This week, we’ll talk about the pros and cons of Open Access (OA) versus Traditional Publishing journals. First, the definitions: Traditionally-published journals are mostly funded through subscriptions or advertising. In the OA publication model, scholarly journals make their content freely available online to all readers without needing a subscription, pay-per-download or other fees. The cost of publication is still paid by someone, either the journal is OA because it is subsidized (by a government entity, professional society, or the like), or the publication costs are paid by you, the author of the research paper.
But the OA system has spawned a darker side, the world of “predatory journals”. For more on ways to tell whether you are dealing with a “predatory” journals, read this 10 Signs you are Dealing with a Predatory Journal.
Note that here we are talking about legitimate OA journals. These are journals that have adopted a fully OA financial model or give authors the choice to publish in a traditional format or an OA format for a fee. Examples of legitimate OA journals are the PLoS journals (Public Library of Science journals). In contrast, traditionally published journals can only be accessed by readers who have a subscription or access to a subscription (such as people who have access to a well-stocked biomedical library), in which case, the library pays for an institutional subscription to which members have access.
So, here is the smack down, some of the pros and cons of OA vs traditional publishing.
- Pay to Publish vs Free to You, But Not to Your Readers
Bottom line is this: read all of the fine print and if you decide to attempt to publish in an OA journal, so that you know the fees upfront. If you decide that this OA journal is right for your papers, make sure that you have funds for publication charges in your budget. I can’t tell you how many times students and collaborators have come to me after submitting a paper to a journal asking if we have funds available for its publication. You should always check on this before submitting your papers. If you have the funds and it’s worth it to you, be prepared to pay.
- High Visibility vs Only Accessible to Subscribers
The second reason that you may choose OA (if money is no object to you) is that your paper will be accessible to everyone, whether they are associated with a well-funded medical library or not. Open access puts your paper in the hands of anyone with an internet connection and the interest in your research topic. This can be very important, particularly in a number of fields. For example, one of my areas of research is global health. I know that many of my research collaborators live in developing countries that do not have access to a fully-funded medical library. Publishing in OA reduces the financial barriers to readers, increasing accessibility to all, regardless of their ability to pay. Depending on your field of study and your goals, it may be that it is important to you that your paper be read by a wide audience, although this may not be so important for papers that are super specialized in highly technical research areas.
- Speed of Publication vs a Long ‘Paper Wait’
Though the publishing process will always entail some wait time, authors wanting to get published faster may gravitate positively towards OA journals, which use speedy publication as part of their marketing effort. Although they don’t provide exact timeframes, a study in which 135 journals listed in the Scopus Citation Index were examined showed that OA journals had a shorter time between acceptance and publication as compared to traditional publishing.
- Is Open Access Worth It Then?
So the question then is not so much which is better, open access or traditional publishing. The question is which publication format is best for your particular paper at a particular time. So, my advice to you is to review all aspects of the journals that you are considering for your research paper, weighing the pros and cons carefully before you submit your hard work to a journal. To help you review your journal choices side-by-side, I’ve created a fill-in form. You can download it for free HERE. Hope that it will help you in choosing the best journal for your papers.
Dr. Luz Claudio is the author of the book: How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide, a workbook that teaches you precisely what to do and when to do it when writing scientific papers. She is a tenured professor of preventive medicine and has mentored hundreds of students, postdoctoral fellows, and junior faculty. She blogs about life in academic research.
1) Making the Choice: Open Access vs. Traditional Journals
2) Open access versus subscription journals: a comparison of scientific impact
3) Explainer: Open access vs traditional academic journal publishers
4) Open Access at Nature Research
5) OA Pros & Cons
6) Why Open Access?
7) Assessing The Impact of Open Access
8) Advantages and Disadvantages of Open Access
9) Citation Advantage of Open Access Articles
10) Open Access Part I: The Movement, The Issues, and The Benefits