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Everything you ever wanted to know about open access (but were afraid to ask!)

October 25, 2018

By Christopher Tancock

Everything you ever wanted to know about open access


A comprehensive resource for Elsevier editors when it comes to understanding OA

If you have questions and feel confused about OA then you’re by no means alone. “Green”, “gold”, “hybrid”, “embargo period”, “APC” – these are all commonly-used terms but what precisely do they mean? With the advent of Open Access Week 2018opens in new tab/window, we thought it would be a good idea to unpack the topic of OA and examine how it works for your journal and authors. The associated questions regarding access, policies and practices can become complicated so we hope that this and the related articles serve as a useful resource for the future. It’s important to note from the outset, though, that this is a rapidly-moving area so for the most up-to-date information, make sure to check back regularly, visit Editors’ Hub and never hesitate to reach out to your publishing contact if you have questions.

Back to basics: what is open access?

Open access (OA) in its simplest form essentially describes permanent, free and public access to research. Referred to as “public access” in some geographies, OA comes in two main “flavours”: gold and green. With the gold model – which is a business model in its own right – the final version of the article in question is immediately made freely available to anyone upon publication. The cost of publishing the article is recovered upfront by means of an article publishing charge (APC). At Elsevier, our APCs range from c. $150-c. $5,000 USD excluding tax per journal (you can verify the specific price on your journal’s homepage).

Green OA on the other hand relies on the traditional subscription model to operate. It allows authors to make a version of the article (usually the accepted manuscript) freely available, for example in their institutional repository, usually after a set period of time – an “embargo period”. As green OA relies on the subscription model and is not a separate business model in its own right, an embargo period is needed to allow the subscription model to operate before free versions of articles are made publicly available. At Elsevier, in setting the embargo period, we strive for a balance between enabling sharing at the earliest opportunity and ensuring that the journals themselves are able to operate sustainably. There are many ways in which authors can share versions of their subscription article at different stages in the publication process.

Though gold OA is steadily increasing in popularity, it is worth bearing in mind that the traditional subscription model is still by far the most common, representing over 80% of the total number of articles published globally last year. What’s more, the number of subscription articles published each year continues to grow. Therefore, unless you happen to edit a fully gold OA journal, it’s most likely that the majority of articles you’re dealing with will be subscription, though authors might of course go on to share their article via green OA.

Elsevier’s approach

At Elsevier, we’re determined to ensure that all the many research communities that we serve are able to publish in high quality journals, whatever their or their funders’/institutions’ policies and preferences. We constantly monitor the changing needs of our research partners so that we can respond appropriately. We know, for example, that in some areas there is a marked preference for green OA whereas in others gold is the norm. As such, it’s perhaps no surprise that Elsevier is the largest enabler of green OA – as well as being a leading gold OA publisher.

Looking at the options for authors when publishing with Elsevier, we have more than 170 fully gold OA journalsopens in new tab/window (that is, titles where gold OA is the sole publishing option). If not a fully gold OA title, yours might be one of our over 1,850 hybrid journals – i.e. those that operate two business models in the same journal and where one can either elect to publish either via the subscription model or via gold OA. Regardless of the publishing model, we do not charge subscribers for open access articles. That means, when calculating subscription prices, we only take into account subscription articles: we do not “double dip”. We also provide two open access reuse licenses for authors to choose how they wish others to be able to reuse their article. By the way, if you’re looking for details of the OA options and arrangements on your journal, check out its homepage and click on the “[supports] open access” tab.

When it comes to green OA; we’ve got you (and your authors) covered, too… All our (2,500+) titles provide a green OA option. We’re also supporters of CHORUS and we regularly support pilots with institutions and international funders. These pilots can lead to agreements which help to implement open access policies in a sustainable way for both the academic community, our journals and the wider public. What’s more, we operate a system of “open archives” in around 100 journals (including Cell Press).

What’s your role as editor?

As noted above, we want to ensure that all authors can find an option that suits their individual preferences. You’re ideally placed to let us know if the needs of your subject area are changing. As such, you can act as the voice of your community to prompt us as we continue to evolve our offerings to keep pace with authors' needs.

At the same time, you’re an external conduit for authors, too and can help to point them towards the information they need to publish, whether that’s the OA resources tab on your journal homepage or our guidelines on how to share and promote an article. In any case, our advice is to keep in regular contact with your publisher – they will be your first point of reference if there’s anything with which you need assistance, or if you have any feedback to pass on.

We hope that the above has been useful in exploring the complex field of OA and its varieties, processes and considerations. Read more about the topic in our related article and check out the OA Q&A for advice on specific themes. Please comment below if you have further questions or get in touch with your regular publishing contact.