In March 2021, Chris Banks, Library Director at Imperial College London, wrote about the importance of a rapid shift toward full and immediate open access to research. She argued: “We’re paying a lot of money to have impenetrable walls put round our content”. But the walls don’t just restrict access; they can also cause a great deal of confusion for any potential readers.

Recently we encountered some challenges trying to read an article potentially of interest to people involved in the Open Research space: Soderberg, C.K. et al, (2021). Initial evidence of research quality of registered reports compared with the standard publishing model. Nature Human Behaviour. 24th June 2021.

Trying to read this article uncovered some serious problems with accessibility.

Is the article open or not?

Danny Kingsley had tweeted the article, checking first that it was available (a matter of principle for her before sharing research is establishing that others can read it). Here we describe the steps Sally Rumsey then took to try and access the work.

 Step 1: Try access via the mobile phone 

Sally started with her mobile phone, where she was presented with the article details and rent or buy options. Not wanting to pay, she assumed that was it. There were no other options for accessing the full text other than institutional sign-on, which Sally no longer has. However, on enquiring over Twitter, Danny indicated it was freely available via “the PDF tab”. But this definitely did not appear on Sally’s phone interface. So she decided to check on other devices.

 Step 2: It’s the laptop’s turn. First attempt… 

The first time Sally tried to access the article on her laptop, she was presented with the same article details and rent or buy options on the mobile phone, but here there was a PDF tab. Clicking on the tab immediately opened the full-text PDF. There was no mention of any OA version or institutional affiliation – she didn’t have to click on the “Access through your institution” button.


 Step 3: Let’s give it another try. Same laptop, second attempt… 

But wait…. When Sally clicked on the same link, on the same laptop for a second time, there was no need for a PDF tab because she was taken immediately to the full text. Apparently, this is because she has “full access to this article via …the University of Oxford“. This was highly perplexing given Sally is no longer a member of that University and has not had access to any resources with that affiliation for 18 months. We surmise that a cookie Nature ( previously installed on this browser “remembers” the affiliation and automatically authenticates.


 Step 4: Maybe try a different laptop? 

Sally then checked on a different laptop, where the experience matched her mobile phone. There was only the opportunity to pay to access or sign in with an institutional log-in. The PDF tab was not offered.


Sally located the article in the journal’s “Explore content – Research articles” page. On this page, articles that are Open Access (OA) are labelled as such. The article of interest here – the Soderberg article – is not labelled OA despite Sally having access (sometimes) via the PDF tab, and the Unpaywall “unlocked” symbol appearing for Danny together with the CORE Discovery symbol for Sally – both of which confusingly direct back to the current page.

Danny’s view: Unpaywall + PDF tab


Sally’s view: CORE Discovery, Unpaywall – no PDF tab


A second example

Another example of a similar situation with “variable” access is described in this Tweet thread. Sally checked her access to the paper in question (Banks, G. et al (2019). Answers to 18 Questions About Open Science Practices. Journal of Business and Psychology. 34, pp 257–270) on both phone and laptop: access to the individual article via the journal home page was barred requiring payment or institutional authentication. 

However, using a link pointing directly to the PDF, (note that in the URL the word “article” is replaced by “content”) the version of record of the paper was fully accessible with no authentication required on both devices. This is not the only article in this issue that displays this anomaly. The direct PDF link was also picked up by both Unpaywall and CORE Discovery apps.

It is perhaps generous to merely describe these inconsistencies of access as “confusing”.

There are other related scenarios where papers were supposed to be OA (and presumably paid to be made open) but were published behind a paywall, and also where library staff have discovered that articles included in their institutional OA deal have not been made open access on publication.

Gatekeeping costs time and money

In many ways, the specific details of this situation are irrelevant. What does matter is the important points it raises:

From the baffling experiences described above, one concludes that not only is the assortment of access options confusing for readers but that major publishers are challenged to engineer and control access and authentication as they intended. Such examples validate the reasons why hybrid OA journals are problematic.

There is a significant effort associated with gatekeeping and preventing potential readers from accessing content, when research should be disseminated and read as widely as possible. This represents an increased cost in the production of publications – a cost which is ultimately borne by the subscriber or individual reader. 

