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The Academic, Economic and Societal Impacts of Open Access: An Evidence-Based Review


The Academic, Economic and Societal Impacts of Open Access: An Evidence-Based Review

Jonathan P Tennant et al. F1000Res.


Ongoing debates surrounding Open Access to the scholarly literature are multifaceted and complicated by disparate and often polarised viewpoints from engaged stakeholders. At the current stage, Open Access has become such a global issue that it is critical for all involved in scholarly publishing, including policymakers, publishers, research funders, governments, learned societies, librarians, and academic communities, to be well-informed on the history, benefits, and pitfalls of Open Access. In spite of this, there is a general lack of consensus regarding the potential pros and cons of Open Access at multiple levels. This review aims to be a resource for current knowledge on the impacts of Open Access by synthesizing important research in three major areas: academic, economic and societal. While there is clearly much scope for additional research, several key trends are identified, including a broad citation advantage for researchers who publish openly, as well as additional benefits to the non-academic dissemination of their work. The economic impact of Open Access is less well-understood, although it is clear that access to the research literature is key for innovative enterprises, and a range of governmental and non-governmental services. Furthermore, Open Access has the potential to save both publishers and research funders considerable amounts of financial resources, and can provide some economic benefits to traditionally subscription-based journals. The societal impact of Open Access is strong, in particular for advancing citizen science initiatives, and leveling the playing field for researchers in developing countries. Open Access supersedes all potential alternative modes of access to the scholarly literature through enabling unrestricted re-use, and long-term stability independent of financial constraints of traditional publishers that impede knowledge sharing. However, Open Access has the potential to become unsustainable for research communities if high-cost options are allowed to continue to prevail in a widely unregulated scholarly publishing market. Open Access remains only one of the multiple challenges that the scholarly publishing system is currently facing. Yet, it provides one foundation for increasing engagement with researchers regarding ethical standards of publishing and the broader implications of 'Open Research'.

Keywords: Altmetrics; Copyright; Incentive System; Open Access; Open Citation Advantage; Open Science, Text and Data Mining; Publishing.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing interests: JPT currently blogs for the PLOS Paleo Community, and works for ScienceOpen. CHJH is a Center for Open Science ambassador. DCJ and FW are members of the Open Access Working Group of EURODOC. PM is a Research Data Alliance member. LBC works for the University of Pittsburgh, which has an Open Access library publishing department. All views presented here are strictly personal.


Figure 1.
Figure 1.. Percentage increase in research articles in PubMed Central, relative to 2000.
Since 2004, the growth rate of OA articles is significantly higher than that of non-OA articles.
Figure 2.
Figure 2.. Studies that investigated the citation advantage grouped by their conclusion.
The majority concluded that there is a significant citation advantage for Open Access articles. Source: Data from The Open Access Citation Advantage Service, SPARC Europe, accessed March 2016.
Figure 3.
Figure 3.. Cumulative number of Open Access policies adopted by multiple research organisations, funder and research organisation, sub-unit of research organisation, funder, and research organisation.
Figures are given at the beginning of each year. Source: ROARMAP, accessed March 2016.

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Grant support

This research was partly funded by the Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research through a FRIA grant. PM acknowledges support from the European Commission Horizon 2020 Programme under Grant Agreement 634107 (PHC32-2014) ‘MULTIMOT’.