Open Access Scientific Publishing Exploding

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By Sheldon Greaves

Given some recent discussions here at CSL and on our Facebook Group page, this is an interesting development, not altogether unexpected. This comes to us from BMC Medicine in a new paper published, not surprisingly, as an Open Access document titled "Anatomy of open access publishing: a study of longitudinal development and internal structure" by Mikael Laakso and Bo-Christer Björk. In this case, I don't think I could put it better than the paper's initial sections, so I'll just let the paper speak for itself:

Open access (OA) is a revolutionary way of providing access to the scholarly journal literature made possible by the Internet. The primary aim of this study was to measure the volume of scientific articles published in full immediate OA journals from 2000 to 2011, while observing longitudinal internal shifts in the structure of OA publishing concerning revenue models, publisher types and relative distribution among scientific disciplines. The secondary aim was to measure the share of OA articles of all journal articles, including articles made OA by publishers with a delay and individual author-paid OA articles in subscription journals (hybrid OA), as these subsets of OA publishing have mostly been ignored in previous studies.

Stratified random sampling of journals in the Directory of Open Access Journals (n = 787) was performed. The annual publication volumes spanning 2000 to 2011 were retrieved from major publication indexes and through manual data collection.

An estimated 340,000 articles were published by 6,713 full immediate OA journals during 2011. OA journals requiring article-processing charges have become increasingly common, publishing 166,700 articles in 2011 (49% of all OA articles). This growth is related to the growth of commercial publishers, who, despite only a marginal presence a decade ago, have grown to become key actors on the OA scene, responsible for 120,000 of the articles published in 2011. Publication volume has grown within all major scientific disciplines, however, biomedicine has seen a particularly rapid 16-fold growth between 2000 (7,400 articles) and 2011 (120,900 articles). Over the past decade, OA journal publishing has steadily increased its relative share of all scholarly journal articles by about 1% annually. Approximately 17% of the 1.66 million articles published during 2011 and indexed in the most comprehensive article-level index of scholarly articles (Scopus) are available OA through journal publishers, most articles immediately (12%) but some within 12 months of publication (5%).

OA journal publishing is disrupting the dominant subscription-based model of scientific publishing, having rapidly grown in relative annual share of published journal articles during the last decade.

In retrospect, this is not all that surprising to me. As I have become increasingly aware of the controversy, I've noticed that there is a visceral, almost primal disdain and disgust among members of the scientific community with respect to the over-priced, closely-restricted avenues by which one may (or may not) obtain access to professional scientific literature. Perhaps it is because the scientific community, like many other intellectual communities, has a "share and share alike" attitude towards the exchange of information. Scientists gladly share work and frequently data among themselves. It's a culture that works and conforms to the most basic values of a healthy intellectual community. Now, that community has apparently decided to go their own way and bypass the major publishers. I consider this to be a very positive development, particularly for the amateur wing of the scientific community.


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