Open access myths – how about some evidence?

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Many people (people who should know better) still rely on anecdotal evidence to form their opinions about open access. While academic publishing is complex — and the situation we find ourselves in is far from ideal and changes every day — we still hear a lot of things about open access that should be examined with a more critical eye.

Publishing open access benefits others but not the author

It’s not difficult to imagine that you’ll get increased reads and downloads of your research outputs if people can do those things but increasingly research also shows a clear citation advantage for work that can be accessed by anybody who wants to. A recent large-scale study(1) estimates 18% more citations on average than ‘closed’ research. So, although there can be a financial cost to the author’s institution or research project (not actually the author in most cases(2)) there are clear benefits here too.

The only way to make my work open access is to pay to publish

Not true. There are a lot of good, free OA journals (see the next myth) but, even if the journal you really want to publish in is subscription-only, most journals now allow you to post pre-publication versions of your work in stable, non-commercial places like our OUR Archive, our institutional research repository.(3) This is increasingly true when writing book chapters too. Come to a workshop if you want to understand your rights as an author to use your own work in the ways you want to.

Most OA journals charge fees

Actually the opposite is true. The Directory of Open Access journals currently lists 9441 English-language journals, with 6485 (69%) of those free to publish in. It is true that the more prestigious an OA journal is the more likely it will be to charge the author(s) a fee and the higher that fee will be and this can mean you can’t publish in your journal of choice. But it’s worth noting that, even for journals that normally charge, in research done here at Otago in 2016, 36% of survey respondents indicated that an OA journal waived their fee for one reason or another.(4)

OA journals are lower quality

This old chestnut. Yes there are a lot of poor journals that happen to use author fees to fund their operation and don’t provide any value in terms of review or editorial input. But don’t confuse open access journals with predatory journals — those that send you those phishing emails every day. There are plenty of good OA journals, just as there are poor quality non-OA journals. Quality is a product of the work of editors, reviewers and authors and has nothing to do with the business model a journal uses. When you’re considering *any* publication venue you’re not sure about: check with colleagues, look at/assess their editorial or review practices, find out if they are members of recognised quality evaluation mechanisms like the Committee on Publication Ethics. provides a useful checklist of things to consider.

Richard White is the Manager, Copyright and Open Access at the University of Otago.

This is the first in a series of posts for Open Access week. The comments can be used below for discussion or debate. Otago staff can refer to our Open Access Policy and associated Guidelines.


(1) Piwowar H, Priem J, Larivière V, Alperin JP, Matthias L, Norlander B, Farley A, West J, Haustein S. (2018The state of OA: a large-scale analysis of the prevalence and impact of Open Access articlesPeerJ 6:e4375

(2) One older large-scale study from 2011 found that 12% of researchers used their own money to fund an open access publication (Dallmeier-Tiessen et al. (2011) Highlights from the SOAP project survey. What Scientists Think about Open Access Publishing. arXiv:1101.5260v2 p. 9); at Otago we found, in 2016, this to be 6% (White, R., & Remy, M. (2016). University of Otago Open Access Publishing Survey Results: p. 18. Retrieved from

(3) See examples of such policies at Elsevier, Wiley and Springer, which all allow some form of making a pre-publication version of your work available.

(4) White and Remy (2016) p. 18.

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About Richard White

University Copyright Officer

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