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Open access publishing is the publication of material in such a way that it is available to all potential users without financial or other barriers. An open access publisher is a publisher producing such material. Many types of material can be published in this manner: scholarly journals, known specifically as open access journals, magazines and newsletters, e-text or other e-books (whether scholarly, literary, or recreational), music, fine arts, or any product of intellectual activity. In this context, non-open access distribution is called "toll access" or "subscription access".

Open access can be provided by traditionally-organized publishers, or under other arrangements. With respect to scholarly material, some distribution is carried out by locally organized and subsidized publishers; an example is the production of Annals of Mathematics, produced and supported by the Princeton University Department of Mathematics and the Institute for Advanced Study.

More normally it is a specialized publisher. Some open access publishers publish only open access material, such as PLoS; some publish open access journals as well as subscription-based material, such as BioMed Central (BMC).

The term has also been used in a wider sense to include publishers of Hybrid open access journals, which provide open access only for some article, those for which payment is made on behalf of the author.

It can similarly be used for publishers of Delayed open access journals, in which the articles are open access only after a period of embargo.

Even more loosely, the term is also used to describe publishers that permit or encourage self-archiving by authors and institutions.

Manner of distributionEdit

Many traditional media such as certain newspapers, television, and radio broadcasts could be considered "open access". These include commercial broadcasting and free newspapers supported by advertising, public broadcasting, and privately funded political advocacy materials.

The modern open access journal movement almost exclusively distributes content over the Internet, due to its low distribution costs, increasing reach, speed, and increasing importance for scholarly communication. Open source software is sometimes used for institutional repositories,[1] open access journal websites,[2] and other aspects of scholarly open access publishing.

Broadcast media require receiving equipment, online content requires Internet access, and locally distributed printed media requires transportation to a distribution point. These distributional considerations do present physical and sometimes financial "barriers" to access, but proponents of the open access model argue that these barriers are relatively low in many circumstances, that efforts should be made to subsidize universal Internet access, or that pay-for-access presents a relatively high additional barrier above and beyond the logistical basics.

Methods of financingEdit

Advertising is a major source of funding for mass media that do not charge for content, as well as modern web sites and search engines. Public broadcasting relies on government funding and voluntary donations from consumers.

Direct private funding from the author for web hosting is very common on the Internet, and is also a traditional mechanism for wealthy print authors. Non-profit organizations often also freely distribute advocacy materials, and some fund free public art or the production of artistic works.

In scholarly publishing, there are many business models for open access journals. Some charge publication fees (paid by authors or by their funding agencies or employers) and some don't. Some of the no-fee journals have institutional subsidies and some don't. For more detail, see open access journals.

History Edit

The roots of the concept of open access can be found in the distant past, from the very beginnings of publishing, re-emerging with every innovation in publishing technology. The printing press allowed the written word to be printed and distributed, thereby extending literacy to the population at large. Moving from vellum to paper made it possible to print more cheaply. The invention of the postal system provided a means of widespread distribution.

The beginnings of the scholarly journal were a way of expanding low-cost access to scholarly findings. Many individuals anticipated the open access concept long before modern low-cost distribution methods. One early proponent was the physicist Leo Szilard. To help stem the flood of low-quality publications, he jokingly suggested in the 1940s that at the beginning of his career each scientist should be issued with 100 vouchers to pay for his papers. The Common Knowledge project was an attempt to share information for the good of all, the brainchild of Brower Murphy, formerly of The Library Corporation. Brower and Common Knowledge are recognised in the Library Microcomputer Hall of Fame.[3]

Probably the earliest book publisher to provide open access was the National Academies Press, publisher for the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine, and other arms of the National Academies. They have provided free online full-text editions of their books alongside priced, printed editions since 1994, and assert that the online editions promote sales of the print editions. As of June 2006 they had more than 3,600 books up online for browsing, searching, and reading.

An explosion of interest and activity in open access journals has occurred since the 1990s, largely due to the widespread availability of Internet access.

Advantages for the Author Edit

The main motivation for most authors to publish in an Open access journal is increased visibility and ultimately a citation advantage. Research citations of articles in a Hybrid open access journal has shown that open access articles are cited more frequently or earlier than non-open access articles [1].

Main article: Open access

Criticism Edit


There are two levels of criticism. One is whether open access to scholarly material is desirable and possible; the other is whether this is to be done by open access publishing, or by alternative means of open access, such as self-archiving.

Opponents of the open access model assert that the pay-for-access model is necessary to ensure that the publisher is adequately compensated for their work. Scholarly journal publishers that support pay-for-access claim that the "gatekeeper" role they play, maintaining a scholarly reputation, arranging for peer review, and editing and indexing articles, require economic resources that are not supplied under an open access model, though acknowledging that open access journals do provide peer review. The cost of paper publication may also make open access to paper copies infeasible. Opponents claim that open access is not necessary to ensure fair access to developing nations; differential pricing, or financial aid from developed countries or institutions can make access to proprietary journals affordable.

Textbook publishers generally make an even greater investment in the editing process, and electronic textbooks have yet to become widely accepted. For researchers, publishing an article describing novel results in a reputable scientific journal usually does more to enhance one's reputation among scientific peers, and advance one's academic career. Journal article authors are generally not directly financially compensated for their work beyond their institutional salaries and the indirect benefits that an enhanced reputation provides in terms of institutional funding, job offers, and peer collaboration. It could be argued, then, that the financial reward from writing a successful textbook is an important motivating factor, without which the quality and quantity of available textbooks would decrease.

Outside of science and academia, it is unusual for producers of creative output to be financially compensated on anything other than a pay-for-access model. (Notable exceptions include open source software and public broadcasting.) Successful writers, for example, support themselves by the revenues generated by people purchasing copies of their works; publishing houses are able to finance the publication of new authors based on anticipated revenues from sales of those that are successful. Opponents of open access would argue that without direct financial compensation via pay-for-access, many authors would be unable to afford to write, though some would accept the economic hardship of holding down a day job while continuing to write as a "labor of love".

In the entertainment industry, it is argued that, unlike science, there is no pressing social need for widespread and barrier-free access to the content.


  1. Budapest Open Access Initiative
  2. Open Journal Systems | Public Knowledge Project
  3. WLN: Library Microcomputer Hall of Fame
  • Eysenbach G (2006) Citation Advantage of Open Access Articles. PLoS Biol 4(5): e157 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0040157 [2]

Further readingEdit

See alsoEdit


Projects and publishersEdit

See List of open access projects.

Related types of contentEdit

Open access publishers (selected list) Edit

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