Information on Open Access Publishing

Update October 2020:

Slides from the Informal Discussion on Open Access by Uta Grothkopf, 21 October 2020. 

Update May 2018:

Slides from the section on Open Access Publishing, presented during an Informal Discussion on "What to Publish Where?", ESO Library Garching, 23 May 2018. Shared presentation by Anne Klitsch, Markus Kissler, and Uta Grothkopf.

The information provided on this page is based on presentations about Open Access (OA) Publishing in Astronomy, held at ESO in June/July 2012. The presentation slides are available in PDF format, along with some notes taken during the discussion.



  • Open Access in scholarly literature means "immediate, free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search or link to the full text of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software or use them for any other lawful purpose..."
    (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Colatition (SPARC),
  • Driving concept: publicly funded research should be available for all


  • increasing interest since 1990s
  • fast rising journal subscription prices: 'serial crisis'
  • availability of internet access

Two 'flavors'

  • Green OA: self-archiving (e.g., arXiv/astro-ph, PubMedCentral, authors' homepages); this concept has known issues, e.g. retrievability and archiving/preservation
  • Gold OA: OA publishing (pure or 'hybrid' OA journals


OA Adoption Rates of Refereed Papers, 2008

A paper by Björk et al. 2010, "Open Access to the Scientific Journal Literature: Situation 2009" (PLoS ONE 5 (6): e11273. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0011273) gives an overview of the fraction of refereed papers that are available through Gold and Green OA, respectively. The graph shown below has also been included in the Wikipedia webpage on open access.


Open Access adoption rates of refereed papers by discipline

While this study indicates that 23.5% of the refereed literature published in physics and astronomy in 2008 was available through Green (20.5%) or Gold OA (3.0%), a brief study carried out by the ESO library in June 2012 shows a different picture. Using the NASA ADS Abstract Service, we inspected 785 articles published in January 2012 in the journals A&A, AJ, ApJ/ApJS, MNRAS, and PASP. We found that 25 (or 3%) of these papers were available freely on publishers' websites (mostly A&A Letters), 643 (or 82%) could be retrieved from the arXiv/astro-ph eprint server. In total, 85% of these papers were available through Green or Gold OA.

Conventional Publishing Model vs. Open Access Model ('Gold OA')

The following is a schematic overview of the conventional versus the Open Access publishing model ('Gold OA'). In the Conventional Model, authors achieve research results and prepare their manuscripts. Typically, the copyright has to be signed over to the publishers. The manuscripts are usually submitted to so-called legacy journals which have been active in astronomy for a long time and which provide a number of services, including pre-publication peer-review be international referees, copy-editing, distribution (e.g., making sure that the electronic version gets indexed by important search engines), recognition (for instance through measures like the Journal Impact Factor or through the reputation these journals have achieved among the astronomy community), and archiving/preservation. Access is based on subscriptions which provide immediate access. In addition, special forms of open access may apply, for instance delayed OA (in astronomy, core journals become available to all users after 1, 2, or 3 years), partial OA (e.g., certain section sof A&A), or through Green OA in case authors deposit their manuscripts on subject-based or institutional repositories. While the whole publishing model (conventional as well as OA) involves many hidden costs, the most visible costs in the conventional model are the subscription fees, together with pages charges, if they apply.

In the Gold OA model, authors typically retain the right to further use their manuscripts. Often a CC (Creative Commons) license is applied which governs for which purposes the paper can be used by the authors and by others. In theory, open access journals should provide the same service and quality we know from legacy journals; however, in practice unfortunately this is not always the case. Especially peer-review and recognition cause problems. Depending on the publisher, peer-review might happen on a rather regional level only instead of by an international team of referees. Recognition is often measured through the impact factor, but in order to be included in this ranking, journals have to pass a quality control by the providers of the impact factor platform (Thomson Reuters). We will come back to these issues later.

As mentioned before, access is then provided free of charge (to the reader) for everyone. The direct costs apply now at a different stage: in order to publish their manuscripts, authors are required to pay a fee. A shift has taken place from the readers-pay to the authors-pay model.

For more information on (1) and (2) see the Section on "Issues with (some) OA publishers" below.

Why is the OA model attractive for publishers?

