Opening Open Access publishing?

Over the last months I have spent some time reading about the open access (OA) movement, and the implications of given free access to articles, data, presentations and any other research output. I can see all the benefits of OA publishing, and I do not like some of the policies of big publishing companies and the restrictions they put to the dissemination of our own work. I certainly like the idea of sharing research data from published papers and getting credit for doing so, and as a consequence we have started to publish all our databases and other research outputs in OA and public repositories such as Dryad and Figshare. I see many benefits from this, as an increased openness and accessibility of research data will not only accelerate further discoveries, facilitate synthetic reviews and meta-analyses, but also will increase the quality of these data and reduce the number of errors present in published papers at the mid to long term.

I must admit that I was quite reluctant to publish in OA journals, given that factors such as the quality of the journal, its reputation and the way they handle manuscripts are critical for us when deciding where to submit the output of our research. But I must admit that I am changing my mind about many OA journals, albeit I doubt that many of the OA journals that are arising recently will survive. I particularly like the PloS ONE model, and after publish my first paper in this journal I have been positively impressed by the speed and quality of the peer-review process, and by the final appearance of the paper once published. While this experience was positive, I doubt I will publish regularly in OA journals. The main reason is simple: we cannot afford it. If you work in a country like Spain, where research projects usually do not include budget for paying for article charges (or the budget is quite small), and where the current economical situation led to a reduction of more than 30% of the research budget during the last four years, it is very difficult to publish your research under the OA model, at least as it is established today. Of course, at the end this will largely depend on how many papers you publish, but in the case of my lab, which is now publishing between 15 and 20 papers per year, publishing most of our research under the OA model is just impossible. 

On the other hand, I like to support society-based journals like those from the British Ecological Society (BES) and the Ecological Society of America (ESA). They are not just excellent journals that publish high-quality and exciting research, but are also an importance source of income to these societies that helps them to achieve their objectives and to advance our discipline. The publishing landscape is changing substantially, and societies like the BES and the ESA will need to adapt to a scenario where OA publishing is becoming increasingly important. Both the BES and the ESA are moving forward to explore ways of adapting to the new publishing environment (see for instance the recent article by ESA´s president Scott Collins). But until a balance between subscription- and OA-based publishing is found, I feel that it is important to support society-based journals.

I certainly do not have many suggestions for how to improve the accessibility of the OA model to research groups that are in a situation like ours, other than reducing dramatically the fees for publishing in OA journals, a generalization of fee waivers, and increase the budget in the research projects for paying for such fees (a quite unlikely scenario in our case). The model presented by the OA journal PeerJ, with low-cost fees for authors and the possibility for paying for a one-time fee that last for a lifetime is really interesting, but would not work for us in many cases, particularly when collaborating with authors from multiple countries with scarce resources for research (the first condition of publishing in this journal is that every author must be a PeerJ member, albeit there are waivers for authors from certain countries). And there is also important uncertainties about the long-term sustainability of this journal (see for instance this blog post from the Scholarly Kitchen).  The scenario where the budget of the libraries shifts from paying big companies for very expensive subscriptions to directly paying individual articles published in OA journals, albeit seems to be a more effective and cheaper option at the mid to long term according to recent estimates (see for example the recent comment by Neylon in Nature), it is also quite unlikely for situations like those being faced by many Spanish universities, at least at the short term. Countries like the United Kingdom and agencies such as the European Research Council, the flagship research funding body in Europe, which is also funding our lab through the BIOCOM project, are taking important steps towards favoring the publication under the OA model, and I am sure that steps in this direction will also be taking by other countries and national funding agencies. But until this happens, OA journals will not be the main choice to publish our research outputs, I am afraid.

If anyone has any thoughts/suggestions on how to improve the accessibility to publish under the OA model or how to keep a balance between the benefits of OA publishing and those of supporting society-based journals I would love to hear them!



  1. Great to hear you had a good first experience with PLOS ONE!

    Although it is not widely advertised, PLOS ONE has a no-questions-asked fee waver policy. All you need to do is check a box at submission, and selecting the fee waiver has no bearing on the outcome of your submission.

    1. Many thanks for your comment Casey. I am aware of the fee waiver, but I doubt you can ask them for a reduction/removal of the fee for multiple papers in a year. Of course I have not tried to do this yet!

  2. In my opinion, open access (OA) would be the future in scientific publishing, and the outcomes of research should be always publish OA, but the problem is that as F. T. Maestre says, it is impossible to afford the costs when the budget for a research work is low.

    From my very subjective point of view and relatively little experience, I think that big publishing companies, such as Springer, Elsevier, etc have too expensive rates for publishing a paper as OA. I think that much lower fees could be applied and still the company would have enough revenues. I think that publishing fees such as the ones charged by PLOS ONE are much more sensitive.

    I also think that scientists should support society-based journals but I can not understand why some society-based journals will charge you a fee (similar to other open access journal such as PLOS ONE), unless you are not a member of the society, and then the journal is not OA. Although the journal says it is a non profit organization, you get the idea that to some extent the society-based journals is takingg quite high revenues, since they are taking profit twice, charging the author and the reader. I think that if the journal is not OA, it should not have publishing fees.

    I think that society-based journals should adapt to the present time and benefit of the potential of the internet. In my opinion, a nice example of this is Biogeosciences, which is the journal of the European Geosciences Union. They charge relatively low publishing fees (similar to PLOS ONE), they are OA, the editing is quite good and, above all, they have a reviewing process that should be used by other journals (commentaries of the reviewers are OA and any member of the scientific community can participate).

    Carlos Sanz-Lázaro

    1. Many thanks for sharing your thoughts Carlos. I am with you that Open Access (OA) publishing will be a major, if not the primary, way of communicating research outputs at the mid to long term. But nowadays its costs are still prohibitive for those of us working in areas without extensive funding for publishing or who are in dynamic and/or large labs publishing a relatively high number of articles per year.

      I also have problems in understanding why some society journals charge you a rate per page published when they are not OA, particularly under a changing scenario when by paying the same your article can be published in an OA journal of similar or higher quality. As OA fees continue to drop, and I think they will do it in the near future (there is certainly room for further reductions according to the profits the publishers make per published article; see the recent special in Nature about this topic (; there is also plenty of information out there in the blogosphere), many manuscripts traditionally published in those journals will shift to OA journals.

      I found Biogeosciences to be an interesting and worthwhile journal. I have recently participated as a reviewer in a paper submitted there, and I found the whole experience very satisfying. One of the problems, however, I see with their model is that it takes quite a bit of time to publish a manuscript (the interactive reviews process takes two months, plus the time required to authors to revise their manuscripts to accommodate the editor and reviewers´ comments), and this may preclude some authors to send their work there.

      I certainly like the publishing model of the British Ecological Society (BES), as its journals do not charge for publishing under the traditional pay per read model (these articles are OA after a 2 year embargo), and society members have substantially reduced fees if they desire to publish under the OA model. The BES also supports Ecology & Evolution a high quality OA access that is quickly gaining attention and recognition, and is certainly publishing very interesting work that can also use reviews from other Wiley journals, such as all the BES journals, Global Change Biology, Molecular Ecology and Ecology Letters. Once Wiley-Blackwell, the publisher of the BES journals, decides to reduce its OA fees then I am sure that many authors of BES journals will publish their papers under the OA model.

    2. Thanks Fernando for the interesting comments, I did not know that about BES. Always nice to learn something.


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