There is considerable evidence that open access articles are more read than non Open access articles. Indeed, even SpringerNature, the publisher of the article example above, states that Open approaches accelerate the progress of science…. OA is immediately accessible and highly discoverable… Previous research shows the OA advantage for researchers: OA articles are cited on average 1.6 times more than non-OA articles, downloaded 4 times more often and attract 2.5 times more attention, as measured by news and policy mentions”.

Wouldn’t it be better if the money, time and energy invested by publishers in attempting to build a complex variety of access barriers were directed towards providing a consistent approach to access? Then the money, time and energy spent by researchers and libraries in paying for and attempting to access content, via confused and confusing interfaces, could be better spent on research. If authentication and access control are so challenging, and we all, including publishers, agree that Open Access is beneficial, then we need to abandon these types of attempts at gatekeeping, and instead focus on making all research publications easily openly accessible.

The OA Diamond Journals Study Report is a fantastic resource for anybody interested in open Access, and particularly for researchers and scholarly societies scrambling for solutions to the significant concerns arising in relation to implementing Open Access on a large scale. I have been involved in countless such discussions over the last two decades. Researchers generally agree on the advantages and importance of making their work as widely accessible as possible. At the same time, they are concerned with the implications for, e.g., scholarly societies overseeing journals whose income often depends on subscription-based agreements with commercial or academic publishers. Many researchers are not in a position to cover author processing charges and may therefore be shut out of the publishing system (and therefore of academia!). In addition, researchers worry about the authors’ rights over their work, particularly in cases where research depends on data and sources protected by intellectual property regimes or sensitivity concerns, or where research is likely to be re-used out of context and in ways that authors would strongly disapprove of. Finally, long-standing journals with a rich history and reputation for quality risk disappearing without the support of professional publishers and related income streams. Here I am thinking for instance of the journal I myself edit, History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, a long-standing journal in my field whose survival and successful expansion towards welcoming scholars from around the world was secured through a partnership with Springer after years of uncertainty and problems.


OA Diamond Journals Study

OA Diamond Journals Study

Plan S certainly offers a great set of incentives at political and institutional levels, which has successfully shaken the publishing landscape over the last three years. However, its tolerance – some would say, approval – of hefty Author Processing Charges and/or transformative agreements between (typically rich) institutions and publishers has proved vastly unpopular with many researchers, and particularly those with the least power and financial resources to pay costs associated with publishing. Particularly affected are early career researchers, those based in low-resourced institutions or working as independent scholars, and those working in fields that are not typically supported by external funding – such as the humanities, arts and qualitative social sciences. These researchers rightly fear being excluded from the publishing system or being severely limited in their choice of outlets, which has obvious repercussions on the visibility and recognition garnered by their work – and, as a consequence, on their opportunities for interacting with their peers and improving their work through high-level scrutiny and discussions. Being able to publish in preprint repositories, where they exist, is clearly not a solution to such worries. Back in 2018, when Plan S launched its first consultation, I worked with other representatives of the Global Young Academy and several European National Young Academies to compile those concerns and highlight the potential for disastrous consequences for future scholarship (Opportunities and challenges for implementing Plan S: the View of Young Academies).

Perhaps the only uncontroversial statement that can be made in relation to these concerns is that there are no easy solutions, and Plan S is certainly not a satisfactory solution in and of itself. A much more controversial claim – which is not supported by most institutions yet, but is strongly backed by many researchers and clearly emerging from this report – is that there is a clear winner among the possible directions of travel for OA publishing, and that is to aim for sustainable and responsible diamond publishing (broadly characterized, in line with the report, as free for readers and authors). I believe that finding solutions for sustainable and responsible diamond publishing will solve many of the issues relating to the reputation and credit associated to publishing in specific journals, as more and more journals shift their publishing models and publishing in OA formats becomes widely affordable and thus ever more common and recognized by research institutions and funding/hiring committees.

