From the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) meeting in 2002 to the present day, Open Access has come a long way, and this week we celebrate the 10th annual Open Access Week! This year’s focus spearheaded by SPARC is around “Open in order to…“ with the goal of highlighting the benefits of Open Access. PLOS has published another post on our efforts for Open Access Week, and so here it seems a good time to consider the nuances of the various flavours (colours) of Open Access available to researchers today and what they are Open in order to achieve.
If you’re a researcher reading this, please take some time to consider your options the next time you are selecting what journal to submit your research to (and while you’re considering, go ahead and submit your research to a preprint server to further expedite the dissemination of your scientific research).
The Value of Open Access
The value of Open Access in its current form is something that leading scholars and thinkers continue to debate (Richard Poynder & Michael Eisen to name but two). And to those who consider that the Open Access movement has not been successful, the percentage of research that is Open Access speaks for itself in terms of improving the availability of published research; it’s fair to say, however, that the affordability of Open Access and publishing is a thornier issue.
Some of the initial goals of Open Access and PLOS were also about challenging the existing STM publishing infrastructure  and addressing the oligopoly of academic publishers. There’s plenty of work still to be done here, and while the idea of a more transformative and disruptive approach to overturn academic publishing would be welcomed, there’s also value in continuing to provide Gold Open Access journals and working with the traditional (risk-averse) researchers to persuade them away from Closed Access, or even hybrid Open Access journals.
For those unfamiliar with them, hybrid Open Access publications (sometimes referred to as double dippers) are those that charge a subscription fee, but which also offer—for an extra Article Processing Charge (APC)—the option to submitting authors of immediate Open Access to their research at the time of publication. Recent data from the University of Cambridge has shown that in 2016, the spend from their Open Access APC pot of money to support publication charges reached in excess of €1.5M on hybrid APC charges as compared with just over €0.5M on Gold OA APCs. And so the successful business model for Open Access has served to further fill the coffers of several large commercial publishers.
Yet there are ongoing and recurring issues with both the delivery and the longevity of the access to some “open” content in hybrid journals. Recent monitoring efforts by Jonathan Eisen revealed several supposedly Open Access genome papers that mysteriously found themselves locked behind a paywall. Although rectified now, this does highlight a very concerning flaw with hybrid open access that is not isolated; a 2016 report by the Wellcome trust investigated this very issue and determined that “in 30% of cases we are not getting what we are paying for.” (If any readers without subscriptions paid to access these manuscripts on a per-article basis, does that count as triple dipping?)
Covering All Bases: Innovative Disruptors & Gold Open Access
We need to cover all bases: we need innovative disruptors who put forward new Open Access models and mechanisms to reinvent how academics disseminate their findings. But we also need to recognise that although we don’t yet have the 21st century game-changing innovation, there are infrastructures in place that are better at overcoming barriers to access and reuse, and which provide a potential stepping stone towards both bringing the community around and allowing exploration of new models with the content housed therein. Full text, mineable and searchable XML, and APIs over open content and open data open many, many opportunities for the innovative disruptors to take the content and go crazy with ideas of how we can—and should—do this better.
However, we are where we are, and research and scholarly STM publishing is ongoing. Researchers today are faced with a variety of options of where to publish. When deciding where to publish, all researchers make choices, and my guess is that still today, the value of ‘Open’ probably does not take precedence over the requirements of funder and Institution, along with the perceived ‘impact’ of the journal (not to mention how those researchers are assessed depending on the country/Institution where they are based, but that’s a whole other blog post…). The details of the license under which they publish may well be background noise in the life of a much-harried researcher, and the nuances of a Gold and Green colour scheme for Open Access are also probably lost to most*.
A few years back, PLOS implemented the How Open Is It campaign to provide researchers with a guide to assess the openness and licensing offered by various publishers and this stands as a very useful Open Access Spectrum guide for anyone who wants more information.
For the easiest way forwards with your research today though, there are ever more Gold Open Access journals for researchers to consider, and the easiest way to tick all boxes required by funder and Institutes, AND to ensure that the full benefits of Open Access in order to permit access, findability, and reuse are achieved, is to choose from among those Gold journals.
*A loose definition for anyone who doesn’t know: Gold Open Access is when research is openly available immediately upon publication with a CC BY license allowing for reuse; Green is generally when an author’s final version is self-archived somewhere at time of publication or within an embargo period—it does not necessarily allow for reuse or text mining as would be possible under CC BY.
Be Bold & Go Gold! Submit your research to PLOS Biology.
Incidentally, we are also celebrating PLOS Biology’s 14th birthday this month, which seems a great opportunity to thank all of our contributors (editors, authors, reviewers) without whom none of this would be possible. Keep those submissions coming, and join me in wishing PLOS Biology a very Happy Birthday!