A lot of academics like to complain about the academic publishing industry and its questionable practices (e.g. not paying reviewers for their work, overcharging universities for subscriptions, preventing public access to publicly funded research etc.). The answer seems to be moving to open access journals/non-profit publishers.

My question is: can anyone share the story of a reputable scientific community (of reasonable size) that has made a full switch to open access publication? What made it work?

  • It's too early to call it a full success yet, but the European Plan S should be of interest. The switch is set for 2020.
    – Anyon
    Jan 7, 2019 at 1:32
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    Making a full switch is a pretty high bar for defining success.
    – Fomite
    Jan 7, 2019 at 2:19
  • Several fields have had success in having open-access preprints on arxiv and similar sites. Does that count?
    – Thomas
    Jan 7, 2019 at 2:21
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    Perhaps the word success is ambiguous. Here’s a more quantitative metric: are there fields where people can get publish 90% of their work in open access venues and still get tenure/be considered pillars of the community?
    – Spark
    Jan 7, 2019 at 5:40

3 Answers 3


The great success story of open access is arxiv.org. Wikipedia claims that "in many fields of mathematics and physics, almost all scientific papers are self-archived on the arXiv repository." There is no citation for this claim and I couldn't find a study, but certainly there are subfields where a very high fraction of papers go on arXiv.org.

It's also a fact that all serious journals in these fields allow authors to post preprints on arXiv. I would say that "all authors can make all their papers freely available with minimal effort" is success. This latter statement is backed up by data; just go to SHERPA/RoMEO and search for e.g. journals with "math" in the name. The first page of 50 results doesn't show a single one that prohibits preprint archiving.

The dominant publisher (SIAM) in my field (applied math) allows authors to post the final published article on personal or institutional websites, for no charge. When they adopted this policy, they also made it apply retroactively to all articles ever published by them. I'd call that success.

I wouldn't necessarily consider a wholesale move to author-pay journals to be a similar success, since the author-pay model (as implemented by many for-profit publishers) siphons off just as much money that was intended for research as the (for-profit) subscription model does.

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    bioRxiv is picking up popularity in the life sciences as well, especially with computational and theoretical biology (since they’re familiar with arxiv and GitHub repos already).
    – Tom Kelly
    Jan 7, 2019 at 5:18
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    No, author-pay needs not be as expensive as subscriptions. With author-pay, journals compete on price (among other variables). With subscriptions, the disconnection between who chooses the journal (the author) and who pays (the reader) makes prices hard to control. Jan 7, 2019 at 20:00

I think Machine Learning (and much of computer science) is a good example. As far as I know, all the major venues (conferences) are open access, plus much of the work also appears on arxiv. I believe it is possible to get tenure as a machine learning researcher without ever publishing in a closed-access venue.

As for why this is the case:

  1. The cost of the publishing process is met through registration fees from conference attendees (and sponsorships). In effect, it is pay-to-publish, but it is tied in with the cost of renting a physical space for the conference and providing food/coffee etc., so people don’t think of it as such.
  2. Machine learning is a very young field that matured in the computer age and it is filled with tech-savvy researchers who are quick to adopt new systems. That means it is not burdened by historical baggage.
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    I agree, while JMLR, AIJ etc. are not quite open source, it is still possible to just publish in conferences. However, they are most certainly not free (and their costs are increasing...)
    – Spark
    Jan 7, 2019 at 8:44
  • @Spark Indeed, many authors struggle with the cost of attending conferences, especially if they must fly in from a remote corner of the world. Many ML journals including JMLR are open access.
    – Thomas
    Jan 7, 2019 at 8:54
  • Ah yes, JMLR is - sorry! AIJ is not however, though JAIR is. I suppose that it's fine journal-wise, but conferences are truly exorbitant.
    – Spark
    Jan 7, 2019 at 9:01

The computational biology community is pretty heavily into open-access. The top field-specific journals, such as PLoS Computational Biology and Bioinformatics are open access, in-fact, I can't think of any computational biology specific journals that are not open-access.

Of the two top journals in the related field of genomics, Genome biology and Genome Research, Genome Biology is fully open access, while Genome Research open-accesses its articles after 6 months.

Of course people in these fields still publish in the top general science and biology journals - Science, Nature, Cell, PNAS; which are not open-access, but it would be very unusual for a computational biologist publishing in these venues not to either preprint on bioarXiv or use the gold open access streams at these journals.

Its difficult to say the field has fully made the "switch" as computational biologists publish all over the place, but publishing close-access with a preprint, Gold access, or putting up an author-version copy on an institutional repository, is very much a community taboo, and would earn you a rebuke on twitter and funny looks at conferences.

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