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Current trends in the world of open access scientific and academic publishing

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Current trends in the world of open access scientific and academic publishing

Since the October 2003 Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities (simply, the Berlin Declaration), there has been the development, acceptance and accelerating movement towards academic publishing via an open access (OA) model. OA describes a publishing model in which academic and scientific articles are disseminated to the widest possible global audience through the internet, without charge to the end user. OA publishing holds the promise that knowledge discovery and sharing is truly democratised, made inclusive and pluralised.

How can discovery and sharing of knowledge structurally be made more equitable, more diverse and more inclusive? In the pursuit of these objectives, what are current trends in OA scientific and academic publishing? This article examines these trends.

Growing awareness and acceptance of OA journals and publishing

When first introduced, OA publishing received a chilly reception. Many professional societies, their peer-reviewed journals and the publishers of those journals viewed OA simultaneously as a fad, novelty and even potential threat. The bottom line to such thinking was, indeed, the ‘bottom line’: would OA publishing threaten revenue streams to the very lucrative enterprise of academic publishing? 

Nearly twenty years on, it seems clear that OA publishing is not only an established model but also rapidly gaining acceptance as a legitimate, even desirable, publication modality. The number of OA journals (either fully OA or publishing some OA content) in all fields is growing rapidly, as is the number of OA articles published, OA content repositories and indices and revenue from the OA market. Its total market volume share is now over 25% of all academic publishing. Such acceptance supports the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science, which articulates and centres the importance of equity in the pursuit of future scholarship that is open by default. 

Increase in funding sources 

The peer review, preparation and dissemination of content costs money. Instead of relying on revenue from subscriptions, OA publishing relies largely on article processing charges (APCs) to cover the associated costs. In the coming years, watch for an expanding network of funding sources which, in turn, will enable an ever-broadening universe of authors. Namely, anticipate increasingly creative funding streams from: industry sponsorship, international and national funding agencies, institutional and departmental budgets, libraries and OA database consortia.

Expanding funding streams will enable researchers to contribute knowledge regardless of location, nationality, race, age, gender, income, socio-economic circumstance, career stage, discipline, language, religions, disability, ethnicity or migratory status (UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science).

Rise of open aggregators and consortia

Efforts are underway to create powerful OA and ever-more-comprehensive aggregators of OA content. The European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) provides a European delivery channel connecting the demand-side and the supply-side of the EOSC and its stakeholders. Quite comprehensive in nature, it serves as an entry point to numerous services and resources for researchers. 

More controversial was the launch in September 2018 of cOAlition S (whose centrepiece is Plan S). This was an initiative sponsored by a group of national research funding organisations and supported by the European Commission and the European Research Council. In brief, Plan S mandates that: 

With effect from 2021, all scholarly publications on the results from research funded by public or private grants provided by national, regional and international research councils and funding bodies, must be published in Open Access Journals, on Open Access Platforms, or made immediately available through Open Access Repositories without embargo.

Development of structural elements

Essential to the growth of OA publishing and increasing equity of open knowledge will be development and improvements in key structural elements:

Dangers and a call for ongoing vigilance 

Where opportunity for growth and progress exists, there will always be predators. Professional web design and impressive (and spurious) editorial boards, along with the promise of rapid publication, can dupe unsuspecting authors to pay APCs to predators. OA publication will need to continue to fight for legitimacy and police against such predatory journals in the future.

Another area of continued vigilance will be to ensure appropriate industry funding for OA articles and publications. Deep industry pockets can be a powerful ally to structural equity in OA, but also a source of potential conflicts of interest, bias and undue influence. 

However, efforts to make OA academic publishing more equitable may be hampered by reluctance, or even resistance, on the part of governmental agents (with substantial academic and scientific outputs). Governmental policies, agreements and international alliances should provide new avenues of structural equity for global audiences.

End note

Scientific and academic production, disseminated through OA publishing, is witnessing an exciting new era. When undergirded with key funding, structural elements and internal monitoring, OA holds the promise of a genuine democratisation of knowledge. 


Read previous (first) in series: Open Access Publishing: Building Equity into the Structure of 21st Century Academic Publishing

Read next (third) in series: FAQs: Article processing charges (APCs) in open access publishing and ways to make them more equitable


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