What is open access?

Open Access Symbol in Magnifying Glass"Why can't I read this article?"

Traditionally, access to scholarly literature has been available only to institutions or people with subscriptions to the publishing journal. These subscriptions are not just expensive, but also increasingly out of reach even for the largest research universities. Largely, the demand for online literature has not changed this result: If your institution has a subscription to the journal in print, then you may also have access to electronic versions of the articles. But if you don't have a subscription (or have subscription access through an institution), online access is often available only behind a "paywall"--that is, if you are willing to pay money to read the particular article.


How does Open Access change things?

Transforming this system to one based on open access (OA) to scholarship means making peer-reviewed literature available online without any financial, legal, or technical barriers other than gaining access to the Internet, itself.

Eliminating barriers to readership enables everyone to have access to the research they need. A world without scholarship paywalls also advances knowledge, promotes progress, and maximizes research impact and return on investment.

OA is at its most effective in serving these goals where the scholarship is also made available with the fewest possible restrictions on reuse, thereby facilitiating broad dissemination, constructive engagement, and broader educational possibilities. In other words: OA scholarship that is not merely "available online" for free to read, but also free from a rights perspective to use freely and build upon.


OA History

For decades, many scholars, researchers, funders, students, and others have desired this open outcome. In 2002, the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) helped launch a global campaign for all new peer-reviewed literature to be made available OA. The Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge (“Berlin Declaration”) echoed this mission again in 2003, and various endeavors since then redoubled efforts to achieve these aims. As a result of these and other efforts, today approximately 15% of journal articles are OA at the time they are published.

Through the 2013 UC Academic Senate and 2015 Presidential OA policies, the University of California similarly expressed strong commitments to advancing knowledge and facilitating accessibility and impact for the incredible scholarship produced on UC campuses.


How does OA publishing work?

Publishing a scholarly article or book OA does not mean foregoing peer review or any of the other stringent editorial processes that ensure high quality scholarship. (In fact, peer review can be even carried out in more cost effective ways for OA journals.) Rather, at its core, OA is an outcome: Scholarship is published online in a way that can be read and used by anyone, and without any financial, legal, or technical barriers other than gaining access to the Internet, itself. 

So, the question, instead, is: How is OA funded? If we replace the subscription system with OA end products, who gets paid and how? The Library is a key stakeholder in evaulating, supporting, and advancing sustainable OA publishing models. We discuss many of them below.


Access Models

Two of the predominant ways that articles or monographs can be published openly online are "Gold Open Access" and "Green Open Access."

Gold Open Access: Gold OA provides immediate access to the final, publisher-version of the article on the publisher's journal website. Some Gold OA publishers recoup production costs via charges for authors to publish ("article processing charges" or "book processing charges") rather than having readers (or libraries) pay to access and read it. This is a system in which "author pays," rather than "reader pays." The fees to be paid by the author can be covered by various sources, such as: research accounts, research grants, the university, the library, scholarly societies, and consortia. Production costs can also be offset by the sale of memberships, add-ons and enhanced services by the publisher. Note that many "OA publishers" actually operate under a "hybrid" model in which they charge the library for a subscription, and ask authors to pay APCs. This results in a situation for the publishers often referred to as "double dipping," since publishers are paid twice.

Green Open Access: Also known as self-archiving, in the Green OA model authors upload a final author version of their manuscript to a repository, but usually it is not the publisher's final formatted version. This facilitates access to the content of a particular article, but not the journal, itself. UC's Open Access Policy fosters OA in this fashion. Green OA can be supported through institutional, funder, government, or other funds dedicated toward creating and maintaining a repository.



We talked above about the two predominant OA access models. Let's dig a bit more into funding options to make those models work:

  • Paying publishers an Article Processing Charge when an article is accepted for publication. The fee serves to finance publication to replace what the journal otherwise would have received under a subscription model. This is how publishers like the Public Library of Science (PLoS) and eLife are funded today. 
  • Library consortia paying negotiated amounts to publishers to make a defined set of journals Open Access. This model is currently in place for High Energy Physics with the SCOAP3 initiative — a partnership of over 3,000 libraries, key funding agencies and research centers in 44 countries and 3 intergovernmental organisations, as well as leading publishers in that discipline.

  • Paying publishers a membership fee that cover publication costs for a term. This is an innovative funding approach by newer publishers like PeerJ.

  • Supporting newer publishing platforms for scholarly journals and/or preprint archives that operate at very low cost and are subsidized by library membership fees. The Open Library of the Humanities operates on this business model.

  • Journals that operate entirely free of cost to authors or readers, thanks to endowments and subsidies from non-profit societies, philanthropic organizations, research institutions, or government agencies.

New funding approaches continue to emerge. UC Berkeley is committed to exploring these evolving models to achieve approaches that are both sustainable and reduce barriers to access and re-use.


What about OA books?

While many scholars in the humanities and social sciences publish in OA journals, they also publish scholarly books, termed “monographs”. These books become a critical component of professional credentialing, yet their readership is limited by the same kinds of access barriers endemic to subscription-based journals: The scholarly books are quite expensive, and increasingly fewer libraries can afford to purchase them.

University presses’ funding models for financing OA books are innovative and evolving. UC Press’ Luminos program, for instance, is formulated as a partnership in which costs and benefits are shared by member organizations. Many academic publishers also offer a print or print-on-demand version of the book for sale to readers who prefer hard copies, further enabling cost recovery through traditional print sales. 

At their core, most OA book funding models typically charge academic authors the equivalent of an APC. Given the greater investment needed to create and edit longer and more complex manuscripts, the book processing charges (BPCs) can range upwards of $7000. At UC Berkeley, we can help subsidize those fees through our BRII program so that authors' out-of-pocket is zero or substantially reduced--with the upshot being that the resulting literature is available to all.