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Selecting Publication Venues: Evaluating OA Journals

OA Journals: Addressing Impact & Reputation

There are many misconceptions about Open Access related to their quality and impact.  However, as noted by Peter Suber in the SPARC Open Access Newsletter, "The key variables in journal quality are excellent authors, editors, and referees. OA journals can use the same procedures and standards, and the same people—the same authors, editors, and referees—as TA [toll access, i.e. subscription] journals."  He also notes that quality is not the same as prestige and that even quality journals take time to build prestige, "If most OA journals are lower in prestige than most TA journals, it's not because they are OA. A large part of the explanation is that they are newer and younger. And conversely: if most TA journals are higher in prestige than most OA journals, it's not because they are TA. A large part of the explanation is that they are older or have a headstart."   Learn more in Myths About Open Access

Generally, the same factors apply when selecting an open access journal vs a traditional journal to publish your article in.   There are a few resources specific to Open Access journals that you may also consult.  

Open Access Myths

Open Access:   Six Myths Put to Rest

Excerpted from Peter Suber article published in  The Guardian, 2013 (with edits and additions.)

1) The only way to provide open access to peer-reviewed journal articles is to publish in open access journals

Open access delivered by journals is called “gold” open access and open access delivered by repositories is called “green” open access. The myth asserts that all open access is gold , even for peer-reviewed articles.  However, the belief that publishing open access means publishing only in open access journals is false.  

  • While publishing in an Open Access journal is certainly one way to make your work openly accessible, there are other alternatives, such as Self-Archiving in repositories.
    • Self-Archiving.  You can use INDIGO, UIC's Instititonal Repository to self-archive your publications.  Even if you are publishing in a commercial journal, you may still be able make your work freely available online by depositing it in a digital repository. In fact, a strong majority of publishers allow this practice (you can check the policies of specific publishers using the SHERPA database).

2) All or most open access journals charge publication fees
About one-third of open-access journals charge publication fees (compared to three-fourths of conventional journals).

  • Publishing in Open Access venues doesn't mean having to pay $.
    • For example, if you self-archive your article rather than publish in an open access journal, there should not be publication fees, although it is typically the final peer reviewed manuscript, not the publisher PDF, that is archived..
  • As mentioned, there may be a fee to publish OA journals. However, journals that really want your publication should be able to waive or decrease the cost of publishing an article if the author is unable to afford it.
  • In addition, some open access journals are finding alternative ways to publish the journal such as grant funding, sponsors, and membership dues.

3) Most author-side fees are paid by the authors themselves

According to the comprehensive Study of Open Access Publishing (SOAP), when researchers publish in fee-based open access journals, the fees are paid by funders (59%) or by universities (24%). Only 12% of the time are they paid by authors out of pocket.

4) Publishing in a conventional journal closes the door on making the same work open access
Most conventional publishers give standing permission for author-initiated green open access.  Many of the others will give permission on request. For authors unsure of a publisher’s position, check out the Sherpa RoMEO database of publisher policies, read the publishing contract, or ask an editor. It’s always worth asking, if only to register demand and show rising expectations.

5) Open access journals are intrinsically low in quality
As early as 2004, Thomson Scientific found that in every field of the sciences “there was at least one open access title that ranked at or near the top of its field” in citation impact.

6) Open access mandates infringe academic freedom
This is true for gold open access but not for green. But if you believe that all open access is gold, then this myth follows as a lemma. Because only about one-third of peer-reviewed journals are open access, requiring researchers to submit new work to open access journals would severely limit their freedom to submit work to the journals of their choice. By contrast, green open access is compatible with publishing in non-open access journals, which means that green open access mandates can respect author freedom to publish where they please. That is why literally all university open access mandates are green, not gold. It’s also why the green/gold distinction is significant, not fussy, and why myths suppressing recognition of green open access are harmful, not merely false.


Additional Myths

7)  Open Access Journals are not peer-reviewed

  • Just like traditional journals, reputable open access journal articles go through the same peer review process that articles published in traditional journals do.
  • Quality Open Access journals have peer-review, provide an option to request a waiver to OA publishing fees (if applicable), and are a member of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association or adhere to its Code of Conduct.  However, predatory OA publishers do exist, and it is good to know what clues to look for to avoid  predatory publishers.

  • Open Access articles archived in repositories are also often peer-reviewed.
    • In cases of the NIH PAP policy, the law only applies to peer-reviewed manuscripts that resulted from NIH funding be deposited into PubMed Central. Even in the case of author’s self archiving, those articles were published first in peer-reviewed journals before being made accessible through a repository.

 8) Publishing in an Open Access venue means that I have retained all my copyrights

  • Unfortunately, no, not necessarily.  Many open access journals do allow you to retain your copyright, but not all.   Some have you sign over the copyright to the journal, just like traditional journals.   
    •  When complying with the NIH Public Access policy, at a minimum you are only retaining enough rights to post the final peer reviewed manuscript on PMC, you are not retaining rights to post the final peer reviewed manuscript or the publisher PDF anywhere.   The same is true with many self-archiving policies of publishers.  They are often only allowing you to retain enough rights that you may post the final peer-reviewed manuscript on your website or in an institutional repository.   In most cases, greater copyright retention rights will need to be negotiated with the publisher if you want the freedom to do more.

Avoiding Predatory Publishers

How do you avoid publishing with a Predatory Publisher?

Reputable Open Access Journals should meet the following standards:  

  • Provide unfettered (freely accessible) access to all peer-reviewed articles.
  • Be a member of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association OR adhere to its Code of Conduct.
  • Offer a standard article fee schedule for public view.
  • Have a policy to waive fees in cases of economic hardship.
  • The journal should be indexed in a major indexing and abstracting service such as Web of Science, Scopus, PubMed and others.   You can confirm the locations where a journal is indexed by consulting with Ulrich's Periodicals DirectoryCall up or email your UIC Library Liaison if you aren’t sure how to check these details.
  • Most open access journals allow the author to retain their copyright.
  • If a journal you are considering publishing in is sending up red flags by not meeting these standards, it might be better to consider another place to publish your article.
  • You may also want to check if the OA journal is on the Gray OA list and the grade it has been assigned.