This study is a decisive step towards making OA Diamond publishing possible on more realistic and sustainable grounds. It provides excellent empirical fodder against some common misconceptions around OA publishing: for instance, it shows that most Diamond OA journals have an international audience, they have an important role in protecting and fostering multilingual publishing, and they are typically run by volunteers who are not profiting from the proceedings. It also provides very useful insights on the problems encountered by Diamond OA journals. Many of these journals face financial fragility and lack of dependable funding, despite the fact that over 70% of Diamond journals require labor equivalent to having 1 to 2 full-time employees. The study also notes the stable increase in size and reach of such journals, with the vast majority of them going strong and yet experiencing significant scaling problems. This situation highlights the significance of adopting standardized and rationalized processes for the management, formatting and dissemination of articles at scale, rather than relying on email chains, DIY formatting and excel spreadsheets. There are also technical and staffing problems in making articles machine-readable, as well as the administrative difficulties in getting journals adequately indexed, especially for academics whose free time is already extremely limited and absorbed by the volunteering work involved in running the review process. Finally, the study notes the challenges of moving from subscription-based to open access publishing, especially in terms of finding long-term financial and logistical support.

The #OADiamondstudy is a decisive step towards making #OpenAccess Diamond publishing possible on more realistic and sustainable grounds. It provides excellent empirical fodder against some common misconceptions around OA publishing.… Click To Tweet

These issues will no doubt be very familiar to anybody who has been involved in setting up and running an OA journal, particularly in the frequent cases in which such initiatives are completely bottom-up and motivated by the wish to foster the quality and visibility of a specific area of scholarship. I have myself experienced this back in 2002 when I founded the Graduate Journal for Social Sciences during my PhD. This was an enormous effort that led to the establishment of a diamond journal, but took a sizable chunk of my time and life energy – and that of dozens of other academic volunteers, most of them also graduate students – for five years and with next to no institutional support, aside from the brilliant help provided (again, on a volunteering basis) by my PhD supervisors and the other senior members of the advisory board. As the report demonstrates, thousands of other journals around the globe share similar trajectories, motivations and troubles.

An improved, empirically grounded, systematic understanding of these challenges, above and beyond anecdotal evidence, naturally leads to a better understanding of what can be done to tackle them, and the Report makes important progress in its recommendations particularly to research-performing institutions and funders. A key recommendation is to support the development of an “OA Diamond capacity center”, or “OA Commons” that could serve the communities involved in diamond publishing, provide a platform to share expertise and experiences, and help those who wish to join in but have not had the opportunity, resources and technical/administrative know-how to do so. Another crucial recommendation is to boost transparency in the governance and market dedicated to OA publishing, with incentives in place for journals to preserve their content, promote open licenses, and access appropriate technical support – as well as for institutions to identify and implement diversified metrics to evaluate the quality of publishing venues.

A key recommendation of the #OADiamondstudy is to support the development of an “OA Diamond capacity center” or “OA Commons” that could serve the communities involved in diamond publishing and provide a platform to share expertise… Click To Tweet

Much more sophisticated and detailed advice, including advice to journals themselves, can be found in the report itself, and I sincerely hope that it will find very wide readership and inform new forms of support for OA publishing. I also hope that this effort will be followed by in-depth studies of the ongoing impact of such policy interventions, such as Plan S itself as well as existing cases of journals shifting to a Diamond OA format. We need more such intertwinement of robust research and policy evaluation to achieve truly transformative forms of Open Science that are fair and responsible towards all forms of scholarship, no matter where they are based, how much they cost and how popular they are with funders and policy-makers.


Related reading:

Reflections on the OA Diamond Journals Study

Diamond Mining


The recently-published OA Diamond Journals Study is something I have been looking forward to reading for a long time. Looking at the results, it’s patently clear that authors should be highly commended for the remarkable efforts they made to reach out to the community, gather such valuable input and synthesize it in such a pleasantly digestible manner. Even for somebody swimming in the world of Diamond on a daily basis, this resource contains much to learn from.

My greatest regret is that this study was not commissioned years earlier, at the very beginning of the implementation of Plan S, whose long-neglected Principle 3 explicitly called for support for Open Access infrastructures where necessary. The need for support for Diamond initiatives, which is a prominent conclusion of the study, has actually been manifestly clear for a very long time, so it’s good to finally see at least some formalized statement of that fact.

