Arguments for Open Access

Free access to results of publicly funded research

Through open access (OA), the results of publicly subsidised research are freely accessible and do not have to be bought (back) from publishers by scientific and scholarly institutions. A frequently voiced criticism of closed access is that the public has to pay for research results three times over: the scientists and scholars who conduct and publish the research are usually paid by the public sector; and before they finally appear in journals that have to be purchased from publishers by publicly funded libraries and institutes, manuscripts undergo peer review by scientists and scholars who are paid by the public sector. This multiple funding does not happen in OA.

Greater visibility and citation frequency

The terms “visibility” and “impact” are often used to describe the main advantage of OA content. Visibility refers to the probability that a document will be noticed and disseminated, while impact relates to the lasting reception of the work and the inclusion of the results in further research and in scientific debate. Together, visibility and impact enhance the reputation of authors and their institutions.

Considerably greater notice is taken of OA contributions than of contributions that are not freely available on the internet. Empirical studies have shown that cost-free global availability leads to increased use, which, in turn, results in greater citation frequency. In 2010, Alma Swan published a comprehensive overview of studies that confirm a citation advantage of sometimes up to 600% for OA documents compared to their closed-access counterparts in a wide range of disciplines from philosophy to astronomy (Swan, 2010). Besides this meta-study, numerous surveys have been conducted for individual disciplines. They show that, in the vast majority of cases, OA documents are cited more frequently than closed-access publications. The bibliography of the Open Citation Project offers a collection of these findings.

Faster and cost-free access to scientific and scholarly information

Scientific and scholarly information that is made openly accessible online can be accessed immediately and discovered quickly by all scholars and scientists, students, and the interested public. It can be used with ease worldwide from any workstation with internet access. As a rule, the time that elapses between manuscript submission and article publication is shorter in the case of OA publications than in the conventional publishing system because the (in this case consistent) electronic form facilitates speedy editorial processing, peer review, and publication. Moreover, no time has to be spent on printing and distributing the work. In contrast to closed-access works, OA content can be used free of charge. Hence, it is available equally to scholars and scientists in financially disadvantaged regions and to their colleagues at financially strong research locations. OA can thus contribute to reducing the digital divide in science and scholarship.

Good findability via search engines and reference services

Because OA documents can be accessed online without access restrictions, the full texts are also findable via search engines such as Google or GoogleScholar. It is from this characteristic that the aforementioned greater visibility and citation frequency of OA documents stem. Optimal visibility and scientific impact exist only if the work is also indexed in reference services that are frequently used by scholars and scientists from a particular discipline or field of activity. As OA documents are, as a rule, indexed by means of metadata, abstracts, and keywords that comply with international standards, they are searchable and findable worldwide shortly after they appear online. Hence, they can be found both via international search engines and library catalogues. Their relevance to a particular research question can be directly examined by means of inspection, which also contributes to transparency in science and scholarship.

Sharing in the advantages of digital documents

In theory, at least, the publication of digital documents has great advantages: these documents are accessible directly and around the clock, and they can be saved, copied, sent, printed, and used as a basis for new texts. Moreover, they are not subject to any space restrictions and can easily refer to other materials (audio and video files, data collections, software programmes, etc.) that serve to document, illustrate, verify, or provide more in-depth information about the research results. And finally, they can expedite the publishing process considerably.

However, the advantages of digital documents can be fully exploited only in the case of OA publications because works that are digital but closed access are deprived of the positive characteristics described above as they are neither directly accessible, nor can they be easily saved, shared, linked to other documents, or used for the purpose of collaboration.

Improvement of the information supply and a way out of the serials crisis

On the one hand, OA supports the information supply technically because the possibility of direct access means that procurement effort and time loss can be avoided. On the other hand, in view of the growing share of freely accessible documents, it is becoming increasingly easy to quickly access comprehensive and authentic information on the current state of research.
Due to the under-supplying of libraries with scientific and scholarly journals as a result of the rising costs of procuring closed-access journals – the so-called serials crisis – many journals are no longer available from libraries. As OA aims to make scientific and scholarly information available free of charge worldwide, such supply gaps cannot occur in the case of openly accessible content.

