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Contemporary Issues in Open Access - Edorium Journals


There are some contemporary issues about open access publishing which we think deserve a mention here. These are issues which arise whenever open access publishing and open access journals are discussed.*

1. Is open access publication model a viable/sustainable model for publishers?
2. Is open access publication model beneficial to authors and institutions?
3. Who pays for the publication of articles in open access journals?
4. Is open access publication a quality compromised model?


1. Is open access publication model a viable/sustainable model for publishers?

Yes, open access is definitely a sustainable model for publishers but it is definitely NOT a very profitable model. From our experience of managing open access journals for three years, we can say that if done in the right way, in the ethical way, publishing under an open access model will generate just enough revenue to keep publishing regularly, manage publication expenses and even make a modest profit (miniscule as compared to subscription based publishers), but not more than that. Why does this happen? It happens because the open access publisher publishes an article and gets paid once. After that first payment, no revenue is generated from that article as it is free for anyone to read and use. With traditional subscription based journals, the publisher gets paid from institutions and by selling the article online to individuals, the publisher keeps generating revenue for years after an article has been published. Traditional publishers also earn big revenue from advertising in the print journals which has a very limited scope in open access journals.

If you compare the fact that the yearly revenue of two of the biggest and most well established open access publishers was about $12,000,000 (twelve million dollars) and $6,000,000 (six million dollars) in 2011, and on the other hand, the yearly revenue of one of the biggest and most well established subscription based publisher was about $800,000,000 (eight hundred million dollars) you can guess which publication model is more profitable. To emphasize the point again, one large library paid $9,000,000 (nine million dollars) to the same subscription based publisher to access their journals on online platform. Also, remember that it was just one library subscribing to that one publisher and there are many such libraries in the world.

No publisher can build or have a corpus of hundreds of millions or even tens of millions of dollars by publishing open access journals. The publisher may make a modest profit but at the end of the day, it is just a service to the scientific community to enable, unrestricted, free access to knowledge, by anyone, anywhere in the world. Open access model is sustainable but not very profitable.

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2. Is open access publication model beneficial to authors and institutions?

A big "Yes".

How?

Using a small fraction of the library budget marked for purchasing subscription based journals, the libraries can fund the publication of research from their institutes in open access journals. The publication fees can also be paid from the research grant given to departments. In this way the libraries and the institutions can save a lot of money which can be utilized for other purposes.

Another aspect to consider is that when an institution purchases journals through subscription, it restricts the readers, only to read subscribed journals. A library cannot subscribe to every journal published in the world. So, either a reader only read the journals which are available in the library or spends money to buy articles published in non-subscribed journals. Publishing in open access journals makes an author's articles freely available to others and also makes other's articles freely available to the same author.

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3. Who pays for the publication of the articles in open access journals?

One of the most controversial topic is — who pays for the publication of the research articles in open access journals? Many protest that how can the authors who are earning $3000-5000 a month (even less in developing countries), pay publication fees to have an article published in open access journals. This issue is something that makes everyone protest and criticize open access journals for looting the authors.

Whenever open access publishing is discussed it is assumed that, i) purchasing journal subscriptions is the work of the institutes and the institutes will pay for it, and ii) payment of publication charges to publish an article in an open access journal is the responsibility of the authors and the authors will pay for it. By using the terms "Open access publishing" and "Author pay model" synonymously and taking the words "Author pay model" in the literal sense, many people have a wrong notion on this issue. "Open access publishing" or "Author pay model" does NOT mean that the authors of an article pay the publication fees from their salaries or from their own pockets. "Open access" publication just means that an article published in an open access journal is free for anyone to read and use without paying any subscription charges for the journal or without purchasing the article from the publisher. The article is freely accessible. The publication charges for open access publication can be paid by the institutions of the authors (most cases), from the research grant of the authors (many cases), from sponsoring agencies, from any trust to which authors are affiliated or in some cases by the authors themselves, if they want to.

If anyone asks — who pays for the publication of the research articles in open access journals? — the other very relevant question is — who pays for purchasing the subscription of traditional subscription based journals? If an institute can spend millions of dollars for purchasing journal subscriptions, why can't the same institute use a small fraction of the same funds to pay for publication of articles of its own researchers in open access journals? Also, remember that publication in subscription based journals may appear to be free but in many cases authors are required to pay page charges and color charges which amount to hundreds of dollars. In the open access publication model the institute saves a lot of money and all published research is free for anyone to read and use from anywhere in the world.

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4. Is open access publication a quality compromised model?