The first part of the study is an impressive document covering the crucial themes of: journals Landscape, Compliance with accepted standards, Dynamics, and Sustainability. The main findings reflect the wide variety of journals, their relative success at achieving compliance, their “mix of scientific strengths and operational challenges”, and their (over-)reliance on the goodwill of academics to provide volunteer work in the face of sustainability challenges. The study is and will remain a very informative read and provides an accurate and lasting snapshot of the current situation.

The second part of the study is a separate document in which specific recommendations are made. Their list contains 20 items split in 5 categories: Technical support, Compliance, Capacity building, Effectiveness and Sustainability.

The first two categories (Technical support (R1.1-3) and Compliance (R2.1-5)) very concretely identify effective actions which can be directly initiated. I find their conclusions and recommendations very valuable, and certainly, hope that they can be rapidly implemented.

The third category (Capacity building (R3.1-3)) starts by proposing the formation of an OA Diamond Capacity Centre, which would form a kind of hub to “help grow, strengthen, innovate and save costs” for the sector. I admire the concreteness of the suggestions and would certainly be keen to share my own expertise and experiences (and benefit from that of others) within such a setup. Recommendation R3.3 (which perhaps should have been ordered as R3.2) calls for an “international symposium” and “workshops” to prepare the creation of this Centre, explicit mention being made of numerous key players. Little to mention here except: why wait so long? Once again, I think that this should have been done years ago, and find it unfortunate that such things seem to be condemned to moving so slowly.

Going back to Recommendation R3.2, this calls for an “organized marketplace” for OA Diamond. When I first read this headline, I thought “Bingo!” because I was hoping that this would call for a “marketplace” (unfortunate word in a community-driven, not-for-profit context) where OA Diamond providers could “market” their services and gather “clients”. Instead, the recommendation only calls for helping “OA Diamond journals find fair, reliable and high-quality service providers” for sub-services in need of outsourcing. Fine, the recommendation does not have the ambition of the one I was really looking for, but its clear focus and sharp definition make it a “no-brainer”: straight on the to-do list, please.

We now move to the fourth categoryIncrease effectiveness“. Here, my reaction to the document took a tangent.

Without wanting to be negative, I’m not sure what to make of the recommendations R4.1 to 4.6. I find them simply too vague to offer much hope of seeing them lead to concrete action. In my heart, I of course agree with much of what they say and call for, but in the same way, I agree that we should cure cancer and clean up the environment. The question is not whether we want to do all of this, but rather how we should set about doing so, and these recommendations do not provide a clear enough roadmap, nor offer concrete steps forward.

I would here like to expand on this theme, because I think it is a reflection of a significant vulnerability permeating the OA movement.

The OA movement has been active for two solid decades now, and the very fact that we are still at the stage we are at with publishing naturally brings forth questions on the (lack of) effectiveness of the measures which have been taken up to now. Putting on the hat of a neutral observer (as far as I am able to do so in this context, which can be contested), it seems to me that the corporate publishing sector has been systematically and consistently outmanoeuvring and outsmarting the academic sector (yearly financial reports of big corporate players, including future predicted income, provide much evidence for this). The recent acceleration of the pace of signing huge (gargantuan!) agreements with legacy publishers shows that hyperinflated APCs are winning the race. Current top players have it all lined up: they will milk APCs as far and long as they can (as it looks now: perpetually), and to safeguard their future are simply reorienting towards data management and internal information/evaluation systems to perpetuate their highly effective customer lock-in strategies. To watch literally hundreds of millions being committed to reinforcing established players via various forms of Agreements, while a mere 30k euros is used to perform a study on non-APC models (which as the study shows represent a very substantial fraction of the scholarly output), is really not where we need to be right now.

Putting on the hat of a neutral observer, it seems to me that the corporate publishing sector has been systematically and consistently outmanoeuvring and outsmarting the academic sector (yearly financial reports of big corporate players, including future predicted income, provide much evidence for this). The recent acceleration of the pace of signing huge (gargantuan!) agreements with legacy publishers shows that hyperinflated APCs are winning the race.

