Open Access in economics and business studies

Whereas in German the term Wirtschaftswissenschaften covers both economics and business studies (or business administration), in English a distinction is made between these two disciplines. When looking at the open access (OA) situation, this distinction is meaningful because the publication behaviour in economics differs from that in business studies.
In both disciplines, publications in academic journals are the main publication type, while books and book chapters play only a subordinate role. As a study of the publication behaviour in economics and business studies in Germany conducted by the German National Library of Economics (ZBW) in 2009 revealed, economics is considerably more globalised than business studies: over 90% of publications in economics were in English, whereas the share of English-language publications in business studies was just under 60%. However, it can be assumed that the share of English-language publications has increased further since then. The major international publishing houses Elsevier, Wiley, and Springer are the journal publishers most preferred by authors in both disciplines - particularly in economics.
A further distinguishing feature is the preprint culture. Almost every economics institute or faculty independently publishes its own working paper series. These working papers are usually freely accessible as PDFs via the institution’s website. As a result, freely accessible preprint versions of almost all the economics articles that appear in the major journals are available online. A preprint culture such as this exists only in a few subfields of business studies, for example in international marketing. However, in this case, too, there has been a modest increase in the last few years.
In the area of book publications, hybrid publishing (i.e. works published simultaneously in print and online) is on the increase, with the major international publishers Springer, Wiley, and Taylor&Francis leading the way. At campus level, the use of the e-book versions is growing. By contrast, books that are freely accessible online remain the absolute exception. In general, however, medium-sized German publishers, such as NOMOS, Duncker&Humblot, Gabler, and Schäffer-Poeschel, continue to play an important role in monographic literature.

Open Access journals

Measured against the overall number of approximately 2500 journals in economics and business studies, OA journals now play a certain role, numerically speaking. As of October 2014, the Directory of Open Access Journals listed almost 500 journals in economics and business studies. However, if one takes a look at the core area of renowned journals that make it into the rankings of the professional associations Verein für Sozialpolitik (VfS) and the Academic Association for Business Research (VHB), or the rankings compiled by the German business newspaper Handelsblatt, the percentage of OA journals is much lower - namely well under 5%. The situation is similar with regard to the OA journals included in the Social Science Citation Index (SSCI).

The few OA journals that make it into these rankings include:

  • Theoretical Economics: Founded in 2006, Theoretical Economics is published by the Econometric Society, an international society of academic economists. It was one of the first OA journals to be included in the SSCI.
  • Quantitative Economics: Founded in 2010, this journal is also published by the Econometric Society. In contrast to its sister journal Theoretical Economics, it focuses on applied research. 
  • Economics – The Open Access, Open Assessment E-Journal: Founded in 2007, Economics is published by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy and technically supported by the German National Library of Economics (ZBW). The journal has an illustrious editorial board (which includes several Nobel laureates) and a dual peer review system whereby, in addition to the traditional peer review process, all accepted manuscripts undergo assessment by registered journal users (open assessment).
  • SERIEs: SERIEs is the journal of the Spanish Economic Association. It came into being in 2010 through the merger of two renowned Spanish academic journals, the Spanish Economic Review and the Investigaciones Económicas. It is published as an OA journal by Springer within the framework of SpringerOpen.
  • Monthly Labor Review: Launched in 1915, the Monthly Labor Review is published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The journal covers all labour-market-related issues.

In addition, the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) - which has published an internationally renowned working paper series for many years now - simultaneously launched five OA journal in 2012, all of which are published by Springer within the framework of SpringerOpen. The journals in question are:

Although these journals do not yet have an impact factor, they are likely to be included in the SSCI in the coming years.