  • Immediate income: author-pays model, no necessity to sell subscriptions
  • Production and maintenance costs relatively low: in most cases e-only
  • OA is ‘en vogue’: OA advocates, librarians, scientists have created a lot of attention; access seems to be more important than all other publishing issues
    (actual costs, authenticity, quality, ethics, preservation, sustainability...)

Why is the OA model attractive for authors?

  • Fast availability: articles are accessible immediately upon publication
  • Copyright: authors retain the right to further use their publications
  • OA mandates: institutional or government policies demanding public availability of research results (after X months)
  • High acceptance rates: temptation to publish a manuscript that would otherwise not be submitted
  • Maximum visibility / accessibility: increased downloads (and increased citations?)

Issues with (some) OA publishers

  1. Peer-review: same quality standards as for legacy journals should apply; pre-publication peer-review
    Helpful resources: 
    • list of journal editors and reviewers
    • DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals),

    Judging the quality of journals is not easy though. For instance, the astronomy section of the DOAJ lists journals published by three publishers which are under discussion:

  2. Recognition: indicators of journal quality, e.g., timeliness, content, citation analysis
    Helpful resources: 
    • Journal Citation Reports (JCR, impact factors), Thomson Reuters, alternatively: journals' pages on Wikipedia
    • Eigenfactor (EF) / Article Influence (AI): network analysis to evaluate influence of scholarly periodicals (
    • OASPA (Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association): Code of Conduct (

'Predatory publishers'

Jeffrey Beall, librarian at the University of Colorado, coined the term 'predatory publishers' and defines them as "... those that unprofessionally exploit the author-pays model of open-access publishing (Gold OA) for their own profit."

Characteristics of predatory publishers include

  • spam sent to professional email lists to solicit articles and editors
  • 'vanity presses' with basically no rejections and large numbers of journal titles in their portfolio
  • articles published without complete author approval
  • articles published before payment terms are agreed
  • errors introduced after proof-reading
  • papers published without peer-review

Jeffrey Beall's list is available at Two of the three publishers mentioned before are included, one is on the so-called 'watchlist':

  • Bentham included: ‘large number of journals (230+), vanity press’
  • Scientific Research Publ. included: ‘China instead of US, 100+ journals from 2009 or later, extremely slow server response times’
  • Hindawi on ‘watchlist’: ‘too many journals than can be properly handled (300+)’

The website Scholarly Open Access, blog maintened by Beall, can be found at

Note: An interview with Jeffrey Beall can be found in the 13 Sept 2012 issue of Nature: Beall explains how predatory publishers are corrupting the entire scholarly publication system by misusing the author-pays model of open access. He argues that also honest authors who publish in OA journals are damaged in an unethical environment that is polluted by plagiarism, lack of quality control, and unsound publishing methodologies. Beall suggests that despite the pressure to publish, authors should resist the temptation to publish with predatory publishers, and librarians shouldn't list their publications in their catalogs.

The case of A&A

One may be tempted to ask why we need open access at all in Europe since we have A&A? Let's first take a look at how A&A is currently organized:

  • A&A is published by EDP Sciences on behalf of European astronomers (+ Argentina, Brazil, Chile, ESO), run by the Board of Directors
  • member states contribute according to their gross national products
  • authors from member states publish without page charges
  • substantial income is secured through subscription fees
  • all articles are made available through delayed OA (currently after 3 years), immediate OA exists for certain sections (Letters, Instrumentation, a.o.)
  • the copyright agreement allows authors to post manuscripts on preprint servers

If A&A were moved to full OA, there would be no income from subscriptions, and one could expect and increase of author fees and/or member state contributions. However, the general advantages of open access publishing would be available for the first time in the existence of A&A.

  • accelerated and free access to all articles for the entire astronomy community
  • increased visibility, perhaps also increased impact
  • authors retain copyright
  • preservation and archiving are taken care off by the publisher


  • OA publishing can be a good thing
  • There are no easy criteria to judge the quality of a journal/publisher
  • Crucial issues like actual costs, authenticity, quality, ethics, preservation, sustainability should be considered
  • Be aware that there are predatory publishers
  • In astronomy, a de facto Open Access situation can be achieved (for core journals) through 'Green OA' (with known issues!)
  • Gold OA brings advantages that cannot be achieved otherwise

In case you would like to discuss open access publishing in more detail, please stop by the Library office at any time or contact us at