Monday, 25 January 2016

Making the Choice: Open Access vs. Traditional Journals


Making the Choice: Open Access vs. Traditional Journals

By: Sarah Conte on Mon, 12/01/2015
We live in a society that is increasingly Internet-centric, and this
shift in the way that we communicate, connect, share, and do business
with each other has deeply impacted scientific research and academic
publishing. When tackling large research questions, collaboration among
researchers is essential, and since the first issue of the Philosophical
Transactions of the Royal Society was disseminated in 1665, this
collaboration has been highly dependent on the publishing industry.
However, since the advent of the Internet, scientists no longer require
access to the latest hard copy of their favorite journal to keep in
touch with the most recent developments. Indeed, it is no longer
necessary to leave the lab and spend all afternoon in the library stacks
– much of the information needed to do research is available on our own
personal computers.

In modern society, research is disseminated through many venues, including social media sites, blogs, Twitter,
and open access (OA) scholarly journals that are freely available to
anyone with Internet access. As opposed to traditional journals, which
often charge readers hefty fees to access journal content, OA journals
provide content for free on the web and charge researchers to publish
their findings. Although the idea of a journal that is freely available
to the public with no financial barriers to access seems great in
theory, when it comes time to publish, many researchers struggle with
the decision of whether to do so in an OA journal versus a traditional
(and perhaps more well-established) journal. The four main factors to
consider when making this decision are visibility, cost, prestige, and

1) Visibility

Publishing your article in an OA journal means that more people are
likely to see it, simply because more people will be able to access it.
Indeed, one study
showed that full-text downloads of OA papers were 89% higher, PDF
downloads were 42% higher, and unique visitors were 23% higher than
those for subscription-access articles. Additionally, a survey
of both science and humanities/social science authors revealed that the
belief that OA publications are read more widely is the second most
common reason for deciding to publish in an OA journal. Although it is
still uncertain whether this increase in downloads and visitors
translates into an increased citation rate, the greater visibility
achieved with OA may allow you to reach potential collaborators more
easily. Additionally, your data will be available to educators and the general public, most of whom do not have access to expensive journal subscriptions.

2) Cost

Both traditional and OA journals may charge a small fee at the time
of submission to cover editorial and peer review-related costs. The
difference arises in the post-acceptance fees. Traditional journals
commonly charge per page (often $100-250 each) and/or per color figure
($150-1000 each). However, OA journals typically charge a flat “article processing charge
that can range from $8 to as much as $5000 (Cell Reports). In some
cases, when authors genuinely do not have the means to pay publication
fees, they can apply for full or partial waivers, depending on their
financial capability. The other cost is associated with subscriptions,
which can be prohibitive, with some academic subscriptions costing as
much as $40,000 for full online access to articles. These steep costs
may even cause some libraries to cancel subscriptions, which harms both
readers and authors. Indeed, the high cost of subscriptions led Harvard
University to urge
its academics to “Consider submitting articles to open-access journals,
or to ones that have reasonable, sustainable subscription costs; move
prestige to open access.”

3) Prestige

Some researchers are more reticent to publish in OA journals because
they may not be as well known as some of the larger, more
well-established journals in a given field. Indeed, the most common
reason cited
by science and humanities/social science authors for deciding not to
publish in an OA journal is related to concerns about the perceived
quality of OA publications. It is also important to note that many OA
journals are new and have not yet received their first impact factor
(IF). For example, in 2013, 179 of 500 OA journals
published by Springer were given an IF. However, high-IF OA journals
are available in a variety of fields. In the field of biology, the OA
journals PLOS Biology, BMC Biology, and PLOS ONE ranked 1st, 4th, and
10th by IF, respectively, in 2009 according to Journal Citation Reports.
Additionally, that same year, PLOS Computational Biology, BMC Systems
Biology, and BMC Bioinformatics ranked 1st, 3rd, and 4th in the category
of mathematical and computational biology. Regardless, the fact remains
that many academics still place importance on “brand-name” journals
because publication in such journals can increase their chances of being
promoted, gaining tenure, and obtaining funding for grant proposals.

4) Speed

The survey
mentioned above also revealed that approximately 65-70% of science
authors consider “the speed from acceptance to publication” to be “very
important” or “quite important” when deciding which journal to publish
in, while approximately 80-85% of these authors believe that “the speed
from submission to first decision” plays a “very important” or “quite
important” role in their decision of where to publish. Of course,
publishing in any peer-reviewed journal will always entail some degree
of delay from submission to acceptance and finally to publication. This
is especially problematic in the clinical sciences, as the publication
of results lags behind trial completion by a median of 21 months.
Such delays in the release of new data can have many negative
consequences for patients awaiting new therapies. In particular, the
traditional method of paper publication creates significant delays due
to 1) the need to bundle articles into issues, 2) backlogs of
publishable articles due to space limitations, and 3) the time required
to print physical copies of the journal and distribute them. Many OA
journals advertise a much more rapid publication process, as reflected
in their mission statements (PeerJ: “to help the world efficiently publish its knowledge”; PLOS ONE: “accelerating the publication of peer-reviewed science”). Indeed, a recent study examined 135 journals listed in the Scopus citation index and showed that the time from acceptance to publication is significantly shorter
for OA journals compared with traditional journals. Thus, if speed is
an important factor in your decision regarding where to publish, an OA
journal may be the best choice.

In sum, when choosing between OA and traditional journals, it is
important to consider the journal’s visibility, the cost of publication,
the IF (or “prestige”) of the journal, and the speed of publication.
Due to the many high-IF journals to choose from in the biological and
clinical sciences, publication in an OA journal may be a good option for
researchers in those areas. Researchers in other fields may lean more
toward traditional journals that they know and trust.

Evidence for how OA is changing the landscape of the publishing
industry overall can be seen in the many once-traditional journals that
are now considered as “hybrid” OA publications. These journals allow
authors to pay an extra “open access fee” to ensure free access to their
article. For example, PNAS
charges authors a fee of $1350 ($1000 if their institution has a
subscription to the journal) on top of the usual charges to make an
article OA. Thus, it may not be necessary to choose between “strictly
OA” and “strictly traditional” journals, as publishing in a hybrid OA
journal with a high IF may provide the best of both worlds: the high
visibility of an OA journal combined with the prestige of a well-known
traditional journal.

Making the Choice: Open Access vs. Traditional Journals

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