Open Access Publishing

In Authors and Open Access Publishing, Swan and Brown (2004) investigated the preferences of a large sample size of journal authors, and they attempted to determine these authors’ preferences and rationales in choosing either Open Access journals (OA) or traditional subscription-based journals (NOA) for publication. Swan and Brown sent out invitations to 3,000 authors who had published in OA journals, and 5,000 authors who had only published in NOA. Journal subjects were closely matched between each group to ensure common publishing-area interests among respondents.

I was surprised by the small percentage of respondents compared to how many invitations were actually sent out. Only 154 responses were received from the first group and 160 from the second. I imagine Swan and Brown had a predetermined number of authors they wanted to use in their study. But the invitations greatly exceeded the number of participants. It seemed like the majority of authors did not wish to partake in a study of either this magnitude or perhaps this level of contention (as the open access concept started out as a bit of a moral tickler). That was my initial reaction… that the majority of respondents probably declined because they wished to keep their publishing preferences anonymous.

Regarding the study itself, Swan and Brown found that OA authors valued their preference of publication because of the principle of free access, faster publication times, larger perceived readership, and larger perceived citations than NOA. For NOA authors, reasons included unfamiliarity with OA journals, fear of career-changing consequences, lack of grant money to be awarded through OA, and the belief that OA journals were inferior in terms of readership and prestige.

But justifications for using one platform over and above another were surprisingly similar between each group. Respondents on both sides of the aisle justified their reasons using essentially the same answers: “Ours has more citations;” “Ours has a larger readership;” “Ours has distinguished names,” etc. etc. This, I believe, was due to the likely proclivity of defending what was familiar and not alien to these authors. It definitely demonstrates bias on the part of the authors, but I think it is just as likely that this bias came from institutional resistance to OA. Indeed, I imagine that academics choose to publish in a specific journal because it is sponsored by or identified with given institutions of higher learning. Institutional resistance to OA, therefore, is a likely factor.

This study is the second one done by Swan and Brown on the subject of open access. Their previous study was conducted just two years before this one in 2002, and the majority of respondents in the earlier study were not even familiar with the concept of open access. This seems to indicate that the publishing industry had changed dramatically between those two short years. We are seeing a continuation of this change with the greater and more diverse number of options becoming available in the open access publishing market.

Of special note is the fact that both study groups thought that their preferred publication method carried with it more prestige. It seems, then, that those authors publishing in OA journals have done the legwork of investigating their journals and have come to learn that there are open access publishers who are just as respectable and endowed monetarily as some traditional journals. Therefore, the fear that OA is inferior seems to be rooted in simple ignorance of the options available. More than half of the NOA authors indicated that they could not find an OA journal to publish in. I think that for a lot them, they just went with what they knew or used since the start of their careers.

This study was lacking in one major area, though. The age groups of the respondents were not given. It would have been interesting to see if the OA authors were younger than the NOA authors. I have a sneaking suspicion that there is a Digital Native/Digital Immigrant dynamic at play here.


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