It’s hard to imagine where the scholarly publishing landscape would be today without open access. As we reach two decades from the inception of open access, it’s important to evaluate how this model has revolutionized research and its potential future directions.
A Brief History of Open Access
1991: The beginning of the open access movement is commonly attributed to the formation of arXiv.org (pronounced ‘archive’), the first widely-available repository for authors to self-archive their own research articles for preservation. ArXiv.org is still widely used for article deposition, with over 2 million articles included in January 2023.
1994: Dr. Stevan Harnad’s ‘A Subversive Proposal’ recommended that authors publish their articles in a centralized repository for free immediate public access, leveraging the potential of the up-and-coming internet and combating the rapidly increasing publication costs and slow speed of print publishing (ie, the ‘serials crisis’). Though this was not the first traceable mention of what would become open access publication, it’s widely considered as the start of an international dialogue between scientific researchers, software engineers, journal publication specialists, and other interested stakeholders.
2000-2010: Open access journals began appearing within the publishing landscape. Throughout the decade, a heated back-and-forth debate persisted between open access proponents and traditional non-OA publishershttps://www.bmj.com/content/334/7587/227.
2001: The Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) resulted in a declaration establishing the need for unrestricted, free-to-readers access to scholarly literature. This initiative is considered the first coined use of the phrase ‘open access.’
2003: As a follow-up to BOAI, the 2003 Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities expanded upon the definitions and legal structure of open access and was supported by many large international research institutes and universities.
2013-present: Multiple governments have announced mandates supporting or requiring open access publishing, including the United States, the United Kingdom, India, Canada, Spain, China, Mexico, and more.
2018: cOAlition S was formed by several major funders and governmental bodies to support full and immediate open access of scholarly literature through Plan S.
Current State of Open Access
Today, there are four primary submodels of scholarly open access article publishing:
- Gold: all articles are published through open access, and the journal is indexed by Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). The author is required to pay an article processing charge.
- Green: manuscripts require reader payment on the publisher’s website but can be self-archived in a disciplinary open access archive, such as ArXiv, or an institutional open access archive. A time-based embargo period may be required before the article can be archived. The authors are not required to pay an article processing charge.
- Hybrid: authors have the choice to publish their work through the gold or green open access models.
- Bronze: a newer and less common option than gold, green, or hybrid open access, bronze open access means that manuscripts are published in a subscription-based journal without a clear license.
Though open access isn’t yet the default for publishing, it’s a widely available option that’s quickly becoming an expected option for journals. Additionally, research funding bodies are increasingly requiring open access publication as a term for funding, such as the Wellcome Trust and the National Institutes of Health.
Since its launch in 2015, the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) has risen to the forefront as one of the most comprehensive community-curated lists of reputable open access journals. Unfortunately, however, the rise of open access has also enabled a widespread increase in predatory publishing practices, and counteracting predatory publishers is expected to be a primary focus of future open access development.
Open Access Growth Trends
Before diving into the numbers, it’s important to note that open access reporting is unstandardized. Depending on the databases assessed and definitions of open access, document types, and related terms, the reported number of open access articles per year can differ dramatically between reports. However, overarching trends remain relatively consistent across reports.
In 2018, the European Commision of Research and Innovation, an official research group of the European Union, found that 30.9% of open access publications were open access in 2009, which increased to 41.2% in 2016, then slightly tapered off to 36.2% in 2018. As of 2019, 31% of funders required open access publishing of research, 35% encouraged open access publishing, and 33% embraced no overt policy or stance.
In 2022, the Research Information Observatory partnered with the Max Planck Digital Library and Big Data Analytics Group to compile and publish their data paper, “Long Term Global Trends in Open Access.” Their report found that the percentage of articles that are accessible without paywall subscriptions has increased substantially: around 30% of articles published in 2010 were openly accessible, which jumped to around 50% of articles published in 2019.
Future Expectations and Projections for Open Access