Open Access Week – The State of Open Access in 2016

Open Access Week International by Nick Shockey - Hindawi Blog

Sometime in October or November of 2001, the words “Open Access” first appeared in bold font at the top of


In December of that year, a small group of advocates for open science, including representatives from BioMed Central and the Public Library of Science, met at the Open Society Institute in Budapest to agree on a definition for the emerging OA publishing model. The following February, those representatives published the “Budapest Open Access Initiative,” and modern OA publishing was born.

The BOAI will be turning 15 this year, and continues to provide the authoritative definition of OA.

“…free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself.”

To mark OA week in 2016, we thought we’d look back at how far OA publishing has come and where it stands today.

By the numbers, OA has made great progress this year. The Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA) released totals in July on the OA articles published by its members. In 2015, OASPA’s members published 160,000 articles in fully OA journals, up from just over 40,000 articles in 2010. OASPA now has more than 100 members, including publishers big and small, traditional and OA from their inception.

OA’s share of the publishing market has more than doubled in the last five years.  For the Gold OA model, Michael Eisen, founder of PLoS, estimates that perhaps 20% of articles are now available openly at publication. Speaking at the Frankfurt Book Fair last week, Carlos Moedas of the European Commission announced that Europe has now passed a “tipping point,” with more than 50% of scientific articles available in some form of OA. While this may include long-embargoed postprints or hybrid OA, it’s a big number.

But these lofty totals mask a shift in the source of OA’s growth, and signs that the OA movement still has wrinkles to work out.

The OA business at traditional publishers is booming. The two largest subscription publishers, Elsevier and Springer Nature, are seeing remarkable growth in their OA publishing programs. This year Nature’s Scientific Reports may surpass PLOS ONE to become the largest journal in the world. The growth at Scientific Reports has been stunning: from 205 papers in 2011 to more than 17,000 papers so far this year.

Elsevier is not a member of OASPA, hence their numbers are not included in OASPA’s figures above, but their OA program is growing fast. Their new megajournal, Heliyon, has published almost 150 papers in its first 12 months of operation, without the benefit of an Impact Factor. Elsevier’s portfolio now includes more than 550 OA journals. Based on an unscientific search I conducted this week, Elsevier’s ScienceDirect platform includes 555 OA research or review articles published in 2001. By 2010 this number had grown to just over 10,000 articles, and this year they are on track to reach about 75,000 OA articles.

We’ve come a long way from days when traditional subscription publishers hired PR agents “to fight the rise of OA”.

This growth is good. It means more open science, more access to research, broader audiences for research. It should lead to better reproducibility and faster progress. But right now, that growth is coming at the cost of additional consolidation by the biggest publishers.

Diversity is also good for publishing. Competition breeds advancement, in the adoption of new business models and integration of new technologies. Independent publishers will take risks and push for change. Authors should have a choice of where and how to publish.

Speaking at the COASP conference in September, Heather Joseph of SPARC described the OA movement as entering a stage of bureaucratization. She meant this positively. OA is now established and formalizing its place in the publishing world. But bureaucratization has an ugly side too: it can lead to conformity at the expense of diversity.

At that meeting in Budapest in 2001, it took a small group of publishing outsiders making the case for OA to transform the industry. 15 years on, let’s continue to push for the growth of the OA movement without sacrificing the competition and creativity that benefits the publishing industry as a whole.

The text of this blog post is by Hindawi and is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). The Open Access Week image was modified and is attributed to Nick Shockey also under CC-BY.