There are various flavors, meanings and models of Open Access, but once you have the basic differences down, it’s worth exploring the economic underpinnings of each model.
In the non-OA world, when you pay for a subscription, you are helping to fund the publishing process and the value that process brings—a value that includes a full peer review of the articles to ensure the science is up to snuff and that the research is original and new. The subscription fee also pays for copyeditors who make sure the i’s are dotted, the t’s crossed, and the decimal points are all in the right places. Publishers have an incentive to do these things. They want you, the readers and buyers, to find real value and keep subscribing. The existence of a “buy” side in this economic model ensures a certain level of quality. OA articles published in hybrid journals also benefit from the “buy” side pressure on quality.
Pure Gold Road & Green Road Publication– The Benefits and Challenges
The fundamental challenge for publishers of pure gold road journals arises when the financial incentive switches entirely to the “supply” side (i.e., the authors) and away from the “buy” side (e.g., the researchers, librarians, etc.). When accepting an article for publication, the pure gold road OA publisher doesn’t have to be as selective about its novelty or fit as subscription or hybrid journals do. Pure gold road OA publishers earn revenue from the OA fees paid by authors. They aren’t under pressure to retain or grow subscription income, they are under pressure to publish more articles. So long as the author wants to publish in a pure gold journal and pay the fee, the publisher can be less concerned with the article’s novelty, or whether it aligns perfectly within the journal’s editorial scope. The content may still of course be very valuable to the corporate user, and if it is interesting to the researcher, then it may not matter whether it is truly innovative or “in scope.”
The pure-gold approach provides several benefits. Without page limitations, more content can be published, creating an outlet for articles about topics that are immensely valuable to researchers (such as negative results—or failed experiments—for example) that might not otherwise make it into prestigious subscription journals. Recent arrangements between the Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, and publisher f1000 are advancing this concept further, to the benefit of users.
Without an independent business model for green road OA, economic complications arise. The costs of green road publication are essentially paid for by the publishers and underwritten by the subscribers. If anything, the business model is self-destructive, as its ultimate goal is to replace the subscriptions that sustain it. (Some will argue that this is not the “goal” of green OA, but if the objective is not to avoid fees, what is the point?) This is not to say that all green road content is of poor quality; rather that without a publisher’s quality control, you simply do not always know if what you are reading is the version of record, or that it has been properly peer reviewed, retracted, modified, or corrected. Some repositories are simply more trustworthy than others, and few have the same processes as publishers.
Predatory publishers and sham journals
When it comes to OA content, the gold road offers advantages, with a caveat: When your incentive is to publish (because the more articles you put out, the more money you make), the door opens for those who care less about quality than they do about profits. Sadly, this has given rise to a few predatory publishers, who have low (or no) standards and are interested in one thing only: Getting money from the author, regardless of the quality of their work. These predatory publishers have no editorial standards. They publish junk science, plagiarized science, and pseudo-science. Compounding this is the fact that some so-called OA “publishers” are actually just marketing scams, who will steal the names of existing journals (or adopt confusingly similar names), falsely identify respectable scientists as editorial board members, and seek to trick authors into making payments. As an author, you need to worry about being scammed. As a user, you need to worry about relying on bad published information. Either way, this requires vigilance.
How to protect your usage in an Open Access world
How does the corporate researcher or library professional make sure that open access content is trustworthy? Here are some suggestions:
- Check a publisher’s credentials. Make sure that the publisher of whatever you’re reading belongs to either one or more of the leading societies for science publishers, such as the International Association of Scientific, Technical, and Medical Publishers (STM) , the OA Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA), or The Association of Learned & Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP). These associations have standards for membership, and they are well-placed to vet and monitor their members.
- Visit org. Think. Check. Submit. is a campaign to help researchers identify trusted journals for their research, and it is supported by many leading publisher organizations. While it is designed primarily for authors, anyone can use the methodology to assess the credentials of a journal or publisher.
- Consider your use. For green road content especially, ask yourself, “What use am I making of this content?” If you are merely reading an article to find cited references, the version of record is probably not that important. If you are making a multi-million dollar research investment or a dosing decision for a patient, you had best check the official, latest, publisher-maintained copy. Check for the journal on the Directory of Open Access Journals at DOAJ.org. The aim of the DOAJ is to increase the visibility and ease of use of open access scientific and scholarly journals, thereby promoting their increased usage and impact. DOAJ reviews journals for inclusion based on a number of factors, including “openness” and quality, and actively accepts and removes journals from its list that do not adhere to documented best practices. DOAJ has received widespread endorsements by universities and research funders as being the authoritative list of “good” Open Access journals.
Like any other disruptive force, OA offers both risk and reward for its stakeholders – authors, publishers, and content consumers. That risk can be mitigated, and the likelihood of reward increased, by staying informed when making content use decisions.
Want to learn more? Check out Understanding Open Access Research Content in the Corporate World: 4 Need-to-Know Terms and Their Definitions