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June 19, 2017

Open access publishing: Four key trends to watch

Although it’s been more than three and a half centuries since the world’s first scientific journal was published, open access scientific journals have only been around for 20 years or so. While that period might seem like the blink of an eye compared to the longevity of scientific journals in general, it’s more than enough time for several industry-shaping trends to form.

As we advance to the midpoint of 2017, there appear to be four trends, in particular, which are developing momentum and worthy of our attention.

1. The rise of the predatory journal.

Open access journals require authors to pay an article processing charge (APC) once their articles have been peer-reviewed and accepted for publication. This is what enables them to make their content available to libraries, researchers, instructors and other interested parties at no charge.

The possibility that nearly half of open access journals might be predatory justifies the rise of an “author beware” mentality.

When the U.S. Government mandated all federally funded research projects were required to be published open access, some commercial publishers were slow to support the initiative. This enabled less scrupulous, “predatory” publishers to fill the gap with what appeared to be legitimate open access journals. Such a publisher’s goal is not the sharing and preservation of scientific research and data, but revenue generation. Predatory publishers will aggressively email authors with promises of an expedited peer review for payment up front. In many cases, however, the promised peer review is nothing of the sort. And in others, the article may never be indexed properly, limiting the discoverability of the work.

How bad has it gotten? In 2016, the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine investigated 55 open access journals using a set of well-regarded criteria for determining what makes a journal legitimate vs. predatory. The results of their research suggest that 45% of the journals were likely predatory. Though the sample was small, the possibility that nearly half of open access journals might be predatory justifies the rise of an “author beware” mentality.

To help ensure that authors work with reputable publishers, the Directory of Open Access Journals provides a list of endorsed publishers and recommends that authors interested in open access journals select their potential publishing partners from that list.

2. Recognition of the value of data behind the content.

The value of open access scientific publishing has always been tied to the free access to and distribution of data, analysis, and any conclusions that can be drawn from that analysis. That value, however, primarily focused on the published articles themselves, rather than the data upon which those articles depend. As options with the Internet grew, so did different ways of thinking about content and scientific articles.

Today, publishers and authors think about how the data that underlies articles can be used to create new sources of information and that the data itself is valuable for informing readers about the caliber of research done.

The types of data sets this new trend encompasses are many and varied, but may include the raw data that underlies tables, charts, and graphs used in an article, additional unpublished images, details about methods and procedures, and video or audio files. For example, there might be thousands of video files of bird flight patterns, which could be of huge value to others studying the creatures.

Though the collections inform the research the article describes, they can be far more robust and expansive than what appears in the actual article, and lend themselves to additional analysis, testing, and discovery. As a result, this new trend of establishing such collections has prompted some to push for open data and open science initiatives for data sharing – certainly a boon for the advancement of scientific research.

Though the collections inform the research the article describes, they can be far more robust and expansive than what appears in the actual article.

3. New thinking aimed at reducing the cost of research.

There is a global movement toward making all scientific journals that are funded with public money open access, helping to make research less expensive – for the academic institutions that carry them, if not the authors who pay the open access publication fees. The European Union, for example, has established a goal that would require all such research funded by the EU be made available as open access content by 2020. The United States already requires that research funded by the U.S. Government be published open access.

Some institutions are actively seeking to reduce costs by negotiating lower subscription fees and open access publication fees. In Germany, for example, a consortium of academic libraries proposed subscribing to a certain amount of a publisher’s content in exchange for the publisher’s commitment to waive all open access publication fees for articles submitted by the researchers associated with that library and its institutions.

Similarly, journal publishers are looking for creative ways to use open access articles to reduce the costs of subscription content and keep both models viable. There are now examples of journals that are hybrid mixes of open access and non-open access content, which uses open access publication fees to offset a more affordable subscription cost.

We anticipate that this creative thinking from both sides will continue to the mutual benefit of publishers, libraries, and authors alike.

4. The rise of altmetrics.

In years past, impact factors (IFs) were established as the gold standard of quality for an article. At its most basic level, an IF reflects how often the average article in a journal has been cited in any given year. This provides an objective rank – a value metric – as to how important that particular journal is to the scientific community at large. It is not a measure of the value of the article itself and many feel it has a number of shortcomings.

Now, however, impact factors, along with citation analysis and the h-index, are losing their relevance as new methods of delivering content are created, such as digital video, audio downloads, webinars, and much more. Other measures, known as alternative metrics, or “altmetrics,” are gaining favor within the research community and are being seen as a powerful supplement to the old standards.

Altmetrics are analyzing a far wider variety of achievements, including how often an article is tweeted about, the number of times it’s shared via social media, how often it’s liked on Facebook, the number of times it’s downloaded, the number of social bookmarks it’s received, or the number of times it’s been visited on the publisher’s website.

These trends are revolutionizing the nature of the open access publishing business itself. From predatory practices to new life for content, open access journal publishing is proving itself to be as complex and fascinating as ever.

For a deeper discussion of how these trends might affect your workflow or bottom line, reach out.

About Greg Suprock

Greg is Head of Solutions Architecture at Apex. He has over 20 years of experience in XML workflows, content management, web application development, and prepress. Greg excels at collaborative efforts to achieve project and business goals. He has developed XML workflows for the Public Library of Science, HighWire Press, The Library of Congress, and many more.