The lack of available money for all things Diamond indeed transpires throughout the study. So why is there so little money available for that? My answer might just surprise you by its simplicity. There is little money available for Diamond, simply because little money is being made available for Diamond. Said otherwise: there is no properly functioning, large-scale, established funding stream for Diamond. Current funding structures, policies, habits and reflexes at institutional level are mostly fine-tuned, tailored and optimized to serve (disappearing) subscription models and (fast-growing, though financially hemorrhagic) APC-based models from legacy publishers. Except for isolated (some would say marginal) initiatives, no proper alternative has been developed to *concretely* and *sustainably* support Diamond OA on a sufficiently broad scale to have a large impact on the industry.

Why is that?

Speaking from personal experience, if there is one miscalculation which I made when getting involved in building publishing infrastructure, it was to underestimate the resistance to moving away from the transaction-style “sending an invoice for every publication” (an accountant-friendly approach entirely appropriate for sandwiches or soft drinks), towards one of “publishing as part of the international academic infrastructure” (this being much closer in spirit to the way research is actually performed, but so difficult to implement, because goodwill is required). I was under the illusion that funding a consortial system at the community level, if it demonstrably realized order-of-magnitude scale economies, would become the self-obvious thing to do for otherwise money-smart institutions. Little did I understand the power of targeting and depleting. An invoice (even for an eye-watering amount adjusted to what the client can pay, not what the production costs are) with a clear account number and a looming deadline triggers automatic payment. A plea for sponsorship with non-obligatory contribution of a fraction of the actual costs, in contrast, most often leads to polite dismissal (why pay if you don’t have to? you’d be stupid to do that!). It really doesn’t have to be that way. As the saying goes, (individual) penny wise, (community) pound foolish.

And this finally brings me to the fifth category of the recommendations, “Sustain and invest in the future“.

Lots of valuable stuff in there (even traces of the “funding by authorship ratio” which an initiative close to my heart is attempting to implement). Mention is made of greatly promising initiatives like my own university’s recently-initiated Diamond OA Fund which I wholeheartedly applaud. One other initiative, any mention of which is somewhat surprisingly omitted from the study, is the French Fonds National pour la Science Ouverte (FNSO) which is a larger national-scale, project-based funding scheme. Surely, generalizing the deployment of such schemes is something which should urgently happen?

If you are going to read only one section of the study’s recommendations, let it be this fifth section. A path to a better future is outlined there. Still, I think the recommendations could have been bolder and more concrete. First of all, I wish section 5 had been entitled “Growth and sustainability” instead of just “Sustainability”.

Going further, what I would have loved to see would have been something like: Establish, with immediate effect, an operations granting scheme for Diamond journals.

With the words “with immediate effect”, I mean *now*; not after more deliberations and studies. Better to get started with a construction which aims in the right direction and which you can tweak, than to remain frozen into inaction because you fear not getting things right at the first attempt. By “operations granting scheme”, I mean a simple setup (with hassle-free rather than overly bureaucratic calls, evaluation and reporting protocols) which offers concrete guaranteed minimal support (money!) for the coming years based on current levels of activity, ideally with a growth margin factored in. This would address one of the crippling features inherent to anything Diamond OA, which is the nigh impossibility of funding (and thus implementing) any growth strategy. As experience shows, any business idea with a promise can go to a bank and get a loan, or float and suddenly be worth dozens of billions while having not yet realized anything. Not so for Diamond: even after years of operation and recognition by academic peers, there is still no way to finance perfectly implementable growth strategies, because there is no guarantee that concrete accomplishments will be recognized and rewarded by continued funding. Currently, the only growth model for Diamond is a suicidal one, in which one must take steps which carry the risk of short-term bankruptcy at the first hurdle, all the while witnessing multiple-orders-of-magnitude higher money streams propping up competing (and arguably much less efficient) legacy systems. Establishing such a Diamond operational granting scheme would provide critically-needed confidence to Diamond initiatives, which would then empower them to truly scale up and have an impact, instead of letting the potential continue to go to waste through mere hesitation.