Promotion of international and inter-disciplinary collaboration

Because OA publications can be used digitally and free of charge, they foster the global networking of scientific and scholarly endeavour and the internationalisation of science and scholarship. Moreover, cost-free availability of OA content worldwide enables people in poorer countries to access and use relevant scientific and scholarly information. Open access also promotes the dissemination of research results from countries without strong research funding as it makes dissemination cheaper and easier. Many of the OA publishers who finance their operations through publication fees waive these fees in the case of scholars and scientists from poorer countries.

The timely international presence of OA contributions promotes collaboration between scholars and scientists and accelerates the research process. Authors of OA publications receive immediate feedback from colleagues - sometimes from all corners of the world.

Promotion of research efficiency

ArXiv, which is much used in physics and mathematics, and other repositories facilitate communication about research results by quickly making research available online, sometimes even before it is published in a journal. Among other factors, Alma Swan (2010) attributes the high citation figures achieved by OA publications to the speed with which they become available to a worldwide audience. She calls this phenomenon “an early advantage”. It points to a shortening of the research cycle through the increased use of this communication channel.

Exploitation rights remain with the author

It goes without saying that OA documents enjoy the same copyright protection as any other publications. In their publishing agreements with OA publishers or journals, authors often grant the publisher only non-exclusive (rather than exclusive) rights of use, thereby retaining the right to independently exploit the work. Moreover, special open content licences, such as the Creative Commons licences, enable the authors themselves to specify the rights they grant to the public at large, to share their content under globally standardised conditions, and to keep further publication options open.

Long-term availability of documents

When documents are deposited in a digital repository, long-term archiving is guaranteed, which is not usually the case when they are posted on a personal website. Technically, permanent access to the text is assured through the assignment of so-called persistent identifiers (URN, PURL, DOI, etc.), which are independent of a document’s concrete storage location. Experience shows that scholarly and scientific authors rarely store their works permanently or back them up reliably. As a result, their results are lost to their research institutions, and responsibility for the long-term preservation lies solely with the publishers. However, redundant storage in OA repositories helps to guarantee lasting access. Genuinely OA documents may also be archived by third parties without separate permission, which further safeguards them against being lost.

Advantages in networked, IT-supported work environments

Because of their restricted access and usage possibilities, closed-access publications are of little use when it comes to fulfilling the demands of today’s primarily digital science (Science 2.0, e-science, Open Science), which focuses on networking, information enhancement, and automated data and text analyses. By contrast, OA facilitates easy access to information within networked research environments and workflows. It is therefore an important infrastructural prerequisite for e-science and, at the same time, it means that more account is taken of information generated in the e-science context, thereby enhancing its impact. 

Establishing priority

With regard to establishing priority, preprints, in particular, offer various advantages over submitting a manuscript to a journal. Authors can save time by making a preprint of the work publicly available in a digital repository. In this way they can avoid priority problems that arise in the event that the manuscript is not accepted for publication and the further delay this causes.

Reservations about Open Access

Reservations about quality

Some authors fear that open access (OA) contributions will not receive proper recognition, which could have a negative impact on the assessment of their performance and on their applications for third-party funding, and could therefore be detrimental to their academic career. The fact that OA journals are not well established and that they lack reputation is cited as one possible reason for such reservations. This fear, which was articulated especially in the early days of OA publishing, is becoming less significant because, as a rule, the reputation of scholarly journals grows with age. By now, once-new OA journals have published several volumes and are well established. In 2012, the largest share of all citations (1.3%, based on the data of the Web of Science) was achieved for the first time by an OA journal - PLOS ONE - which replaced the closed-access journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) at the top of the table (Schimmer et al., 2013). Moreover, reservations about quality relate only to one of the two OA strategies, namely the gold road. When the green road to OA is taken, primary publication takes place, as a rule, in a closed-access journal, and a version of the published work is self-archived in a freely accessible repository. In this case, therefore, reservations about the quality of OA journals are not a valid argument.
Because they do not relate to the OA publishing mode as such, but rather to OA journals’ status as relatively new periodicals, these reservations do not hold water at all in cases where established closed-access journals are, or have been, converted to OA.

