SOAP and the challenges of publishing in OA journals

Added by Stephane Goldstein on 18 January 2011 19:28

In March 2009, RIN, in association with Universities UK, issued its guidance on paying for open access (OA) publication charges. This set out the sort of steps that could usefully be taken by HE institutions, research funders, publishers and researchers themselves to facilitate the payment of OA publication fees; to make relevant procedures clearer and more transparent; and generally to comply with any funders’ requirements to make published outputs available free of charge to readers.

Now, almost two years on, the conclusions of the Study of Open Access Publishing (SOAP) project include some sobering thoughts on the continuing difficulties faced by researchers who are interested in seeing their material published in OA. This study, funded by the European Commission and covering a wide range of countries across the globe, got off the ground roughly at the same as the issuing of the RIN-UUK guidance.

In the first place, the extent of this interest is in itself noteworthy. Only five or six years ago, awareness of OA publishing among researchers was relatively low, and a degree of scepticism about its potential prevailed. The SOAP findings, on the basis of a large international survey sample, demonstrate that the overwhelming majority of researchers - almost 90% - believe that their research fields benefits or would benefit from journals that publish OA articles. This is a big cultural shift, which applies pretty uniformly across all disciplinary areas; moreover, the benefits are perceived as applying in the short to medium term (under five years), rather than at some hypothetical time in the future. The top reasons cited for this are scientific community benefit, financial issues and public good - so a good deal of altruism here.

However, it is the case that internationally, no more than 10% of articles are published in OA or hybrid journals. So there remains a yawning gap between yearning and practice. Why? SOAP provides some possible answers, not least that researchers remain uncertain about obtaining funding to meet OA publication fees. When asked about their reasons for not publishing in OA, 39% of them stated funding issues - the biggest factor by some stretch, ahead of perceived journal quality. Over half, 54%, claimed that it is difficult to obtain funds, against 31% who find it easy. Although in practice some 52% of authors ultimately have their OA fees paid by their institution or the relevant funding agency (but there are some major variations here between disciplines and countries), a small but not insignificant minority - 12% - end up by meeting the cost themselves.

This is no more than a snapshot of the SOAP findings, but they suggest that, although there has been progress in making publication in OA journals more acceptable and even desirable, there is still some way to go before the sentiments underlying the RIN-UUK guidance are borne out by practice.


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