Open access journals compared to subscription journals in scholarly publishing

open access journals compared to subscription journals in scholarly publishing

Open access journals compared to subscription journals in scholarly publishing

Subscription journals or traditional model of publishing

Traditionally, academic information and materials were published in the form of a hard copy that was sold or accessible through personal or institutional subscription only. Academic publishing models have traditionally required libraries and other institutions to purchase academic-related resources for their users. Traditionally, libraries and scholarly institutes are required to pay a substantial amount of money for the articles, databases, journals, and books necessary for scholarly research. However, due to closed access of academic materials, these valuable resources and materials were typically accessible only to a limited number of individuals such as students, faculty members, and staffs.

Eventually, dissemination of research data and scientific materials developed into a new medium of exchange and data sharing through periodical publication forums called “Journals.” Scholarly journals serve as a forum to bring the research and scientific community together on a rostrum to share scientific research, exchange knowledge, and scrutinize scientific studies for the advancement of science and research. Scholarly journals managed the review process and handled the typesetting, printing, and distribution of scientific work. This led to a progressive culture among the scholarly community and science progressed in an unprecedented manner. The revolutionary aspect of scholarly journals was the shift from traditional print to electronic medium which became widely accessible. Due to this reason, journals had a radical inflation in price over 250% over the past 20 years concerning subscriptions from institutional organizations like universities and libraries to have access to journal database, which became the theater of the absurd with the amount that some journals wanted institutional subscribers to pay.

Today, there are over 15 academic disciplines covered by scholarly journals and the annual subscription to one academic discipline is in the region of 1000-2000 US dollars. Some academic disciplines such as chemistry, physics, and biology had annual subscription fees of over 4000 US dollars, while some highly reputed journals charged over 40,000 dollars as the annual subscription fee. This led to an outcry of debates across the academic community as the scholarly journals do not produce the scientific materials on their own, but through the contribution from third parties such as a researcher or scholar. Journals do not employ the reviewers who review the papers. Therefore, the business model and distribution system were a direct contradiction to the purpose of science, which was engaged in discovery and contribution to the scholarly community through dissemination of knowledge and research data. Another argument that made a valid point was that scientists conducting these researches were funded by the government. Hence, the system was widely criticized, as higher education, including students, depended on accessibility to research and scientific data through scholarly journals. In other cases, common people had no access to medical research and information. In order to get access, individuals were required to pay a certain amount for each article and it was not clear if the paid article was even relevant to the need of the individual with no-return policy, which led to a global outcry of commoners and tax payers demanding right to information.

Factors that restricted access of resources in the traditional model

1. Educational and scientific resources are accessible through personal and institutional subscription only.

2. Individuals have to be affiliated with the organization or university to gain access to use valuable research materials.

3. Users have to buy these materials in order to read and use the information.

4. It required physical access and costly subscription fees.

5. Dissemination of information is greatly restricted – a technical barrier between the researcher and information.

Open access meaning

Open access is a system or publishing model that aims to allow unrestricted online access and availability of academic and scientific-based data or research material, primarily in the form of journal articles and any form of published scholarly material associated with academic research, education, and science. In technical terms, open access is the free-immediate availability of the final publisher version of record with full re use rights.

Open access is a scholarly communication model created by academic and science organizations with the aim to grant access to academic information, scientific-research data, and educational material without any subscription fee and legal bondages. Open access is a term used for defining a publication, wherein the publication is not bound by financial, legal, or technical restrictions to make information available universally. Open access is a model implemented online for unlimited accessibility, granting the permission for users to read, reuse the particulars, cite sources for reference, copy, download, print, and use academic materials for educational purposes without users bearing any cost but usually within a limited number of legal agreements such as copyright and restricted plagiarism.

Open access created a broad scope for scientific research because the unrestricted readership access and re use rights granted scientists and researchers to build an entire new tier of tools that are developed on top of the research literature. These new tools can interact with articles to mine data that could lead to higher probabilities of uncovering new links related to genetic codes, different phrases, concepts that are in reference in a biology and chemistry paper. This was not possible in closed access journals, as the researcher has to negotiate with every single author or journal to re use studies for further advancements and developments.

Factors that impacted the increased demand of open access

1. Growth of the internet and digital technology made accessibility an unrestricted affair. Therefore, physical barriers were no longer the case or excuse to store valuable information. Dissemination of scientific data and scholarly materials became easy, with no barriers between the researcher and information.

