Open Access Publishing

Hymenoptera. Vespina. Vespida. Bees, ants, sawflies, horntails and other wasps. Male reproductive system. Male genitalia of Hymenoptera. Symphyta. Phylogenetic systematics of Hymenoptera. Phylogenetic systematics of Symphyta. Xyeloidea, Tenthredinoidea, Pamphilioidea, Cephoidea, Siricoidea, Xiphydrioidea, Orussoidea. Xyelidae, Blasticotomidae, Tenthredinidae, Diprionidae, Cimbicidae, Argidae, Pergidae, Pamphiliidae, Megalodontesidae, Megalodontidae, Cephidae, Siricidae, Anaxyelidae, Xiphydriidae, Orussidae.

Please note that this page has not been updated for years.

The Problem

Subscription prices to scientific journals have skyrocketed over the last one or two decades. Because of this, many institutions are not able to afford them anymore. Even universities in the US had to discontinue subscriptions.

Academic research is mostly paid for by the government and therefore public property. Currently, the taxpayer's money might be used to pay for the publication of research results several times:
1. the salary of the scientists and research costs may be paid for by the public
2. the salary of the editors and reviewers is paid for often by the public
3. there might be public subvention of printing costs
4. the scientists (or their instituions) have to pay to see the results of their own work
Hence, the public should be able to see the results for free. However, in many cases not even the authors themselves have free access to their own publications.

Also, many scientists in poor countries or at institutions with little funding are at a disadvantage because they are not able to access the literature to the same extend as their colleagues. One aim of open access publishing is to alleviate this problem.

The Solution

The internet has opened up the possibility that publications can be distributed without cost, which has led to the creation of so-called open access journals and open access archives that provide access to their content to everyone free of charge.

Open access publishing means:
- articles are freely and universally accessible online
- articles are archived in at least one free access repository
- authors retain copyright, allowing anyone to reproduce and disseminate articles

Open access publishing is based on the conviction that the results of publicly funded research should be available to the public at no cost (because the public already paid for the generation of the results).

In order to cover the cost of electronic publishing, most open access journals charge the author a publication fee. However, this is not a must, as there are other ways of covering the costs.

Open access publishing does not mean the abandonement of peer review. Manuscripts for open access journals are peer reviewed just like those for subscription journals. It also does not mean that the publisher of an open access journal cannot make any profit.

For a more detailed explanation of what open access means, please see Peter Suber's overview.

Reactions from commercial Publishers

Due to the pressure from the open access movement, some publishers are moving towards open access. This is done in a number of different ways.

Some journals make their content freely available after a certain period of time, usually 6 months to 2 years.

Another example is that journals or publishers now offer to make a specific paper freely available if the author pays a fee for this, for example see Springer Open Choice.

Many publishers grant scientists from developing countries free access.

Libraries as Open Access Publishers

In an open letter, Henry Hagedorn described his motivation for founding an open access journal (Journal of Insect Science). In this letter, he goes one step further by argueing that open access journals should preferably be published by academic institutions (like the Library of the University of Arizona which publishes the Journal of Insect Science) rather than commercial publishers (like BioMedCentral). I agree with him and am worried a bit about the fact that most open access journals are currently published by BioMedCentral; I am afraid they are about to establish a monopoly and are going to raise the publication charges some day, just like traditional publishers raised subscription fees.

I believe that the ultimate goal should be that the money that academic libraries spend today on journal subscriptions will instead be spent on publishing electronic open access journals that are free to readers as well as authors. I believe that this goal is feasible and realistic.

Difficulties in Transitioning to Open Access Publishing

The crucial step in establishing the dominance of the open access publishing paradigm will be to get a majority of scientists to publish in open access journals. However, this is not always easy:
- Scientists are reluctant to pay for publishing when they can publish for free elsewhere.
- Prestige counts more than open access, scientists want to publish in leading journals, most of which are not open access yet.
- Scientists usually do not know the subscription price of the journals they publish in and hence do not make this a factor in deciding where to publish.

Electronic publishing has caused some problems for scientific societies. When a society's journal became available online through the member's institutions, many members cancelled their membership. Making a society's journal freely available to everyone would apparently enhance the financial impact on the society. But electronic publishing is unavoidable, and this just means that scientific societies will have to convince their members that there are benefits to a membership other than receiving the journal.

