Three studies for the VSNU and dashboards on the scholarly journal landscape
From September 2020 to January 2021 I carried out studies for the VSNU on Open Access: a feasibility study on 100% OA for Dutch research publications and a study into alternative publication platforms . This study led to 3 reports with so many pages that I think not many people have read these in their entirety. The reason for all those pages being that it was a collage of quite different studies: trend analyses, an analysis of the Dutch research publications, interviews with other consortia working on OA, group discussions with stakeholders, and studies on OA monographs and alternative platforms (you can find the 3 reports under publications).
In this blog I would like to highlight the present status of OA in journal articles and focus on the trends and possible developments in OA. For this, I also can use of the dashboards that I made based on the DOAJ data as they are processed by Walt Crawford and that I made based on the data set used by QOAM which includes also hybrid journals.
The trend is clearly up. The figure presents the results of a study by Piwowar, assessing the OA percentages in 2019 and extrapolating the trends to 2025. She expects in 2025 52% Gold or Diamond OA, either in fully OA journals or in hybrid journals. If this trend continues, one can expect that in 2030 about 80% of the articles will be published Gold OA. Thus, mission accomplished? Hopefully yes, but there are two potential problems with this: (1) Will it really increase to 80% and more? (2) If so, does this not create another problem: inequity for authors who cannot pay the publication costs?
Will it really increase to 80% and up? In Europe, albeit that some countries go for the gold route and others for green, one can expect that the trend in Europe will go up. However, the rest of the world might be a different story. In the USA, the HE sector is very decentralised and a mix of public and private institutions. The University of California is the eye-catcher with regard to OA, but the question is how representative it is for the HE-institutes in the USA. China is nowadays the biggest producer of scientific articles in the international journal literature: which direction will they choose to go? These factors make the continuation of the trend in the direction of 100% quite incertain.
Let’s assume that the trend will lead to universal OA. Are we then in the ideal situation? In my view, that depends on the mix between Gold OA journals (the author/institution pays the publication costs) and Diamond journals (a sponsor pays for the publication costs).
If you click on the link above, you will see a dashboard on Gold and Diamond journals. The dashboard is based on the GOAJ5 data by Walt Crawford. You can see two things:
- The top 5, 10 or 25 publishers of 2019 articles mainly have Gold OA journals: an oligopoly similar to the subscription/hybrid journal market appears to be forming in this market.
- The Diamond journal market is very fragmented with lots of (very) small publishers.
- About 39% of the articles in these journals are published in Diamond journals.
Looks like plenty of choice for authors who cannot afford the publication costs, doesn’t it? However, this percentage is misleading: in another dashboard https://www.qoam.eu/qoam-journal-composition you can see that the percentage of articles in Diamond journals with a DOI is down to 7% if you include the articles in hybrid journals. There are two reasons for this: (1) over half of the Diamond journal titles do not give DOI’s to their articles and (2) most articles are (still) published in hybrid journals. Let us suppose that in the situation of universal OA, a mix of 20% Diamond and 80% Gold OA articles would give authors who cannot afford publication costs enough choice to select an adequate publication channel. In that case, there is still a lot of work to do for Diamonds journals/platforms: an increase in article production and a better adherence to standard operational and technical requirements in scholarly publishing (such as DOI’s per article) will be needed. Can I coin a new term here? The fact that many Diamond journal publishers cannot keep up with the rapidly changing operational and technical publication standards is logical: they publish only 1 or 2 journal titles with a shoestring operation. Therefore I propose the term ‘minimum viable publishing unit’, the minimum operation that is needed to keep up with the publishing standards. I do not know what this minimum viable publishing unit would entail. My guess would be that you will need at least two dozen of staff to keep up with the technological side of publishing. Of one thing you can be assured: the debate on how to design an universal Open Access scholarly journal system will continue, if we ever get there…