Currently, the only growth model for Diamond is a suicidal one, in which one must take steps which carry the risk of short-term bankruptcy at the first hurdle, all the while witnessing multiple-orders-of-magnitude higher money streams propping up competing (and arguably much less efficient) legacy systems.

The chance to change the publishing business is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. At this time, funders and academic institutions face the choice of perpetuating overpaying for a service which is very much *not* rocket science for the mere benefit of administrative simplicity (invoice → pay, next invoice → pay), or of pro-actively supporting (as paying clients) an infrastructure-level Diamond solution to the academic publishing problem. When (rather: if ever) non-APC models finally get the attention they deserve, as thing are currently going, the ship will already have sailed, money pumps will have been rebuilt into money pipelines (flowing to the same old havens), the infrastructure will be congealed again for 20 years and the opportunity for a better, cheaper alternative will have passed.

♦ ♦ ♦

I thus urge the higher powers to carefully read between the lines of the study’s recommendations, put their boldness goggles on and view full implementation of the measures in this study as a starting point only. It is high time to take concrete, immediate steps to make the most out of the current opportunities-in-waiting.


Related reading:

Reflections on the OA Diamond Journals Study

Diamond Mining

Protecting High-Quality Scholarship through Fair Open Access

Diamond. The term is made to do a lot of work. Used in open-access publishing circles to refer to modes in which neither the author nor the reader pays, it implies rarity. It denotes scarcity. It signifies refinement. It seems, if the marketing of De Beers is anything to go by, to be the ultimate expression of love. Forever. A girl’s best friend.

There are many reasons why we should value diamond OA. For one, it avoids the cost-concentrating effects of APCs that I have detailed elsewhere.[1] It also frees scholars from the market pressures of having to “sell” their high-profile research, as Peter Suber has pointed out.[2] Diamond OA does not exclude authorship on the basis of where you were born or the prestige of your university. Diamond OA admits readers from every continent, regardless of their library budgets. Diamonds, it seems, are worth mining.

Diamond, however, is also a category error. While “gold” and “green” open access refer to conditions of availability – at the publisher and in a repository respectively – diamond denotes the financial conditions under which a publisher operates. Hence, while the term is meant to connote a supreme condition in which infrastructure exists transparently without financial demands from authors or readers, it also helps to cement the false certainty, erroneously held by many researchers, that “gold” open access means article processing charges (APCs).

Nonetheless, the recent cOAlition S-commissioned report into diamond open access is revealing. Diamond is not rare. “There are”, the report’s authors note, “almost certainly at least 17,000, but likely up to 29,000, OA diamond journals”, a large number of which, like the proverbial iceberg, sit “below the surface” of discoverability indexes such as DOAJ.

Yet the category error to which I earlier gestured runs deep. At one point, the report notes “the dominance of the OA diamond model in Latin America […] Eastern Europe and the Middle East” and calls these models less “commercial”. I remain concerned at this separation of diamond OA to a “Balkanized” realm of unprofessionalism – and anti-commercialism – defined in opposition to the sleek commercial players. It is perfectly possible to run high-quality diamond models that have a commercial underpinning; it just requires some lateral thinking and goodwill. We must, in my view, resist this further equation of “diamond” with “botched DIY” or anti-commercialism. It is possible to do high-quality diamond OA that runs on a business model with underpinning commercial support.

It is perfectly possible to run high-quality diamond models that have a commercial underpinning; it just requires some lateral thinking and goodwill. We must, in my view, resist this further equation of “diamond” with “botched DIY” or anti-commercialism.

