The image I adopted for this blog entry is in the public domain with CC0 assigned (Creative Commons license, “No Rights Reserved”). I selected this image because it is freely available for use and represents familiar and standard rhetoric many librarians use to introduce and promote Open Access. It highlights the message, “Openness Creates Engagement,” and communicates the benefits coming from the spirit of sharing and increased engagement for researchers, students and academic communities alike. However, the more I investigated the significant reform movement in scholarly communication –often exchangeably referred to as Open Access, Open Science, or Open Scholarship– the more I became cautious about using the same “optimistic” or “catchy” rhetoric alone. As a liaison librarian, my professional responsibilities include promoting and teaching new infrastructures and new ways of sharing in scholarly communication. Instead of taking the standard rhetorics used to promote Open Access and Scholarship at its face value, I wanted to explore the literature and conversations addressing unequal power relations inherent in knowledge production processes and practices.
The power inequality inherent in scholarly communication will reproduce itself into a new open scholarship landscape if it is not properly recognized and addressed. There is a concern that the domination of the Western science systems that we historically inherited reproduces and further strengthens the inequity in increasingly digital environments.1 New technological innovations and implementations must critically address the power inequity in the dominant knowledge production systems. Optimistically speaking, technological innovations can support and advance diversity, communicate different approaches from different regions of the world, and respect and promote those approaches relevant and beneficial to local communities. Furthermore, they can facilitate and advance new possibilities to shape diverse scholarly communication ecosystems and landscapes.
Where Do We Begin? – 20 Years Ago and Now
The Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) had its 20th anniversary on February 2022.2 Back in 2002, the Initiative facilitated the open access movement as a newly emerging academic publishing paradigm in a digital age by promoting the self-archiving of peer-reviewed scholarly journal publications and a new generation of open-access journals. The rationale was that because of the affordances of Internet technologies, the fruit of research in academic journals could be shared with unrestricted access by all scientists, scholars, teachers, students, and anyone curious.
“Removing access barriers to this literature will accelerate research, enrich education, share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich, make this literature as useful as it can be, and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge.”3
Researchers traditionally gave up the copyright of their research output in return for publishing it in commercial scholarly journals. In light of the new digital environment, the established practice was seen as an increasingly misaligned and outdated mode tied to the old in-print technology. Further, open-access experimentation in the past 20 years was mainly guided by the funders’ open-access mandates, which emphasized making journal articles freely accessible. “Access,” therefore, has been the primary focus. As Anderson observed in his 2017 Scholarly Kitchen blog entries (part 1 and part 2), however, competing visions of “making articles freely accessible” existed and rendered some confusion in the open-access publishing landscape.4 He identified a list of varied approaches as incompatible, noting that they tried to achieve something different with different goals. For example, he listed variations on how soon the publication should be freely accessible and to what extent it is reusable (reusable rights). In the final analysis, they ultimately depended on the publisher’s copyright agreements and their control.
There are currently different categories of Open Access (OA) journals based on whether the authors need to pay the Article Processing Charges (APCs). “Gold” OA and “Hybrid” journals are associated with the APC author-pays model; for-profit aspects of these are highly lucrative.5
Fully open-access Gold OA journals include both non-profit OA publishers and commercial OA publishers, including the Public Library of Science (PLOS) as a non-profit example; and Spring Nature and BioMedical Central as commercial examples. cOAlition, a group representing research funders based in Europe, published Plan S, which mandated full and immediate open access to grant-funded research publications starting in 2021. The Plan also mandated the APC author-pays business model across different types of OA journals regardless of the size of publishers, for example. Crotty points out that Plan S indiscriminately imposes on smaller publishers and scholarly societies to adopt the APC business model, thereby creating administrative burdens and making it difficult to maintain their publishing operations.6 He reasons that “APC Gold OA works best at scale,” meaning more OA journal articles published guarantees more revenue.7 This is a clear advantage for big publishers with their own platforms with production and marketing operations. Crotty, therefore, warns that the APC business model facilitates market consolidation by big publishers.
Hybrid journals are subscription-based journals that incorporate open-access options allowing authors to publish accepted articles in open access upon payment of APCs. Ross-Hellauer points out exclusionary implications in the APC author-pays model for researchers.8 The APCs shift the financial burden to the authors, who must come up with the payments. Therefore, it continues to be disadvantageous for those without the resource. The critics argue that the APC model helps to establish an unequal mechanism baked into the scholarly communication system.
Two other categories in open-access journals do not involve author payments. They are “Diamond/Platinum” OA and “Green” OA journals.