Although only about a quarter of OA journals are (partially) financed by publication fees, they sometimes face the accusation that these fees corrupt quality assurance. It is argued that, because journals that charge such fees earn money from every published article, quality control is less important than revenue from fees. In particular, a sting targeting OA journals, which was carried out by journalist John Bohannon (Bohannon, 2013), caused quite a stir. In a feature entitled “Who's Afraid of Peer Review?”, Bohannon suggested that OA journals suffer from low quality, which he attributed to the fact that they are financed by publication fees. Bohannon’s article was sharply criticised (Herb, 2013), for example on the grounds that he had ignored the fact that publication fees are rarely a substantial source of funding for OA journals; that closed-access journals also use publication fees and are therefore subject to the same mechanisms; and, finally, that studies have regularly revealed questionable quality assurance on the part of renowned closed-access journals.
In general, there is no connection between the renown of a journal and the business model it uses. High and low quality can be found equally among commercial and non-commercial publishers and journals, and among subscription-based and cost-free offerings. Like the editors of all other journals, the editors of OA journals are interested in high-quality contributions because high quality naturally attracts a broader range of authors, and low quality is a competitive disadvantage. Hence, there are numerous OA journals that have achieved high impact factors within a very short period of time. Björk and Solomon (2012) compared the impact factors of OA journals and closed-access journals. Controlling for journal age and the geographical location of the publisher, they found comparable impact factors for OA- and closed-access journals in medicine and health.

There are also concerns regarding the quality of the documents archived in disciplinary and institutional repositories. It is the responsibility of peer discussion and self-regulation within the scientific community to ensure the quality of preprints and working papers; post-doctoral (habilitation) theses and doctoral dissertations usually meet high quality standards.
The self-archiving of articles in institutional and disciplinary repositories is often limited to postprints. In other words, self-archiving constitutes supplementary access to a conventional publication, the original version of which has, as a rule, already been accepted for publication by a peer-reviewed or renowned journal or a publishing house (the green road to OA), thereby ensuring its quality. Sometimes there is uncertainty as to the authenticity of documents that are self-archived in repositories, for example uncertainty as to whether the document has in fact been formally published by a publishing house, or as to how it should be cited. The latter question is easily answered: in the citation, one uses the bibliographical details of the publisher’s version and supplements them with a link to the OA version.

Findability issues

Authors of OA contributions want to be certain of the long-time findability, readability, and authenticity of their works. Repository operators and the publishers of OA journals give due consideration to these requirements.
In order to ensure findability, the documents themselves are not only stored securely and permanently, they are also linked to searchable metadata. Because, as a rule, OA journals use prefabricated publishing software and/or are published by conventional publishing houses, and because OA repositories provide standardised metadata, the findability of OA documents is assured to the same extent as that of closed-access materials.

Long-term document archiving

It is a frequent experience that documents found on the internet are no longer findable after a few weeks, months, or years. This commonplace experience gives rise to by no means unfounded concerns about the long-term findability of digital content. Closed-access and OA documents are equally affected by the problem of digital volatility. To ensure the permanent availability of the documents, it is expedient for publishers, journals, and repositories to cooperate with national libraries or other providers of long-term archiving services. With regard to long-term archiving in the context of green OA, it is particularly important to note that, when providing OA to documents that have been formally published by a publishing house, preference should be given to self-archiving in a repository over posting the documents to a website, as some authors do. Compared to using repositories, the provision of access to documents by posting them to a website is not secure in the long term. If one changes organisation, or if changes are made to the website, this usually leads in the short- or medium-term to the information being lost. Hence, posting documents to a website does not per se constitute long-time archiving.

Legal concerns

Some authors foresee difficulties in applying their exploitation rights when they self-archive their works in repositories. This concern relates to potentially competing exploitation rights in cases where a contribution has already appeared in a journal, or when publication is intended at a later date. Moreover, authors wish to retain control over the later use and, if applicable, the exploitation of their work by others. However, these and similar reservations can usually be resolved. Information and recommendations in this regard can be found under legal issues.

Financeability of the author-pays model

A criticism of gold OA that is the subject of regular debate is the question of cost. Are scholars, scientists, universities, and research institutions really in a position to finance the author-pays model? This question is accompanied by the question of the actual costs that OA offerings involve and how these costs compare to those of individual publications in the traditional publishing sector. It is not possible to give an unequivocal answer here. In principle, however, there are many arguments for the existence of more efficient distribution conditions in the area of OA, as no printing and distribution costs arise. The costs of peer review are probably comparable for OA and closed-access publications. However, in comparison to the traditional publishing system, the concrete cost structures of OA publishers are very different and very difficult to compare. Taking all economic factors into consideration, John Houghton (2009) comes to the conclusion that OA publishing and self-archiving – the gold and green roads to OA – have the greatest economic benefits and are therefore the more cost-effective mechanisms for scholarly publishing.

There is no doubt that the cost burden of some universities and research institutions is undergoing change. When the financial burden is shifted from the users to the authors, research-intensive and publication-prolific universities and research institutions will have to pay more than those where less is published (Swan & Houghton, 2012). In the natural sciences and, to a certain extent, in economics and business administration, the cross-subsidisation of publications from journal subscriptions paid by commerce and industry will no longer be possible; in general, less is published in commerce and industry than in universities and research institutions. This is compounded by the fact that higher journal subscriptions are often payable by commerce and industry than by universities.

Reservations about the allocation of publication funds and conflicts of interest

Not all scholars and scientists can simply pay publication fees from their research funding or other sources. Social-, research- and university-policy issues are touched upon here:

  • On the one hand, there are independent authors or authors who are not firmly affiliated with a scientific institution; on the other hand, there are authors who are members of an institution that subsidises the publication fees.
  • Disciplines in the social sciences and humanities are usually less well funded than the STM disciplines and cannot count on cross-subsidisation. As a rule, authors from developing countries cannot afford to pay the publication fees. Nowadays, however, most OA publishers and journals offer them special conditions and fee waivers.

Solutions to these problems are sometimes found, for example when universities establish publication funds with the help of organisations such as the German Research Foundation (DFG) and its Open Access Publishing Programme, from which OA publication fees can be paid.

Perception that self-archiving is time-consuming

Scholars and scientists want to invest as little time as possible in providing online access to their works. In this connection, there are reservations about the amount of time that self-archiving takes. However, according to a study by Carr and Harnad (2005), even very active researchers do not need to spend more than 40 minutes a year on this task. Those who make an effort to find out more about the technique of archiving documents properly will, of course, have to invest more time at first. Professionally maintained disciplinary and institutional repositories offer solutions in this regard, and libraries are increasingly responding to justifiable concerns about the time that self-archiving takes by offering university members the option of delegating the task to the university repositories.

References

Björk, B.-C. & Solomon, D. (2012). Open access versus subscription journals: a comparison of scientific impact. BMC medicine, 10 (73). doi:10.1186/1741-7015-10-73.

Bohannon, J. (2013). Who’s Afraid of Peer Review? Science, 342 (6154), 60–65. doi:10.1126/science.342.6154.60.

Carr, L. & Harnad, S. (2005) Keystroke Economy: A Study of the Time and Effort Involved in Self-Archiving. Online: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/260688/.

Herb, U. (2013). Unzutreffend, aber schmerzhaft: Der Open-Access-Sting der Zeitschrift Science. Telepolis, (09.10.2013). Online: http://www.heise.de/tp/artikel/40/40056/1.html.

Houghton, J.W. (2009). Open Access - What are the economic benefits? Victoria, Australia. Online: http://www.knowledge-exchange.info/Admin/Public/DWSDownload.aspx?File=%2fFiles%2fFiler%2fdownloads%2fOA_What_are_the_economic_benefits_-_a_comparison_of_UK-NL-DK__FINAL_logos.pdf.

Schimmer, R., Geschuhn, K. & Palzenberger, M. (2013). Open Access in Zahlen: Der Umbruch in der Wissenschaftskommunikation als Herausforderung für Bibliotheken. Zeitschrift für Bibliothekswesen und Bibliographie, 60 (5), pp. 244–250. doi:10.3196/186429501360532.

Swan, A. (2010). The Open Access citation advantage: Studies and results to date. Truro, UK: Key Perspectives Ltd. Online: http://eprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/18516/.

Swan, A. & Houghton, J.W. (2012). Going for Gold? The costs and benefits of Gold Open Access for UK research institutions : further economic modelling. Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). Online: http://repository.jisc.ac.uk/610/2/Modelling_Gold_Open_Access_for_institutions_-_final_draft3.pdf.