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Questions and answers about Elsevier and open access

A publisher shares their best practice for editors on responding to OA-related questions

© istockphoto.com/erhui1979
© istockphoto.com/erhui1979

If you have questions and feel confused about OA then you’re by no means alone! Around Open Access week 2018, we are focusing on OA and related matters. In this third piece from a linked-series of related articles, we share some commonly-received questions from editors and look at the responses offered by one of our publishing professionals.

Emma Ducker is a publisher in Elsevier's social science group and has a wealth of experience about open access. Here she offers her input on the top-ten questions received from editors:


Q: How come, if open access is growing, you still charge for so many articles?

Emma: Though open access is growing consistently, you might be surprised to hear that the subscription model is still by far the most prevalent among authors. The number of subscription articles continues to grow year-on-year, moreover. Subscription articles accounted for over 80 percent of the global total in 2017, a growth of around 1-4 percent on average across the industry vs. 2016. It’s important to note that we do not charge subscribers for OA articles – we don’t “double dip”.

Q: What does the APC pay for?

Emma: An APC covers the cost of publishing your article, making it freely and immediately available to everyone. We take a number of factors into account when setting APCs including the journal’s bibliometric quality (e.g. Impact Factor), editorial and technical processes, competitive considerations, market conditions and other revenue streams that might be associated with the journal. For more information on this, I’d encourage you to have a look at our pricing page where this is laid out in greater detail.

Q: My authors keep asking me how they can share their articles… What do I tell them?

Emma: At Elsevier, we support responsible sharing and provide a broad range of ways authors can share their articles at all stages of the publication process. Gold open access articles can be shared immediately and broadly, in line with the article’s reuse license. If publishing under the subscription model, green OA is also an option: authors can share their accepted manuscript publicly via their institutional repositories after embargo, for example. We’ve set up a useful summary page on how to share and promote your article. Be sure to make use of your ShareLinks, which are a great way of providing free access to your article for 50 days after publication.

Q: How come there is an embargo period on my journal?

Emma: I suppose the first thing to say is that green OA is not a business model in its own right. Green OA relies on the subscription model and an embargo period is therefore needed to allow time for the journal to operate before free versions of articles are shared publicly. In setting the embargo period, we try to hit the right balance between enabling sharing at the earliest opportunity and ensuring that the journals themselves are able to operate sustainably. Our embargo periods are evidence-based, and we review them bi-annually. What’s more, we actively work with funding bodies to ensure that authors are able to publish with us whilst respecting their obligations.

Q: Where do I find the embargo period for my journal?

Emma: In a nutshell, have a look here: https://www.elsevier.com/about/open-science/open-access/journal-embargo-finder. The information is also available via the open access tab from your journal homepage, however. 

Q: What is the difference between “free” and “open” articles?

Emma: I can see why there is confusion around this topic, so let me try and clarify things. “Free” = (usually) time limited or promotional access for an article, regardless of the publication model. This might be for marketing purposes, for example. There’s no change to the copyright. “Open” access on the other hand = permanent public access potentially involving different publication licenses.

Q: OA seems to have become the dominant model in my community. How can the journal respond to this?

Emma: If you become aware of changes in your community, talk to your publishing contact! This sort of feedback is incredibly useful as we never want to be in a position where members of your research community can’t publish with us. It’s possible, for example, that we might need to consider whether changing business model is appropriate. When making such a decision, we look at feedback from the community and examine how many authors seem to want/are able to publish OA. At the end of the day, our strategy is all about ensuring maximum choice – we don’t want to close off access for anyone. Flipping your journal to gold OA might sound like a great plan, but if 30 percent of your authors aren’t funded, they’d be effectively blocked from publishing in your title.

Q: I’m hearing a lot about “Plan S” at the moment. What does it mean for my journal?

Emma: Plan S is still very much a work in progress (it’s more a set of principles at the moment than a substantive list of mandates for what’s to happen when). That being said, we look forward to being part of the discussions regarding implementation in the same way that we have had talks with key players such as Robert Jan Smits (the plan's architect) in the lead up to Plan S’ publication. We are well placed of course as a leading OA publisher and the largest enabler of green OA, and we appreciate that our input is valued. What’s more, we also have extensive experience of managing relationships with funders, with over 40 funding body agreements enabling compliance with OA policies. Our ongoing priority is to ensure that authors can continue to choose the journals and models of publication best suited to their research needs and that we continue to maintain the high quality of our journals. In practice, that means that we will keep experimenting and adjusting where necessary to keep pace with the needs of the communities we serve. Finally, I think it is worth remembering that Plan S is a significant, but still “local” initiative, and our solutions should cater for the needs of the global community.

Q: What does it mean when authors ask which license they can have on their article?

Emma: Elsevier uses an exclusive license agreement for gold open access articles which allows users to retain copyright. The user license of an article determines how readers can share and use your article without the need to request permission. In fact, at Elsevier we give authors a choice of user licenses, so they can select the license which best suits their type of research. Both options allow the author to retain copyright, however.

Q: What’s the best business model for my journal?

Emma: There is no correct answer to this question since no one size fits all. What works in one context for one set of authors might prove impossible for another group. When determining the business model for any journal, we analyze the needs and practices of the community it serves. As publishers, we’re not here to restrict or impose choice. Our goal is simply to ensure that all members of research community can publish with us. That usually means being flexible and providing a range of options for authors.


We hope the above has been useful to shed some light on a number of the most common questions about OA and Elsevier’s options for authors. Do you have another burning question that’s not been answered here? If so, feel free to post it below in the comments (we’ll do our best to answer it) or raise it with your own publisher.

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