Which form of open access is the best?

I often get the question “which form of open access is the best” as part of my trainings. The short answer: there is no one size fits all solution. In this short post I provide an overview of different forms of open access and then provide some guidance for researchers to help them choose the most appropriate form of open access for themselves.

Open access to scientific peer reviewed publications (OA) can be defined as the practice of providing on-line access to scientific information that is free of charge to the user and that is re-usable. Two main models for open access to publications have been developed:

  1. Open access publishing, also referred to as ‘gold’ open access, means that an article is immediately provided in open access mode when published. In this model, the payment of publication costs is shifted away from readers (paying via subscriptions) to the author, often – but not always – through a one-off charge, a so called ‘Article (sometimes ‘Author’) Processing Charge’ (APCs). These are usually borne by the university or research institute to which the researcher is affiliated, or to the funding agency supporting the research. In other cases, the costs of open access publishing are covered by subsidies or other funding models; in these cases no APCs arise. Such models are sometimes referred to diamond or platinum OA. By contrast, hybrid open access allows the publications of specific articles in journals which also publish subscription based articles. These are often well established but on average charge a higher APC.
  2. Self-archiving, also referred to as ‘green’ open access, means that a copy of the article published in a traditional subscription journal is archived (deposited) by the author – or a representative – in an online repository where it is made available openly, usually after a so called embargo period, which is often requested by the publisher in order to  protect the value of the journal subscriptions they sell.

Different actors in the ecosystem have expressed different preferences for these models and their sub-varieties based inter alia on their respective business models and/or ideologies, most notably whether they consider publications a “common good” or a “commodity”. In my view the question which form of open access is “the best” can be compared with the question which move in chess is the best”: it depends on the circumstances of the actor in question. A better question is therefore: what form of open access is appropriate for me in my specific framework conditions. If you are a researcher these framework probably conditions include (but may not be limited to) some or all of the below:

  • your scientific field and its culture and established norms
  • the policy of your institution (if any)
  • the type of grant (if any) and resulting obligations (e.g. in Horizon 2020)
  • the attitudes of your supervisors
  • your personal preferences

The following table provides an overview of three different OA modes: gold, green and hybrid, their respective advantages and disadvantages as well as what kind of information is needed to make a decision, including some pointers where to go to to find out more.

I hope that this little graphic provides some guidance in choosing an open access model that works for you (if you are a researcher). Feel free to contact me if you have any questions … have I mentioned that I also deliver training on open access?