findings are fairly consistent across scholarly disciplines and national contexts, which show a decline in the overall Open Access levels from approximately 26% of article output worldwide in 2016 to close to 18% in 2017, despite a consistent growth trend in this indicator levels which rose from barely above 20% in 2010 to slightly above 25% in 2015.

Among the possible explanations for these findings Bosman and Kramer cite the built-in access lag that free content not licensed as Creative Commons from the outset, which is also referred to as bronze Open Access, entails. In other words, since bronze Open Access terms are usually applied after 1 or 2 years from the date on which original articles are published, in 2017 statistics these prospective free access articles are likely to be listed as closed-access publications some of which, which may be as high as 40%, can be expected to switch to bronze Open Access retroactively. This is also likely to apply to Green Open Access articles that remain in subscription-based, and effectively closed, access for set embargo periods which can vary between 6 and 24 months. These conditionalities may thus affect the manner in which portals, such as Web of Science, index article output, while introducing a bias in latest year figures.

These factors may be behind the abruptly falling percentages of Open Access article outputs in different research areas, such as life sciences and biomedicine ranging from over 20% to over 65% in 2016 but declining to between 13% and 43% in 2017. Similar dynamics was demonstrated in this study for social sciences and arts and humanities, albeit at significantly lower levels, whereas in the domain of physical sciences and technology Open Access article output has been stagnant or decreasing over a multi-year time frame. The latter dynamics has been qualitatively demonstrated for a sample of Western and non-Western universities as well as funding bodies from around the world.

However, the focus of Bosman and Kramer on Dutch universities demonstrates that this steady-state or declining dynamics in the aggregate Open Access levels in relation to some academic fields and institutions can also be driven by the long-term trends of the continuous year-on-year decline in bronze Open Access levels in the total article output, a consistent expansion or stability in Gold Open Access levels and a growth spurt in hybrid Open Access between 2014 and 2017 after volatility in previous years.

These contradictory trends may also be driven by the institutional, university-level or national variation in the degree to which journal subscription agreements with large publishers include article processing fee-offsetting arrangements for publishing in Open Access, which adds complexity to its performance patterns.

By Pablo Markin


Featured Image Credits: Academiegebouw, Groningen, Netherlands, August 9, 2008 © Courtesy of Bert Kaufmann/Flickr.

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