Indeed, I do not agree with everything in this report. At one point, for instance, it is suggested that “the apparent preference for OA diamond as opposed to APC based models in HSS need not be a direct consequence of the HSS field as such, but could also be more indirectly related via another explaining variable such as journal size”. I find this somewhat perplexing. It seems to me that the clear explanatory variable is, although perhaps not a direct consequence of the field, nonetheless a direct consequence of the funding of the HSS spaces. Namely: a lack of project funding makes it incredibly difficult to find APCs at the right place in the system. When work is funded systemically through time – or even just researcher’s own spare time – adding on the £3k APC to your own personal expenditure is simply not viable. The “dry funding climate”, or even perhaps desert, as Suber called it in the introduction to my book on OA and the humanities, seems to me a far more likely explanation for diamond in the humanities.[3]

There are also some challenges with the cOAlition S data. I should note, for reasons of conflict of interest, that my diamond publisher, the Open Library of Humanities (OLH), submitted to the diamond survey. Yet we weren’t always sure of the answers. In terms of “proportion of authors from the same institution” or “same country” as the journal? Readership stats and their global placement? We had to take an informed guess. It certainly, I am afraid to say, was not a rigorously scrutinised dataset.

Why not? One of the core problems to which the cOAlition S report gestures is the difficult funding situation for these titles. At OLH we implemented a low-cost business model for our 28 titles. We provide good value for money. But how much spare capacity do we have to respond to surveys like this? Very little. We run close to the wire in order to save libraries’ money. And this speaks to the project’s findings, which clearly highlight the financially fragile nature of this vast archipelago of scholarly titles. How can it be that so much of our research publication infrastructure is so wrongfully underfunded and reliant on volunteer labour while the likes of Elsevier make a 37% profit margin on billions of dollars revenue?

OA Diamond Journals Study

OA Diamond Journals Study

This is why, in some cases, diamond is a more apt metaphor than we might like. Real-world diamond mining is full of ethical pitfalls. The environmental damage has been extensive, but exploitation of workers through near-slave child labour in this field, in the service of global profit, is intolerable. Given the extensive donation of volunteer labour time in the diamond OA space – as signalled in the report – we should, I think, take pause (although I believe, also, that such a comparison potentially trivialises child labour in real diamond mining, which is not my intention).

The anarchic historical development of devolved scholarly communications is also a narrative within which diamond OA sits well. People see a need. They get off their backsides and put it into action. A new journal is born. This is certainly how I got started. But it has also come with problems as scholcomms has become more and more specialized – and more and more digitized.

Of particular concern is the lack of digital preservation at many of these titles – and, also, the number of journals issuing (Crossref) DOIs without any preservation, in contradiction to the contractual terms of the registration authorities. As the report authors note, “about 3,000 journals using DOIs actually reported they do not satisfy the criteria CrossRef has for journals to issue DOIs”. Initiatives such as PKP’s LOCKSS Preservation Network are significant steps in this regard. But, really, it would not cost much for a few prominent funders to establish a permanent online digital preservation network that could store our diamond scholarship, forever. Sci-Hub, the illegal trove of scientific papers gathered by Alexandra Elbakyan, runs to 60TB or so. A few NAS boxes running LOCKSS would cost just a few tens of thousands of pounds, with perhaps an overseeing manager appointed to maintain it. When “the large majority of survey journals have no archiving policies”, this feels like low-hanging fruit and an easy intervention.

The report comes with a large number of recommendations that are doubtless helpful. But I return to a familiar point throughout this report and that boils down to one fundamental tension. I believe that the best system of scholarly communications would be one in which authors could publish openly solely on the quality of their work (as judged by many peers) and readers did not have to pay: diamond. Yet funders and their policies favour sub-dividing into units of publication: books and articles (and will only fund the outputs from their own funded projects). This is the core issue at the heart of funding scholcomms today. We need, instead, an infrastructure: one that is continuously funded and that underlies our research publication cultures. At the same time, the demand for accountability and transparency across separate organisations pulls us back, consistently, towards per-unit breakdowns that mean that, when the funding stops, the lights go out.

I believe that the best system of scholarly communications would be one in which authors could publish openly solely on the quality of their work (as judged by many peers) and readers did not have to pay: diamond.

There are some challenges. The temptation is for funders to step in and to create an architecture within which diamond OA journals could find themselves a new home. A standardised infrastructure. On the other hand, this very move seems antithetical to the spirit of devolution in which diamond OA journals are created. That is, the very act of standardising and centralising is the opposite of what most – or, at least, many – diamond OA journals seem to want.