Diamond or Platinum OA journals (from now on, refer to Diamond OA) are accessible to readers without cost and do not charge authors the APCs.9 They are free to read and publish with a peer-review procedure in place, considered most fair and transparent and independent from a commercial publisher.10 They offer alternatives, often scholars-led, in sharp contrast to the APC for-profit models. The 2021 OA Diamond Journals Study estimated the number of OA Diamond journals to be around 29,000.11 It noted that only one-third are registered in the Directory of Open Access Journals, indicating the majority of OA Diamond journals may not be easy to locate. Nonetheless, the Diamond OA journals have variety in regional coverage, diversity in disciplinary scope, having higher multilingual coverage than the OA journals with the APC, among other characteristics:
The OA diamond sector is diverse in terms of regions (45% in Europe, 25% in Latin America, 16% in Asia, 5% in the US/Canada) and disciplines (60% HSS, 22% science, 17% medicine). In Europe, more than half of them are based in one of the Eastern European countries. The majority of OA diamond journals are small in size, publishing fewer than 25 articles a year. OA diamond journals serve mainly a national authorship (in all disciplines, including science and medicine) but disseminate their output to a largely international audience. OA diamond journals are much more multilingual (publishing in several languages) than APC-based ones (38% compared to 14%).12
While they are highly varied and disparate, they serve diverse communities. The Study also notes many operational challenges associated with Diamond OA journals, including their governance, legally established ownership, long-term operational sustainability, and implementing sustainable platforms with proper indexing for international visibility.13 Diamond OA journals often rely on government and institutional funding sources and are usually supported and maintained by universities, libraries, and other non-profit organizations and voluntary work.14 Waidlein et al. conclude in their white paper regarding funding options for Diamond OA journals that funding sources need to be explored according to individual journal financial needs, possibly forming cooperative arrangements, in order to “enrich scholar-led open access ecosystem.”15
The degree of innovation in OA Diamond journals is something to watch because of their potential for enhancing bibliodiversity in scholarly communication due to their experimentation with the variety in content, publication formats, and participating organizations.16, 16a However, according to the Diamond OA Journals Study, most survey respondents currently prioritize editorial best practices and quality control rather than innovation. An overwhelming majority of the journals (78%) follow best practice guidelines on publication, citing Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) as the most popular code of ethics. The same is true for quality control, indicating 67% of the Study respondents follow double-blind peer review. Some, however, test “unusual editorial formats and practices” and experiment with their publishing framework. The Study also mentions several instances of global initiatives at a grassroots, including the one involving collaborative work networks across institutions.17
Green OA journals are the last category in the current discussion. They are often known as self-archiving options. They allow the article author to post a version of their manuscript submitted to a publisher on a website controlled by the author or on open-access online depositories.18 In recent years, preprints, which are Green OA, have been noted for playing a role in expediting in sharing of research.19
Refining and Reorienting – 20 Years Later
The 20th Anniversary Statement includes four high-level recommendations following the outcomes of critical reviews on past open-access experimentations. They set out to bring coherent next directions for various stakeholders in scholarly communication.
- Hosting and publishing OA texts, data, metadata, code, and other digital research outputs on open, community-controlled infrastructure.
- Reforming research assessment for funding decisions and for hiring, promotion, and tenure decisions by universities and research institutions.
- Inclusive publishing and distribution channels that never exclude authors on economic grounds.
- Favouring publishing models that benefit all regions of the world, controlled by academic-led and non-profit organizations.20
In addition, since the BOAI’s first statement 20 years ago, digital forms have been multiplying beyond journal articles. The report reiterates that the open access movement covers many scholarly artifacts and deliveries, including preprints, open data, open metadata, open citations, open code, open protocols, open books, open theses and dissertations, open education resources, open courseware, open digitization projects, open licenses, open standards, and open peer review.21
The four overarching recommendations in the 20th-anniversary BOAI statement laid down the basic foundational principles to calibrate the open access movement thus far developed and to work toward Open Science as its next extension. The calibration requires political actions to organize, facilitate, and advance new approaches and practices that speak to the power inequality in scholarly communication.
1. Okune, Angela, Becky Hillyer, Denisse Albornoz, Nanjira Sambuli, and Leslie Chan. “Tackling Inequities in Global Scientific Power Structures,” January 2016. https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/handle/1807/71107.
2. The Budapest Open Access Initiative: 20th Anniversary Recommendation” Accessed August 15, 2022. https://www.budapestopenaccessinitiative.org/boai20/. para 1.
