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Open Access 101

  • 9 June 2022
  • By Fiona Counsell

In this blog post, Dr Fiona Counsell provides an overview of the many faces and facets of Open Access.

Dr Fiona Counsell is Head of Open Access Operations & Policy at Taylor & Francis and has been working in a multi-faceted open access role since 2016, before which she managed social science journals. Her role involves offering expertise on open access across commercial, publishing, and editorial strategy, infrastructure and operations, internal policy, and advocacy. She holds a PhD in British History from The University of Birmingham.


Open access, like many areas of publishing or higher education, generates jargon and acronyms. To add to the potential for confusion, open access is also multi-faceted: a movement, a publishing model and a business model.  

Traditional publishing and open access publishing involve the same core values, processes and quality controls. Research is packaged by researchers into short (article) or long (book) formats and submitted to a publisher. Under the publisher’s auspices, evaluation and peer-review are conducted and the research deemed publishable (or not), based on both the quality and ethical conduct of the research. If accepted, the publisher prepares the text for publication, including processes such as copyediting, typesetting, tagging and other enhancements to make the content discoverable and richer than the traditional article artefact. The research is disseminated to a global audience of readers through a journal or a book and to services which enhance discoverability. Finally, the publisher ensures the long-term preservation of the research in its published form, including making any corrections to the scholarly record as necessary. 

In the traditional mode of publishing, knowledge producers publish their research in a journal or book free-of-charge but usually transfer copyright to the publisher. The journals or books are then disseminated to readers through institutional or personal subscriptions. In an open access model, research producers fund the publishing service, retain copyright and licence liberal reuse, and the journals and books are free-of-charge to consumers. 

Open access as a movement 

It would be remiss to discuss open access without mentioning the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI). In its Declaration in December 2001, BOAI defined open access as:  

free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.

The shared goal of the movement is to achieve open access to peer reviewed literature; however, there has been an ongoing debate about how best to achieve it, acknowledging that publishing research is not without cost. It is part of a larger open science movement which has at its heart the desire to enhance the quality of research by improving its transparency and reproducibility. 

Ethical and high service standards are the watchwords of quality open access publishers, infrastructure and service providers. The Open Access Scholarly Publishing Association (OASPA) is at the forefront of promoting best practice, ethical standards, innovation and the benefits of OA publishing.

Open access as a publishing model

Open access is a publishing model for disseminating research findings in a freely available, accessible and reusable way. Journal articles or books are published in a way that readers can access without payment. Various flavours of open access have developed over the last two decades. 

Green open access involves the Version of Record being disseminated as pay-to-read by the publisher. Simultaneously, or after a period of time, the author, their institution or funder makes an earlier version of the research freely available via an electronic repository. This is often the version of the research accepted by the publisher after evaluation, referred to as the Accepted Manuscript. 

Gold open access: research, whether published in an article or book, can also be made open access in the Version of Record by the publisher. This means that from the point of publication the publisher version is openly available to all. The work is typically published under a Creative Commons licence. Creative Commons licences allow for work to be reused by third parties provided the original creator of the work is credited. There are a range of licences offering various reuse conditions. For example, the licence selected may allow third parties to reuse without any restrictions, for non-commercial purposes only, or only if they use the work in full. 

In journal publishing, the publication of Gold open access articles may happen in journals which publish a mix of Gold open access and pay-to-read articles, sometimes known as a hybrid journal. Or, articles may be published in journals where all the articles are open access, sometimes, confusingly, called Gold OA journals; I use fully OA journal to avoid this.

Open access as a business model

There are several business models which support the Gold OA publishing model and I explore just four of these here. Each have benefits and consequences. 

  1. The most well-known is the Article Publishing Charge (APC) model; sometimes the P stands for Processing or Publication. When applied in a book publishing context these are known as BPCs (book processing charges) although I will use APCs and the journal publishing context in what follows for brevity. APCs are a payment to the publisher by the author, or their proxies, for the publishing service. Authors retain their copyright, grant a licence to publish to the publisher and apply a Creative Commons licence to their work. APC models are used by both hybrid and fully OA journals. Fully OA journals which use this model are very diverse and encompass both mega-journals such as PLOS ONE and small niche journals in individual fields. The APC model sometimes attracts criticism on equity grounds as it can create barriers to publish for those in regions or subjects with less funding, as well as for independent researchers who may not have recourse to institutional funding.
  2. More than 70 per cent of the fully OA journals in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) operate on what has become known as a diamond or platinum OA basis. The articles in these journals are Gold open access but there are no APCs for authors or fees for readers. This is achieved through a combination of open-source software, volunteer editors and subsidies from either the parent organisation or a third party. This might take the form of a learned society subsidising a diamond journal or book series with a publisher from their other operations; it might be a journal set up and run by a group of colleagues in a department or network; or it might be an independent journal receiving grants to fund their operations. Sustainability is an issue for this model as publishing costs can quickly outstrip funding if the submissions and acceptances grow. 
  3. A business model which has spawned many iterations and much innovation (but no standard nomenclature) is what many refer to as ‘subscribe to open’. This model involves existing subscribers to a journal transitioning to become members, or the recruitment of new members, who fund the Gold OA publishing operation through sponsorship. One of the common brand names used is in fact Subscribe to Open and it describes the model well as the publishing operation is funded though sponsorship, but this enables read access by all, not just the sponsoring organisations. Sponsored OA has also been used to fund OA book publishing programmes.
  4. Finally, noteworthy for its impact on growing open access articles is the Read & Publish agreement; also known as a PAR deal or Transformative Agreement. In this model an institution, or a group of institutions, agree a deal with a publisher which covers both open access publishing for the researchers at their institutions and reader access to the pay-to-read output of other researchers. These agreements started with hybrid journals but are increasingly covering fully OA journals and even OA Books programmes. The Read & Publish agreement has been particularly important for growing open access output in Social Science and Humanities subjects, yet also attracts criticism for exacerbating unequal access to open access based on geography. 


There is much more to share about open access; it is all the above and so much more. However, I hope this brief introduction serves as a useful jumping-off point. The open access – and more broadly the open scholarship – landscape is dynamic and constantly evolving. To foster change all stakeholders need to collaborate to create sustainable and equitable solutions that realise the potential of a more transparent and open scholarly communication system.

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1 comment

  1. albert wright says:

    I read the article twice but I am still confused. It seems complex.

    It would be helpful to me to have some numbers and examples attached to the narrative.

    I accept that publishing is a service with a cost (and research has a cost too) and someone needs to pay but who pays and how much in £ sterling?

    I subscribe to several journals and newspapers (pay to read?) and am or have been a paid up member of several organisations costing between £20 and £3,000 a year.

    The best value I get is from Hepi, for which I personally pay nothing (as far as I know).

    What does a University like say, Manchester or Sheffield, pay to the publishers of their research output? or How much does a researcher pay to a specific journal to get published?

    by any media has

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