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Open Access: What it is and what it is not

The recent rapid explosion of online publishing and the parallel emergence of “open access” publishing has created a huge challenge – and heaps of confusion – for publishers, editors, and authors in all scientific disciplines, nursing included!  To add to the confusion, there is now an abundance of shady practices that affect anyone who engages in scholarly and academic work coming ebookwormfrom  “predatory” publishers. In this post I will explain basic facts about the concept of “open access” in journal publishing.

First, here is a brief description of terms often confused with “open access” with explanations particularly related to ANS

Open Access refers to a business model that requires an article processing charge (APC) to cover the cost of publication and to retain the copyright, in place of the traditional subscription fees that readers pay for access to the copyright-protected content of the journal. This is known as the “gold” open access model. Open Access journals or articles are financially possible because the author has paid the cost of publishing, making the content available to anyone without a subscription fee. The author holds the copyright and can use and distribute the published article as they wish.  This model emerged because of the worthy intent that scientific findings need to be readily and easily accessible for other scientists to build on, and for the public benefit without the barrier of subscription fees. Occasionally publishers will use what is known as a “green” open access model; they do not require the “gold” APC, but they give a “green light” to an author to self-archive their pre-publication manuscript in an open repository. ANS is now a “hybrid” journal, meaning that it remains a traditional subscription journal with the “gold open access” option for the author, meaning that after their manuscript is accepted for publication, the author can pay an Article Processing Charge (APC) to retain copyright of their article and to make their published article immediately and permanently available to the public.  The APC for an ANS article is currently $2500 USD.

Public Access refers to a requirement of a funding agency stipulating that funded research results be made available to the public regardless of who holds the copyright, usually after an embargo period. If the content is published in an open access journal, the funding agency or other institutional support may cover the APC.  If the journal is a traditional subscription journal, there are guidelines that publishers and funding agencies follow that stipulate certain embargo requirements, meaning the content is only made available to the public several months (usually 6 to 12) after the publication date of the journal. The ANS publisher (Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins) complies fully with the requirements of funding agencies to provide public access of all material published in ANS that is based on research the agency funded.

Free Access refers to voluntary release of selected copyright-restricted content to the public as a marketing tool, or as a service to the profession.  ANS provides free access for about a two week period for articles that appear in our current issue, with the current featured articles listed on the ANS home page. Free access content is subject to the restriction of copyright – the fact that it is free does not mean that you can freely share articles you download for free!  If you follow this blog, you already know that we feature each of the articles here on the blog, with messages from the authors, during the time that they are available for free access.

Pay to Publish is a relatively new term that refers to the practice of using Article Processing Charges (APCs) for personal gain – also known as predatory publishing. Predatory “pay to publish” practices side-step the standards of editorial integrity that assure sound content, and that assure permanent discoverability of the content.

Legitimate open access publications maintain strict adherence to editorial standards of integrity that assure the value and worth of the content of the journal.  If a publication is “open access” it does not mean that it is published more rapidly than traditional print journals, and in fact adequate editorial and peer review takes time regardless of the business model used to sustain the publication. There is a relatively minor time efficiency involved in digital publishing, regardless of the business model used to support the publication.  For example, open access journals published online are not restricted by print deadlines and release dates. Journals that are essentially subscription journals will release selected content online ahead of print and will provide free access for the “early view” articles until the publication release date.

The International Academy of Nursing Editors (INANE) has recently launched an initiative to inform all readers of nursing journals about the pitfalls of predatory practices, and to assure our readers of the standards of publishing integrity that we uphold in our journals. We launched this initiative with the publication of a collaborative statement – Predatory Publishing: What Editors Need to Know – available now in the “Nurse Author & Editor” newsletter – you can register on the site for free access to the newsletters!  An ANS editorial related to this project will appear in the next issue, (Volume 38:1, January – March 2015) – so watch for this coming soon!

Do you have questions or comments to share?  Share your thoughts here!

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. This is an extremely misleading article. If you are going to title your article “Open access: what it is and what it is not” it would be good to get the terms right.

    For instance, this is not true: “Open Access refers to a business model that requires an author processing charge (APC)”. Most gold open access journals in the Directory of Open Access Journals do /not/ require an APC. Gold does /not/ refer to a specific business model, but rather the point of delivery.

    November 27, 2014
  2. The very first sentence “defining” OA is completely wrong. Suggest author does some proper research about what OA is. It is not a “business model” at all. APCs represent a MINORITY of OA publications. Yes, “predatory” publishing exists in OA journals, but fortunately is a minor (though irritating and unhelpful) aspect of the OA scene.

    November 27, 2014
    • Thank you for pointing out your perspective on this, and I do acknowledge that my definition here differs from the standpoint that is widely accepted and reflected in the definitions based on the Budapest Open Access Initiative, including the definitions provided by the “Directory of Open Access journals” ( However, even though the definition that the “Directory” has published does not see OA as a business model per se, it does acknowledge that there are costs associated with OA publishing, and that there are several business models other than the APC fee that are compatible with legitimate OA publishing. I am presenting here the perspective that is consistent with the journal I edit, published by Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, and from this publisher’s standpoint, the business model we are using employs APC – ANS has adopted a “hybrid” model, remaining a subscription journal that provides authors the option to pay the APC to retain copyright and have their work published Open Access.

      On the issue of predatory publishing .. this is not a minor issue in nursing and health care, and it is far more serious than simply being irritating. Nursing scholars’ email inboxes are overflowing with solicitations from predatory publishers, and all too many health care practitioners have yet to understand the serious consequence of publishing in journals that do not properly vet the validity of their content. Literature in our discipline has real and serious consequences for practice, so we are taking this very seriously. Another connection here that is important for our readers to understand – predatory publishers employ Author Processing Charges as their business model, but use these funds for personal gain.

      So thank you again for your comments .. our discussion here is essential to better understanding!

      November 27, 2014
  3. coppenheim #

    Thank you for acknowledging your definition of OA is not the widely accepted one, and I trust you have noted the point that the majority of “gold” articles do NOT involve APCs. You claim that predatory publishing is a problem in nursing, but it would only be a problem if a significant number of authors fell for the scam. Do they? How many nursing articles have appeared in predatory journals? If you don’t know, you cannot claim it is a problem. I said it was an irritation because of the constant spam e mails inviting scholars to contribute, the point you also make. I get at least one a day, but simply delete them, along with e mails telling me that someone in Africa is dying and wants to pass me $4,500,000 they have stashed away. Unless people fall for the scam, this is an irritation, not a real problem.

    November 28, 2014
    • How many nursing authors have published in predatory journals? That’s a good question because there is no easy way to find out, short of going to the various journal websites and counting up the articles one-by-one (which I am not going to do, thank you very much!). Because these journals aren’t indexed by legitimate companies (CINAHL, Medline, etc) there isn’t any way to easily quantify the actual number of nurse authors who have fallen for the scam. Just because we don’t know the number doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem. I advise potential authors about publishing opportunities and regularly receive requests asking for my opinion on various solicitation emails they have received. Just because you are able to instantly recognize spam emails doesn’t mean that everyone is able to do so–especially junior faculty who are a little bit paralyzed by the publications that they are expected to achieve (along with teaching, service, student advisement and so on) and feeling a little gun-shy about the whole process after receiving a few blunt, nasty rejection letters.

      November 30, 2014

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