Open-Access Publishing: The Way Forward?

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In the last few years a revolution has taken place in academic publishing, with the emergence of Open Access (OA) research. Open Access publishing in academia consists of the deposit, usually by the author, of peer-reviewed journal articles in archives that can be accessed for free online by any user.

OA began when some university libraries in the US began to object to the considerable subscription charges levied by journal publishers. It also grew out of a grassroots movement of academics who objected to seeing their work – paid for by taxpayers – hidden behind subscription-only firewalls (the boycott of Elsevier by over 14,000 academics in 2012 at was a case in point). 

Research funders have now followed institutions and academics in supporting OA publishing. It is now the case that all the UK research councils make OA deposit a condition of their funding (as does EU funding, and funding from a number of other sources). Furthermore, HEFCE (the Higher Education Funding Council of England and Wales) has recently announced its full support of OA research, stating that as of 1 April 2016 journal articles and conference proceedings must as a rule have been placed in an OA repository in order to be eligible for any future REF.

So what does OA mean for publishers?

In very simple terms, the rise of OA now means that journal publishers have been forced to revise their copyright policies when faced with the prospect of losing both subscription revenue and submissions.

Two models of OA have emerged. The first is ‘Gold’ OA, in which the journal itself makes the article freely available from its own website, usually for a charge levied on the author. This ‘author-pays’ model, however, has been widely criticized as a form of ‘vanity publishing’ - a charge which publishers reject, by pointing to their role as guarantors of quality in a world of unregulated and proliferating information. 

The second, and most widely used model is ‘Green’ OA. This is a self-archiving process in which the article can be placed in an institutional repository, sometimes with a time embargo in place, and sometimes in pre-publication format.

So what does OA mean for institutions?

Institutions have come under enormous pressure to manage budgets carefully, and have embraced the idea of OA deposit as a way of reducing substantial library expenditures while at the same time being seen to uphold an ideal of open access research.

Now that the research councils and the REF all require OA deposit for articles, institutions are now busy working to educate their staff of the importance of OA, and to build and populate their own comprehensive OA repositories. This represents an opportunity for universities to augment their ‘brand’ with their own imprimatur of research quality, and to invest in their own in-house repository rather than in external publishers.

In a sense, what may be taking place here is a return to an older model of institutional publication. But the pressing question for universities must be that of how readers (particularly inexpert readers at whom open access is particularly aimed) will be able to negotiate these new networks of knowledge. Institutional repositories will require their own gateways, searchable databases, and indicators of quality – all of which are still in the process of development.

So what does OA mean for me?

Put simply, OA means that if you want your work to be entered in any future REF, or to be eligible for any Research Council funding, you must now deposit your work in a legal OA repository.

The first thing any academic will now want to know when thinking of submitting an article to a journal is what that journal’s policy on copyright and OA is. Two extremely useful sites to consult are SHERPA/RoMEO (a searchable database of journals’ self-archiving and copyright policies) and SHERPA/JULIET (a database of funders’ archiving policies). Both are based at the University of Nottingham, at

OA publishing looks set to stay. It has brought about a sea change in long-standing models of publishing, transferring power from publishers to institutions, and it will almost certainly be a key factor in any individual’s publishing choices. So far OA applies only to journal articles and conference proceedings – so what will happen when it is extended to the world of academic books?

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