Disciplinary repositories

  • RePEc: RePEc (Research Papers in Economics) is not a repository in the strict sense of the word - that is, an archive where full texts are stored. Rather, it is merely a decentralised bibliographic database with links to full texts. However, it must not be omitted from this list because, for many researchers, it is simply the best-known full-text portal in economics. About half of the 1.5 million publications (mainly journal articles and working papers) linked via RePEc are freely accessible. The non-commercial, decentralised database is maintained by a team of researchers.
  • SSRN: SSRN (Social Science Research Network) is the largest disciplinary repository of publications in economics and business studies. As the name suggests, it is an interdisciplinary offering that covers all subfields of the social sciences (as well as some disciplines in the humanities). Almost 500,000 full texts are openly accessible via SSRN, quite a large percentage of which are in economics and business studies. SSRN is a private-sector service (operated by Social Science Electronic Publishing Inc., which is based in Rochester, USA) that is financed by the institutional contributions of the participating universities and research organisations.
  • EconStor: EconStor, the repository of the German National Library (ZBW) - Leibniz Information Centre for Economics, contains over 80,000 openly accessible full-text documents - by German economic researchers, in particular. Although these documents are mainly working papers, they also include conference papers and journal articles. EconStor is an important archive provider to RePEc. Moreover, its documents are also indexed in Google Scholar and EconBiz.
  • AgEcon Search: This disciplinary repository is maintained by the University of Minnesota and is funded mainly by the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA). It contains some 80,000 freely accessible full-text documents, especially from the field of agricultural and applied economics, all of which are also indexed in RePEc.
  • MPRA: The Munich Personal RePEc Archive (MPRA) is hosted by the University of Munich and contains over 30,000 contributions submitted by economists from all over the world. As a rule, these documents are not submitted by institutions or publishers but rather uploaded by the individual researchers themselves. Following their release by the editorial team, the papers are indexed in RePEc.

Literature searches in economics and business studies

Besides the established disciplinary bibliographic databases such as EconLit and ECONIS, the following offerings are useful for finding literature in both economics and business studies:

  1. RePEc: contains mainly working papers (OA) and journal articles
  2. SSRN: contains mainly working papers (OA)
  3. EconBiz (incl. RePEc and ECONIS): contains journal articles, working papers (OA), books, and book chapters

Moreover, many economic researchers also search in Google Scholar.

Key players

A particularly important role in the further development of the publication market in both economics and business studies is played by the various professional associations, or learned societies. Examples at national (i.e. German) level include the

The following is a selection of professional associations and learned societies at international level:

Although all of these professional associations and learned societies publish important academic journals, to date only the Econometric Society (Theoretical Economics and Quantitative Economics) and the VHB (Business Research) publish their own OA journals. The professional associations are usually also active as organisers of important academic conferences. In this connection, the fact that, since 2010, the VfS has made all the papers from its annual conferences accessible via EconStor is of relevance from an OA perspective.
The Royal Economic Society in the UK is also worthy of note in this regard as it is the only economic association that explicitly addresses the subject of open access on its website. However, this is prompted especially by the OA mandate of the national research funder, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) (cf. here).

One of the most important infrastructure organisations in the area of open access is the German National Library (ZBW) – Leibniz Information Centre for Economics, which runs EconStor, one of the leading disciplinary repositories. In addition, ZBW hosts the IfW’s OA journal, Economics, and acts in an advisory capacity for the national professional associations.

The most important OA publisher for economics and business studies is Springer. In addition to the VHB journal Business Research and the above-mentioned IZA journals, it also publishes SERIEs, the journal of the Spanish Economic Association.

Open Science

The free accessibility of research data plays an increasingly important role, especially in economics. This applies particularly to data from official statistics sources that are made freely accessible nationally and internationally on the internet by statistical organisations according to the principle of open government data (cf., for example, the German Interior Ministry’s GovData service).

In addition, at national – i.e. German – level, the German Data Forum (RatSWD), a body of empirical researchers that has set itself the task of improving access to research data, has been in existence for a number of years now.

The German National Library of Economics (ZBW) is currently collaborating with the German Data Forum (RatSWD) and other partners in the DFG-funded project EDaWaX, which is devoted to data policies and data archives. One goal is to improve access to research data in the context of journal articles.


Ralf Toepfer: “Publikationsverhalten in den Wirtschaftswissenschaften – Eine bibliometrische Analyse auf Basis der Fachdatenbank ECONIS“, in: ASpB-Tagungsband 2009, KIT Publishing 2011

Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung (eds.): "Publikationsverhalten in unterschiedlichen
wissenschaftlichen Disziplinen"
(Diskussionspapier Nr.12, 2008)

Ted C Bergstrom und Rosemarie Lavaty: „How often do economists self-archive?”, University of California, Working Paper 2007

Diane Harley et al.: “Assessing the Future Landscape of Scholarly Communication: An Exploration of
Faculty Values and Needs in Seven Disciplines”
, Center for Studies in Higher Education, UC Berkeley

Klaus Wohlrabe und Daniel Birkmeier: “Do open access articles in economics have a citation
, MPRA Working Paper 2014 


Content editor of this web page: Olaf Siegert, German National Library of Economics (ZBW).