Advantages of Open Access Publishing at a Glance

- The results of publicly funded research are available to the public (including other scientists) at no cost (as they should be)
- The disadvantage of researchers in poorer countries or at institutions with less money is alleviated
- The impact of papers is increased because they are read by more people
- Libraries have to spend less money on subscriptions

What You as a Scientist can do to Support Open Access Publishing

- Submit at least some of your manuscripts to open access journals (see below)
- Try to submit all or most of your manuscripts to journals that make their content freely available after six months
- When you submit a manuscript, negotiate for the permission to publish your paper in an open access archive
- Become an editor or associate editor for an open access journal
- Launch a new open access journal (preferably run by your institution's library)
- Talk to your colleagues about open access publishing

For more information on what you can do, go to

Due to the pressure from the open access movement, some commercial publishers have begun to transition journals from a subscription model towards an open access model. For example, the journal Nucleic Acids Research will be made freely available from January 2005 in an "open access experiment".

If we all support the open access paradigm, eventually all scientific journals have to become open access journals :-)

The Cost of Publishing an Online-only Open Access Journal

Since editors, reviewers, and authors of scientific papers usually do this work voluntarily (being paid for by their institutions), journals can be produced at very little cost (if we do not take their salaries into account). The cost depends a lot whether the journal is published by a commercial publisher or by a library.

According to a report commissioned by the Wellcome Trust, a “conservative estimate of the charge per article necessary for author-pays journals lies in the range $500 - $2500, depending on the level of selectivity used by the journal, plus a contribution to overheads and profits”. This report suggests that it “is possible to separate the cost of submission, namely peer review costs for all articles both accepted and rejected, from cost of publication in an author-pays system. … A submission fee of no more than $175 is a likely median figure and a publication charge of around of $250 - $750 might then be feasible. … The total cost figures available in the literature and through discussion with publishers indicate that this scale of costs is broadly realistic.”

Initiatives Supporting (or pushing) Open Access Publishing

The Open Society Institute (OSI) was founded by George Soros and organized a conference which led to the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI). The Open Society Institute provided grants for various activities, for example covering publication charges of papers by authors from developing countries in open access journals. It also published a guide to business planning for launching an open access journal.

The Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) provides financial aid for launching new journals.

The Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC, England) helps publishers to move to an open access model. The JISC also paid $138,000 to cover 15 months of BioMed Central’s publication charges, so that researchers could publish in BMC journals without paying the usual $525 fee.

In September of 2004, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued a notice stating that it intends to make it a requirement that the publications resulting from NIH-funded research be submitted to a public archive (PubMedCentral) no later than six months after publication date.

Archives and Directories

The content of journals that make their publications freely available either immediately or after a certain period of time can be accessed through PubMed Central, a digital archive of the US National Library of Medicine, or through HighWire, an archive run by Stanford University.

The Directory of Open Access Journals provides a list of open access journals.

Organisations Publishing Open Access Journals

Public Library of Science was founded by Harold Varmus and has so far launched the open access journals PLoS Biology and PLoS Medicine.

BioMedCentral is an independent commercial publisher of many open access journals (and a few non-free journals).

The Library of the University of Arizona and now the University of Wisconsin publish the Journal of Insect Science, founded by its editor Henry Hagedorn.

Open Access Journals of Relevance to Systematics, Morphology, Genomics, and Bioinformatics

Publication charge Impact Factor
$1675 / paper 4.96
$1970 / paper
$1675 / paper 4.45
$1675 / paper
$1675 / paper
$1480 / paper ($0 for the first nine months) ?
$2365 / paper 9.71
$2365 / paper none yet
0 ?
$2500 / paper 14.7
$1250 / paper none yet

Journals of Relevance to Systematics, Morphology, Genomics, and Bioinformatics that make their Content freely available after 6 to 24 Months

Publication charge Freely available when?
0? After one year
Nucleic Acids Research


Starting January 2005:


$500 or $1500 / paper

After six months


$70 / page After six months
0 After two years

If you know other journals in the above-mentioned areas that publish all or part of their content free of charge, please email me at susanne @ (omit the gaps).

Directory of open access journals

List of zoological open access journals


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