3. “Budapest Open Access Initiative (2002).” Accessed August 15, 2022. https://www.budapestopenaccessinitiative.org/.
4. Anderson, Rick. “Diversity in the Open Access Movement, Part 1: Differing Definitions.” The Scholarly Kitchen, January 23, 2017. https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2017/01/23/diversity-open-access-movement-part-1-differing-definitions/.
5. Butler, Leigh-Ann, Lisa Matthias, Marc-André Simard, Phil Mongeon, and Stefanie Haustein. “The Oligopoly’s Shift to Open Access Publishing: How for-Profit Publishers Benefit from Gold and Hybrid Article Processing Charges.” Proceedings of the Annual Conference of CAIS / Actes Du Congrès Annuel de l’ACSI, August 6, 2022. https://doi.org/10.29173/cais1262.
6. Crotty, David. “Why Society and Not-For-Profit Journals Are Worth Preserving: Better Economic and Continuing Value for the Community.” The Scholarly Kitchen, December 6, 2018. https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2018/12/06/why-society-and-not-for-profit-journals-are-worth-preserving-better-economic-and-continuing-value-for-the-community/
7. Crotty, para 4.
8. Tony Ross-Hellauer, 2022. “Open science, done wrong, will compound inequities,” Nature, Nature, vol. 603(7901), pages 363, March.
Geographical diversity is reduced in OA publications.
- Smith, A. C., Merz, L., Borden, J. B., Gulick, C. K., Kshirsagar, A. R., & Bruna, E. M. (2021). Assessing the effect of article processing charges on the geographic diversity of authors using Elsevier’s “Mirror Journal” system. Quantitative Science Studies, 2(4), 1123–1143. https://doi.org/10.1162/qss_a_00157
Male, Senior authors, and those federally funded and affiliated with prestigious universities are more likely to publish in OA journal articles.
- Olejniczak, A. J., & Wilson, M. J. (2020). Who’s writing open access (OA) articles? Characteristics of OA authors at Ph.D.-granting institutions in the United States. Quantitative Science Studies, 1(4), 1429–1450. https://doi.org/10.1162/qss_a_00091
———. “Diversity in the Open Access Movement, Part 2: Differing Goals.” The Scholarly Kitchen, January 24, 2017. https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2017/01/24/diversity-open-access-movement-part-2-differing-goals/.
9. Gajović, Srećko. “Diamond Open Access in the Quest for Interdisciplinarity and Excellence.” Croatian Medical Journal 58, no. 4 (August 2017): 261–62. https://doi.org/10.3325/cmj.2017.58.261.
Öchsner, Andreas. “Publishing Companies, Publishing Fees, and Open Access Journals.” In Introduction to Scientific Publishing: Backgrounds, Concepts, Strategies, edited by Andreas Öchsner, 23–29. SpringerBriefs in Applied Sciences and Technology. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer, 2013. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-38646-6_4.
10. Waidlein, Nicole, Marcel Wrzesinski, Frédéric Dubois, and Christian Katzenbach. “Working with Budget and Funding Options to Make Open Access Journals Sustainable.” Zenodo, February 25, 2021. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4558790, page 5.
11. Bosman, Jeroen, Jan Erik Frantsvåg, Bianca Kramer, Pierre-Carl Langlais, and Vanessa Proudman. “Executive Summary.” In OA Diamond Journals Study. Part 1: Findings, 7–8. Zenodo, 2021. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4558704.
12. Bosman et al., 7.
13. Bosman et al., 8.
14. Bosman et al., 90.
15. Waidlein, et al., 31.
16. Shearer, Kathleen, Leslie Chan, Iryna Kuchma, and Pierre Mounier. “Fostering Bibliodiversity in Scholarly Communications: A Call for Action!,” 2020, 12.
16a. Waidlein, et al.
17. Bosman et al., 87-90.
18. Gadd, Elizabeth, and Denise Troll Covey. “What Does ‘Green’ Open Access Mean? Tracking Twelve Years of Changes to Journal Publisher Self-Archiving Policies,” January 1, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1177/0961000616657406
19. Flemming, Philippa. “Preprint Servers and the Publishers Embracing Open Peer Review.” The Publication Plan for everyone interested in medical writing, the development of medical publications, and publication planning, August 4, 2020. https://thepublicationplan.com/2020/08/04/preprint-servers-and-the-publishers-embracing-open-peer-review/
20. The Budapest Open Access Initiatives, para 11-14.
21. The Budapest Open Access Initiatives, para 8