Like everything in life, open access has its good and bad sides. As part of open access week, we’ll give a brief rundown of some of the positive and negative aspects of publishing open access.
Advantage 1: Free for all
The core idea of open access is the basis of its key advantage—articles are freely available for anyone who wishes to read them. For readers and libraries, the benefits of not having to pay for an individual article or journal subscription are obvious. And for those that believe that publically funded research should be freely available to all, mandates to make the outcomes of these funding programs free to the public are now becoming the norm.
Disadvantage 1: Publication fees
While the end user doesn’t have to pay to read an open access article, someone has to pay for the costs of publication. Often, it is the responsibility of the author—perhaps through their employer or a research grant—to cover these costs. In times of austerity and funding cuts, this can discourage researchers from going open access.
Advantage 2: Increased readership
For authors, publishing open access rather than behind a paywall can help open up their research to a wider audience. In an era where the number of articles being published is skyrocketing, open access can help an article to be more discoverable online. And ultimately, an increased number of readers can convert into an increased number of citations for the author.
Disadvantage 2: Lack of quality control
While not a problem for reputable publishers, some argue that open access models incentivize journals to publish more articles. Journals have to cover their costs and when a large portion of their revenue comes from publication fees, they may be encouraged to publish more articles, with a negative impact on overall quality. This debate was recently reignited with the acceptance of a spoof article by a Science editor in many open access journals.
Advantage 3: Access for researchers in developing countries
The lack of access to subscription-based journals is a commonly cited problem for researchers in low-income countries. Open access can help provide scientists in such countries with the opportunity to participate in the international research community, with some open access journals even offering discounted or waived publication fees for papers from low-income countries.
Disadvantage 3: Sustainability
Some argue that traditional paid access models ensure publishers are adequately compensated for the substantial role they play. Whether open access models can sustainably support the research publication infrastructure in the long term remains to be seen.
By Adam Geib, Quality Control Editing Team