In a draft article for the World Health Organization, Godlee et al. discussed how to improve access to health information in the developing world.4 They indicated that open access publishing of science/technology/medicine, and especially medical, research “more completely fulfils the goal of research publication in achieving unlimited dissemination of research results.” Similar comments were made in an article by Houghton and Sheehan published in Economic Analysis and Policy; they note that open access publishing is of particular benefit for developing countries, where access to the subscription-based literature has often been limited.5 One of the primary benefits of open access publishing is that it offers high-quality, peer-reviewed research data to the widest possible audience. Anyone who has access to the Internet has access to the data; according to the World Internet Usage statistics, that audience is approaching 2.3 billion people.3 For the author, that number of potential consumers of data is inconceivable.
WHO BENEFITS? THE GLOBAL OPEN ACCESS AUDIENCE
Of course, not all individuals with an Internet connection will access an article published by an open access journal. Who precisely is the audience? Who will access open access articles? Who benefits from open access publishing? Open access journals serve the needs of many groups, as follows.6
Open access publishing provides authors with the broadest possible audience. No subscription-based journal can provide nearly as broad an audience. Authors who publish in an open access journal benefit because their published articles have greater visibility and potential impact than those in a subscription-based publication.
By definition, open access journals are “open” to all people who have access to the Internet. There are no barriers to the articles posted by open access publishers. The cost of published research is effectively nil, and open access data that are indexed provide the additional benefit of offering free full-text searches, indexing, translation, and other data analysis benefits.
Medical libraries have suffered under increasingly restricted budgets that limit their capability to hold physical resources and to purchase expensive hard-copy journals and books. Furthermore, the cost of scholarly journals continues to rise, creating budgetary crises for libraries. Open access journal content is free of charge, enabling librarians to provide almost unlimited data to their students and research faculties.
More and more funding agencies, especially publicly funded agencies, mandate open access publication of results of the research they sponsor. The argument is simple: publicly funded research should be available to the public that funds it, and only open access publication can meet that challenge. In addition, open access funding of research guarantees a wider audience, makes the data more retrievable and more useful, and makes the funding agency more visible to the public. Open access publication is good for science and good for public relations for the funding agencies.
Publishers and Journals
Because of the wider audience offered by open access publication, journals enjoy greater visibility of their content. Open access content is more discoverable, retrievable, and ultimately useful. Journals can use this visibility to attract submissions and advertising, and citations. Many open access journals enjoy significant impact factors. Gone is the day when open access journals could be disregarded wholesale as lower-tier publications. Now, many open access titles represent prestigious scientific publications (e.g., PLoS Medicine's most recent impact factor was 15.617, ranking it number five out of 153 titles in the medicine, general, and experimental category. PLoS Biology's most recent impact factor was 12.742, ranking it number one out of 86 journals in the biology category).
Until open access publication began, private citizens had very little if any access to science/technology/medicine articles. Most public libraries do have subscriptions to traditional science/technology/medicine journals. With open access publication, however, private citizens have full access to a wealth of information. Individuals can now make better, more informed decisions.
Open access publishing offers many benefits to a wide audience. In numerous instances, it provides a viable answer to providing the research needs of the many in an economical way. There remain many compelling arguments in favor of traditional, subscription-based journals; open access publication of science/technology/medicine data represents a complementary way of disseminating high-quality medical literature to the many.
Rod J. Rohrich, M.D.
Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery
5959 Harry Hines Boulevard, POB 1, Suite 300
Dallas, Texas 75390-8820
The authors acknowledge and appreciate the assistance of Elizabeth Durzy in the research and editing of this Editorial.
1. Rohrich RJ, Sullivan D. Trends in medical publishing: Where the publishing industry is going. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2013;131:179–181.
2. Rohrich RJ, Sullivan D. So you want to be a change artist? Plast Reconstr Surg. 2012;129:1435–1437.
©2013American Society of Plastic Surgeons
5. Houghton J, Sheehan P. Estimating the potential impacts of open access to research findings. Economic Analysis Policy 2009;39:127–142.