2. Emerging ideas that research and science is usually government funded, and other grant tours. Therefore, there should be no subscription barriers to accessing these materials.

3. Most of the authors and researchers associated with producing academic and scientific materials were university employees. Therefore, there should be limited restrictions to accessing materials.

4. Another major reason was the dramatic increase in the subscription fees by private companies and academic organizations, making accessibility a costly affair.

5. The main impediment is the slow movement of scientific cultural practices, and scientists, despite being great explorers and innovators, are very conservative in changing their practices.

6. The scientific publishing model had no evidence that it was optimal. Lack of experiment with different scientific publishing models was not encouraged and corporations laying the outline for publishing systems before the government with business being the primary intent significantly undermined the impact and ability of science and innovation.

Difference between open access journals and subscription journals

1. Open access journals

Open access journals are scholarly journals that provide free online/digital-based materials related to scholarly work and research. These journals can be segregated into two categories based on the limited restriction policies. The first type of open access journal is the one that charges no additional, open access or journal publishing fees. The other type is the journal that charges publication fees in the form of article processing charges (APCs).

Open access journals have been an emerging force led by several and major academic organizations in the early 2000s. Today, there are more than 15,000 open access scholarly journals world over. The increasing popularity of open access journals stems from the fact that open access increases the exposure for researchers and authors, as the articles and published materials are accessed widely and shared without restrictive policies. Some of the most reputed journal publishers like Nature is open access. In reputed open access journals, many funders require a researcher to include details of the research funding, including a statement on the underlying research materials such as data, samples, or models so that they can be accessed.

Nevertheless, open access journals can be restricted to licensing. There are many open access licenses, but the most popular one is called CC-BY (Creative Commons ‘Attribution’ license), which means anybody can use the article in which ever manner or form they want rather than having the obligation to pay or seek permission. This is done such that the research can be continued and built upon for scientific advancement. However, the author retains full copyright of the work and the author should always be credited and cited in case the material is used in other research studies. Many open access journals use business models that can affect the accessibility of resources in a number of areas including readership, re use, copyright, and more. It is also noteworthy to remember that an open access journal does not define the quality of the published article as the material is independent from its quality similar to closed journals. Now the question arises, “Are open access journals peer reviewed?.” Open access journals can be peer reviewed and have varying levels of impact and prestige. Studies published in reputed open access scholarly journals are carefully evaluated for quality assurance and credibility.

Advantages of open access journals

1. Open access journals provide an open online archive of valuable data in research that can help other research studies taking place in the respective disciplines, stimulating innovation and commerce in a wide variety of areas.

2. Open access journals help to raise academic profiles, and facilitate research collaborations and potential mutual citations.

3. Increased potential and speed for scientific discovery, encouraging innovation as well as enrich educational experiences.

4. Increased visibility and exposure, as well as free access to scientific knowledge, developments, etc.

5. Frequent and greater output of resources due to rapid publication that apply to a broader range of audience.

2. Open access and copyright

Journal copyright agreement deals with the transfer or license of the copyright to the publisher, and authors retain significant rights to use and share their own published articles. This agreement describes the rights related to the publication and distribution of research.

Copyright differences between open access journals and subscription articles

1. In subscription articles, copyrights for published article usually are with the journal publishers. Whereas, in open access journals, authors own the copyright.

2. Most of the open access journals work under Creative Commons licenses (CC licenses), which make it easier for users to share, use, and build upon the original work. However, in subscription articles, authors can share their articles for personal use, internal institutional use, and scholarly sharing purposes, with a DOI link to the version of record on the publisher.

3. In open access journals, authors can share their article in the same way permitted to third parties, as well as retain patent, trademark, and other intellectual property rights (including research data). In subscription articles, authors can retain patent, trademark, and other intellectual property right (including research data), but they cannot allow a third party to use and share data without permission.

4. Subscription articles required readers to pay for the content that they read, whereas, in open access, readers have free access to the article.

5. Subscription journals do not demand APCs for publication. Most of the open access journals need APCs for publication.


Open access journals have become widely popular, making them the primary model for publishing academic and scientific-related research works. These journals provide access to vital data and information that have accelerated the pace in scientific advancement and innovation.

Relevant links

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *