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Busting the top five myths about open access publishing

There are plenty of myths about open access – are any of them true? Open lock image from

Rather than lock up knowledge in costly journals, increasingly universities and governments are recognising that publicly funded research should be open to all.

This past year has seen new open access policies in the United Kingdom, the United States and from the European Commission. In Australia too, the Australian Research Council (ARC) and the National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC) now both have open access policies.

Despite this activity, there remains a large amount of confusion about open access, with many misunderstandings persisting in the academic community and in universities.

So in order to put this confusion to rest, here are five of the top myths about open access publishing and why they’re wrong.

Myth 1 – open access journals are not peer reviewed

In reality the majority of open access journals reflect the majority of subscription journals and have a strong peer review process prior to publication. In almost all of these cases peer review and editing is being done for free by the academic community – in both subscription and open access journals.

There are, of course, some open access journals that are not peer reviewed but this does not distinguish them from the many subscription journals (particularly ones put out by industry associations) which are not peer reviewed.

Researchers who are unsure about the peer review status of an open access journal can consult the Directory of Open Access Journals which contains over 9,400 journals, all of which must exercise peer-review or editorial quality control to be included.

After all, it is up to the researcher submitting work to any journal to determine if that journal suits their needs. Does it reach their target audience? Is it peer reviewed? Will it distribute the work in a way to afford the prestige desired for career advancement?

These questions relate to the way the journal engages with the wider community rather than how it is administered. The funding model of a journal does not determine its quality.

Myth 2 - all open journals charge publication fees

In reality many open access journals do not charge publication fees at all. For example the vast majority of open access journals published by Australian universities are fully open access and do not charge publication fees.

Even for the open access journals that do charge publication fees, the cost is often lower than expected. A study analysing over 100,000 articles published during 2010 in open access journals that do charge fees found the average fee was US$906. Many open access publishers will waive fees for researchers in financial difficulty.

Many subscription publishers now offer an option to publish a particular article as open access within a subscription journal. These “hybrid” journals are costly to the sector as they still charge libraries for subscriptions to the journal but individual authors also pay a fee to publish open access within that journal.

Hybrid journals tend to charge more per article than fully open access journals as this figure from a recent paper by open access scholar Theo Andrew dramatically demonstrates.

A journal article with low impact is more likely to cost authors more. Theo Andrew

Myth 3 - you must choose between prestige and going open

This myth is incorrect for two reasons. First, many open access journals are prestigious. The Public Library of Science publishes several high impact open access journals. Their multidisciplinary open access journal PLOS ONE was established in 2007, and by 2010 was the world’s largest journal.

Second, researchers can publish in their preferred journal and then place a copy of it in an open access repository. All Australian universities have an institutional repository. This method of making research available – often referred to as “green” open access – is now also mandated by both the ARC & NHMRC.

Myth 4 - open access is ok for second-rate work, but not first-rate work

This is an odd myth – why would a researcher publicise poor work by making it available and keep their top work hidden behind subscription barriers? Making work available means that more people are able to see the work and citations rise accordingly. Indeed the benefits of open access are many and varied.

As it turns out the opposite to this myth is true. Recently published research shows that high quality work benefits from being published in open access journals, it is the poor to average work that is disadvantaged. The reason for this appears to be that the competition online for the reader’s attention means high quality work will win out.

Myth 5 - post-print archiving violates copyright

Most publishers allow a version of work to be made open access. There is a useful website which provides information on what publishers allow.

What matters when depositing work in a repository is understanding there are different versions of the work. The version that is sent to a journal or conference for review is called the “Submitted Version” or pre-print. In some disciplines such as physics it is standard practice to share these with colleagues through a subject-based repository called ArXiv.

The “Accepted Version” or post-print is the final peer reviewed version of the work sent to the publisher for publication. This is the best version to make open access. Generally publishers do not allow the published version to be made available (although a small number do).

While copyright compliance can become confusing, in practice when an author submits material to a repository or archive, whether subject based or run by an organisation, generally assistance is available to deal with licence and copyright issues.

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