Open Access Publishing: A Primer for Researchers

Open Access (OA) literature consists of peer-reviewed publications that are freely available online and are free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. This mode of publication allows authors to share their work without restrictive access barriers and to retain copyright of their material. In general, open access allows for the pursuit of open data, open government sources, open education resources, free and open-source software, and open science. This all sounds wonderful, but there are plenty of caveats to know about in order to make smooth use of Open Access publishing, both as a researcher and as an author.

An essential element of OA publishing to be aware of are the different models of Open Access publishing.

Gold Open Access (OA Journals):

Gold Open Access generally refers to peer-reviewed journals that make their published content freely available online. In this model authors retain copyright of their work, and licensing of Open Access materials are typically made under a Creative Commons license.  Access to Gold OA materials is often made available directly after publication, which can potentially lead to faster impact and a wider engagement with the scholarly community.

The costs of Gold OA publishing are usually covered through publishing fees, also known as Article Processing Charges (APC). These costs vary among titles and disciplines, though in many cases there is no APC at all. For publishers that do require an APC, it is done so to cover the costs of everything involved with the publication of the eventually disseminated material, such as editorial work, marketing of journal content, and maintenance of domain and server space. Funding to cover APCs vary greatly among academic institutions. Most APCs are expected to be covered by the author, and the range of these costs also vary.  For example, the APC for PLoS One journals range from $1,495-$2,900 per article. Authors may have options through their parent institution to apply for grants or other funding means to help cover the cost of APCs. Also, specific publishers, like PLoS One, and certain scholarly societies may provide additional funding options.

Green Open Access (Institutional Repositories and Self-Archiving):

The Green Open Access model deals mostly with institutional or subject repositories as well as with self-archiving of an author’s work.  Publishers that support Green OA publishing allow authors to house their work in an institutional repository, a subject repository, or on their personal website. ScholarCommons, managed by the Thomas Cooper Library at the University of South Carolina, is a great example of an institutional repository where faculty members of the university have the option to archive their work. Subject, or disciplinary, repositories can accept materials within specific fields of study, regardless of an author’s institutional affiliation.

Often publishers that support this model will only allow pre-print versions of the articles to be archived this way, though some do allow for the full published PDFs to be archived. This matter is completely up to the publisher though. In order for an author’s work to participate in Green OA, the publisher of the material must allow the author to do so. SHERPA/ROMEO is an excellent tool for finding out if a publisher allows for self-archiving within their author agreements.

Another key thing to know about Open Access is the different levels of Open Access, or “openness,” that exist within scholarly publishing. There is a spectrum of “openness” among individual journal titles that include all elements of reader and author rights.  For example, a publication that is determined to have a high level of openness will allow for readers to access articles freely and immediately upon publication and will allow authors to hold copyright of their work with no restrictions. Alternatively, a closed publication requires a paid subscription, pay-per-view, or membership in order to access a published article and the publisher will hold copyright with no author reuse beyond fair use. The Open Access Spectrum Evaluation Tool can with assessing a publication’s level of openness.  The spectrum that the tool uses is shown below.



Contributed by Brent Appling