Before we discuss this question, we urge you to remember that the quality of the articles depends on the authors who are writing the articles. If an author conducts good, ethical research and writes an original manuscript, the quality of the article will undoubtedly be good. If anyone plagiarizes text, fabricates data, fraudulently uses data and/or voilates copyrights, the quality of the article will be compromised. Quality of research starts with the source of research — the researcher. If a substandard research is carried out, a low quality article will be the outcome and a low quality article will be published. Publisher is a conduit to take the manuscript from the authors, format it and present it to the world. Publisher does not create or modify or alter the research or its results.

Now the question is — why do the publishers compromise on the quality of papers, why not just reject them? This has many reasons for it. Some are given here.

1. A case of demand and supply: As we have mentioned elsewhere, internet has been a boon for open access. It has also enabled organizations and individuals to become publishers and start publishing open access journals. We feel that it has been a good thing as it has enabled free, easy and fast dissemination of knowledge and it has enabled free access to knowledge from anywhere, anytime. However, it also had its side effects as it has given rise to unscrupulous people who have used this avenue for personal gains. If an author writes a low quality article there will be a publisher somewhere in the world, who will be willing to publish the article for a price (publication charges). As much as the authors are responsible for writing a low quality article and don't care about the consequences of their work, similarly the publisher also does not think twice before publishing that low quality article, because their motive is to make money and not to follow ethical practices. So, if a journal publishes a low quality article, both the authors and the publisher are equally responsible for it. No one is more guilty than the other.

2. Inexperience of the publisher: As it is easy for organizations and individuals to become publishers, they open a website, start a journal and become publishers without realizing that being a publisher and managing academic journals is a very tough and demanding job. If an organization or an individual becomes a publisher it will take a lot of thought and hard work to manage the journals, decide policies, finalize processes and do the work in a responsible manner. Inexperience with managing the publication processes will lead to inadequate and inefficient review process which will not be able to weed out all low quality papers.

3. Quick acceptance: How many people will publish their articles in a new journal which has no published articles? Not many. If this is so, the publishers cannot afford to reject the few manuscripts which are submitted to the journals. So, they tend to publish as many manuscripts as possible, to gain academic acceptance, in some cases compromising on quality of the reported research.

And what can be done about these issues?

If a low quality article will not be written, a low quality article will not be published. We strongly urge the authors to conduct novel research, in the most ethical way possible and write original manuscripts. It will take a lot of time and effort to do this, which is much more difficult than to copy someone else's paper and to pass it as your own. Please realize that research is not done just to increase the number of papers in your curriculum vita. It is your invaluable and perpetual contribution to science. It is a perpetual contribution, because your manuscript will be available for people to read even after many decades. It is an invaluable contribution, because who knows that the novel ideas you present in your article may someday become a catalyst for great inventions and discoveries.

As for the publishers, the only thing we can say is that if any publisher publishes bad work, uses unethical, corrupt and unscrupulous practices and works only for making quick money it won't survive very long as a publisher. There will always be some more gullible authors to take advantage of today, but as the world has become a very small place, there won't be anyone left to take advantage of tomorrow. Such publishers may be able to make some money in the process but the harm this will cause will be irrepairable.

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Starting a journal is easy, but growing a journal and taking it to a respectable academic position is a very long and arduous process which takes years. Nurturing a journal is a combined and sustained effort of a number of people - the publisher, editors, reviewers, authors and readers. It cannot be achieved overnight. If a publisher works hard to maintain the quality of the journal, the published manuscripts may be a little less in number, but the academic acceptance will automatically come and with this will come new manuscripts for publication which are the lifeline of the journal.

We started our journals from scratch. It has taken us more than three years to refine our processes and on this journey we have done many things right, even the first time, but also made errors and learned from them. Today we are in a position to manage publication of our academic journals very efficiently but even now when we have our monthly and quarterly reviews we search for areas which need further refinement and improvement. We are constantly working to improve the many aspects of our services, from meeting publication deadlines to adding new features to our websites. Before even thinking to be a publisher, please realize that being a publisher is not an easy job. Unless you have some experience in the field, be prepared to work very hard for very long hours and do the homework well.

Work hard, work honestly, do it in the most ethical way possible and do a great work.

We wish you success.

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If you have read this far, we are sure that you do agree with some of the things we said. In this case we request you to associate with us in any way possible and work towards a worthy endeavor. You can contact us at:

Thank you once again.

* The facts and figures given on this page have been taken from publicly available resources. We request you to do an independent research for any facts you are interested in. You are also welcome to contact us for any questions.

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