Is Open Access Publishing Better than Traditional Publishing?

Open access publishing is no longer a new idea. It has been around for over 20 years, in some form or another. Traditional publishing, however, is still a major force in academic publishing.

Despite this, it is not the dominant form of academic publishing. But it is continuing to grow. Traditional publishing continues to have a major impact on where people want to publish.

Because of this, you might find yourself needing to explain the merits of open access publishing to potential authors. Especially during the submission (or prior to) phase of publishing.

What’re the differences between open access publishing and traditional publishing?

Before getting into the differences between these two forms of academic publishing, we should clarify what open access publishing actually is. And what it isn’t.

Open access is the term used to characterize a general set of principles and a wide range of practices when it comes to publishing. Broadly speaking, the principles are the same. Open access aims to give unrestricted access to research articles and allows readers to read, download, copy, distribute, etc., without putting paywalls between the readers and the content. This allows the rapid dissemination of content. In turn, this has major impacts on the speed of research.

Open and accessible research has been one of the major promises of open access. And by removing the paywalls typically associated with traditional publishing, anyone from seasoned academic to news organization to high school student can download and read open access content. We’ll go over the differences in these types of open access in the future, but for now we’ll use the gold open access standards.

Who pays for open access or traditional publishing?

Both systems of publishing have very similar (though not identical) costs associated with them. They both need to pay for staff, layout work, editing, and more. But the actual revenue streams are different. In traditional publishing, authors would submit to journals, and if accepted, the work would be published at no cost to the authors. The income then came from either subscriptions or other services that a publisher offered. These subscription services could cost institutions tens or hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars a year.

In the open access model, the cost of publishing is shifted to the authors so as to remove the need for paywalls. These costs, often called article processing charges (or APCs), can vary quite significantly depending on the journal. Some journals wave their APCs in a number of different situations, and in other cases they’re quite inexpensive. It’s important to review these costs when considering publishing in an open access journal.

Regardless of whether you select open access publishing or traditional publishing, the costs are very often covered by the same people. That is to say, the institutions funding the research. In one case, libraries, research institutes, and universities (to name a few) pay for the subscriptions to access content. On the other hand, those same institutions that fund research include APC payment in the funding. While not always the case, it’s quite common for this to be the case.

Which is better?

This is a very difficult question to answer. A good place for any person to start is with a clear understanding of the realities of what you want to accomplish.

There’s some data suggesting that open access publications are cited more because they’re simply more accessible than traditionally published articles. On the other hand, there is a significant amount of prestige that comes with being published in traditional journals.

The open access ecosystem has been changing and growing over the last few years, and it now takes up a sizeable slice of the “total papers published” pie.

Because open access is something your company should be aware of, it pays to know how to handle these questions.

What are the benefits of open access publishing?

There are quite a few benefits to this form of publishing. Some of these are important, such as free and unrestricted access to articles. Also, the authors also retain full copyright over the work that they’ve published. With a traditional publishing system, copyright might be retained by the publisher, making a transfer of ownership of those rights complicated.

In addition to the points noted above, the rapid and free dissemination of the published materials is also a major benefit. In many cases, when a journal is indexed, this helps the spread of the research.

There is a philosophical question for some that exists at the core of the argument: should research be free or not.

In many cases, research is funded by tax dollars and paid for “by the people”. Yet people can’t readily access that research because it’s gated behind a paywall. It’s important to note that there are different priorities for different people, and that there is no “one-size-fits-all” answer. People will choose the answer that they feel aligns best with their beliefs. This is why having a clear understanding of the benefits and how to explain them effectively matters.

What are the benefits of traditional publishing?

Even though open access publishing has a lot of merits, that doesn’t mean that traditional publishing is without them.

One of the most important benefits in traditional publishing is the reputation associated with the journal being published in. With some journals being well over a hundred years old, they carry with them no small amount of prestige. Authors want this prestige. It translates in tangible ways to real-world benefits. Some benefits might include more funding or greater access to important people or institutions.

Traditional publishing is an established and well-known system. People know what to expect when using it. This provides assurances to the authors that their work won’t just disappear into the void. This is also why it is important to make sure that any journal you submit to is properly indexed.

The journal handles the publishing costs, which is a benefit. As noted above, this can have a negative impact on citations however.

How to sell the merits of open access publishing

Part of running a journal involves sales. So explaining the merits of open access is very important. While there are many other elements that are important to prospective authors, like processing times and your journal’s reputation, one of the biggest hurdles to overcome might be concern about open access.

Remember that the importance of a streamlined and efficient publishing pipeline, or a journal management system that saves you time, might not be immediately clear to a potential customer. You need to explain why these things benefit the authors.

“Open access is good” isn’t as meaningful as “your work will be more broadly readable”.

“Open access has a great reputation” isn’t as meaningful as “news outlets will be able to easily cite your work in stories”.

Understanding the ins and outs of these differences is important to your success. Do you have questions about these two kinds of publishing? Let us help.

D.J. McPhee
21 December 2023Posted inSubmission
Post authorD.J. McPhee