Who is publishing how many open-access papers?

February 8, 2012

How many open-access papers are getting published these days?  And who’s doing it?  Inspired by a tweet from @labroides (link at the end so as not to give away the punchline), I went looking for numbers.

We’ll start with our old friends Elsevier, since they are the world’s largest academic publisher by volume and by revenue.  One often reads statements such as “Elsevier is committed to Universal Access, Quality and Sustainability … Elsevier wants to enable the broadest possible access to quality research content in sustainable ways that meet our many constituents’ needs” (from their page Elsevier’s position on Access).  Even their submission to the OSTP call for comments begins by saying “One of Elsevier’s primary missions is to work towards providing universal access to high-quality scientific information in sustainable ways. We are committed to providing the broadest possible access to our publications.”

The most important way Elsevier does this is by allowing authors to pay a fee, currently $3000, to “sponsor” their articles, so that they are made freely available to readers (though we still don’t know under what specific licence!).  While that fee is more than twice the $1350 that PLoS ONE charges, it’s comparable to the $2900 PLoS Biology fee and identical to Springer’s $3000 fee.  Elsevier have rather a good policy in connection with their “sponsored article” fee: “Authors can only select this option after receiving notification that their article has been accepted for publication. This prevents a potential conflict of interest where a journal would have a financial incentive to accept an article.”

According to the page linked above, “691 Elsevier articles across some six hundred journals were sponsored in 2010. Sponsorship revenues from these articles amounted to less than 0.1% of Elsevier’s total revenues.”  (And indeed, 691 × $3000 = $2.073 M, which is about 0.065% of their 2010 revenue of £2026 M ≈ $3208 M.)  As Elsevier publishes 2639 journals in all, that amounts to just over a quarter of one open-access article per journal across the year.

I find that disappointing.

In the other corner (I won’t call it red or blue because of the political implications of those colours, which by the way are the opposite way around on different sides of the Atlantic.  Anyway …)  In the other corner, we have PLoS ONE.  According to its Advanced Search engine, this journal alone published 6750 open-access articles in 2010 — about ten times as many as all Elsevier journals combined.  Indeed, in the last month of that year alone, PLoS ONE’s 847 articles comfortably exceeded Elsevier’s output for the year.  That’s one journal, in one month, up against a stable of 2639 journals across a whole year.

What can we take away from this?  Maybe not very much: Elsevier offer their sponsored-article option to all authors, after all, and they can hardly be blamed if the authors don’t take them up on it.

But why don’t they?  Tune in next time for some thoughts on that.

And, finally, here is the tweet that started this line of thought:

@labroides Joshua Drew

@PublicAccessYAY @PLoSOne published more #OA articles in Dec ’10 than ALL of #elsevier‘s journals had the entire year

Food for thought.

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11 Responses to “Who is publishing how many open-access papers?”


  1. GOLD FEVER

    But you only counted the articles made OA by publishing them in an OA journal (“Gold OA”)!

    There’s also the articles published in non-OA journals, and made OA by self-archiving the final refereed draft in the author’s institutional OA repository (“Green OA”).

    Spontaneous Green OA self-archiving is currently at about 20% of articles published annually. But Green OA mandated by the author’s institution or funder is at about 70%+

    Clearly most of the immediate OA growth potential is in mandated Green OA.

    And you don’t have to pay an extra penny for it, because institutional subscriptions are still paying the publication costs of non-OA journals in full. (If ever subscriptions are made unsustainable by mandated Green OA, the institution windfall savings from the subscription cancelations will pay for the much-reduced costs of post-Green Gold OA, with archiving and access provision offloaded on the distributed network of mandated institutional repositories, and journal publication downsized to just the management of peer review.)

    (PLOS publishing more OA articles than Elsevier is numerology: what needs to be counted is what proportion of articles published yearly are Green and Gold OA.)

    Harnad, S. (2007) The Green Road to Open Access: A Leveraged Transition. In: Anna Gacs. The Culture of Periodicals from the Perspective of the Electronic Age. L’Harmattan. 99-106. http://eprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/13309/

    Harnad, S. (2010) The Immediate Practical Implication of the Houghton Report: Provide Green Open Access Now. Prometheus, 28 (1). pp. 55-59. http://eprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/18514

    Harnad, S. (2011) Gold Open Access Publishing Must Not Be Allowed to Retard the Progress of Green Open Access Self-Archiving. Logos: The Journal of the World Book Community. 21(3-4): 86-93 http://eprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/21818/

    Poynder, Richard (2011) Open Access by Numbers, Open and Shut, 19 June 2011 http://poynder.blogspot.com/2011/06/open-access-by-numbers.html

  2. Andy Farke Says:

    Green OA is great, and I support it, for those who have an institution with a long-term digital document repository. Unfortunately, Gold OA is the only option available for many of us. If you have practical ideas on Green OA repositories for those of us paleontologists who are not at institutions with such libraries, I’m all ears!

  3. Mike Taylor Says:

    Stevan. I agree with the title of your article “Gold Open Access Publishing Must Not Be Allowed to Retard the Progress of Green Open Access Self-Archiving”. But I also believe that Green Open Access Self-Archiving Must Not Be Allowed to Retard the Progress of Gold Open Access Publishing. I worry that the strength and consistency of your beating the Green OA drum could give the impression that you are opposed to Gold OA. Say it ain’t so.

  4. Matt Wedel Says:

    Hi Stevan, thanks for the thoughts and the links. I agree that Green OA has the potential to cut the supports out from under commercial closed-access publishing. But settling for Green OA is also to some extent an admission of defeat, ceding control of the final published versions of research works to the publishers who claim to own them. We don’t accept that. We’re swinging for the fences, not trying to get on first. And I see no necessary conflict in agitating for Gold OA while practicing Green OA–something Mike and I (and many others) have been doing for some time (in the half-assed sense of making our papers freely available through personal websites–I agree with Andy that institutional repositories are great once they exist, but not all of us have them or are in a position to call them into existence).

  5. Mike Taylor Says:

    Actually, I am not really convinced by institutional repositories. Having been at Portsmouth in 2009, UCL in 2010 and Bristol in 2011, I really don’t want to have my work sprinkled across a bunch of different repositories. Subject repositories seem like a better bet. Better still, something like arXiv, which just has everything in it.


  6. [...] A couple of days ago, we noted that PLoS ONE publishes more open-access articles in a month that all of Elsevier’s 2637 journals put together publish in a year.  This time I would like to consider why that is. [...]


  7. [...] well, that doesn’t sound great to me.”  Especially as the evidence suggests that Elsevier can’t compete on a level playing-field with the likes of PLoS [...]


  8. [...] really.  The way things are now, it’s no wonder that PLoS ONE publishes more open-access articles in a month than all of Elsevier’s 2637 journals put t…. Share this:FacebookRedditTwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Posted by Mike [...]


  9. [...] (i.e. a subscription journal with an optional open-access fee) doesn’t really work. Certainly Elsevier have had astonishingly low uptake, and there are good reasons for this. I’ve heard that JVP‘s optional-OA uptake has been [...]


  10. [...] for 2010 are no longer on Elsevier’s Sponsored Articles page, but happily we quoted it in an older SV-POW! post: 691 Elsevier articles across some six hundred journals were sponsored in 2010. Sponsorship [...]


  11. […] (i.e. a subscription journal with an optional open-access fee) doesn’t really work. Certainly Elsevier have had astonishingly low uptake, and there are good reasons for this. [...] I think that hybrid is really a bit of a fig-leaf […]


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