I believe we are at a crossroads. We will either, now, succumb to APCs and the research publication ecosystem will become even more stratified than it has been to date, along the lines of those-with APCs vs those without. Or we could embrace a revolution. Most diamond OA journals represent such a revolution in microcosm. Somebody decided that the existing system wasn’t good enough and did something to change it in founding their journal. If we could redirect resources to such systems, away from the profiteers, while supporting their infrastructure, we would do a lot more good for the world than we ever did by propping up Informa’s shareholders.

We will either, now, succumb to APCs and the research publication ecosystem will become even more stratified than it has been to date, along the lines of those-with APCs vs those without. Or we could embrace a revolution. Most diamond OA journals represent such a revolution in microcosm.

If university presses and other mission-driven publishers could embrace such an architecture, promising standards-driven open access that was free to all, could we not configure our economics around that, rather than configuring our scholarly communications around the economics?


Related reading:

Reflections on the OA Diamond Journals Study


Protecting High-Quality Scholarship through Fair Open Access


[1]     Martin Paul Eve and Jonathan Gray, ‘Introduction’, in Reassembling Scholarly Communications: Histories, Infrastructures, and Global Politics of Open Access, ed. by Martin Paul Eve and Jonathan Gray (Cambridge,  MA: The MIT Press, 2020), pp. 1–22.

[2]     Peter Suber, Open Access, Essential Knowledge Series (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2012).

[3]     Peter Suber, ‘Preface’, in Open Access and the Humanities: Contexts, Controversies and the Future, by Martin Paul Eve (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), pp. ix–xi.

Earlier this month, cOAlition S and Science Europe published an in-depth study of diamond open access journals, so called because they charge neither author(s) nor readers. The study comes in five parts, each of which can be a lot to digest. What I thought I’d try and do with this post was to pick some of the highlights from the study findings.

The first sensible question everyone always asks about diamond OA is: how? How can a journal afford to sustainably operate if it charges neither readers nor author(s)? The findings report reveals that there are a great variety of organisations that are willing to financially support the operation of diamond OA journals including universities, museums, government agencies, and learned societies. One I am familiar with is the European Journal of Taxonomy (est. 2011) which is financially supported by a consortium of ten European natural history institutions across seven different countries. Each year it publishes roughly a hundred articles and remains a well-regarded journal in taxonomy. To take a different example, the excellent Beilstein Journal of Organic Chemistry (est. 2005) is financially supported by the Beilstein Institute for the Advancement of Chemical Science, a German non-profit foundation. It makes sense for organisations to take on these costs and they are highly manageable.

The second question people tend to ask is, what about the costs? How can organisations afford to financially support journals, isn’t it costly? The report reveals that diamond OA journals tend to be run in a very economically efficient manner – one of the most obvious distinguishing factors here is the use of open source software. By using OJS, Lodel, Janeway, or some other open source system there is no recurrent charge owed to license expensive proprietary publishing platforms such as Silverchair or Literatum or RVHost that are more typical of commercial paywalled or APC-OA journals. The study’s survey found that over 60% of diamond OA journals reported annual costs in the previous year under $/€10,000, including in-kind contributions.  

Fascinatingly, we don’t even have a firm grip on just how many diamond OA journals there are out there on the world wide web. A key result from the study is the estimate that there are between 17,000 to 29,000 diamond OA journals currently in existence. The majority are small-scale and annually publish just 23 articles, compared to 25 articles (by median) for APC-OA journals. Yet collectively, by article volume diamond OA accounts for an impressive 8-9% of the total number of scholarly journal articles published per year, a close rival to the 10-11% of articles that are published in APC-OA journals. Diamond open access, at the article-level thus comprises 44% of all articles that are in fully open access journals – a significant and perhaps hugely underappreciated force in open access journal publishing.

Why don’t we hear more about diamond OA journals? Why don’t they have greater visibility? I couldn’t help but notice in the appendices of the study findings a wonderful list of diamond OA journals that had participated in the survey. Over 1000 of the diamond OA journals specifically identified in the study are not yet included in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) which is the go-to place for most people seeking out OA journals. This is no real criticism of DOAJ, but it is a pity that seemingly excellent journals like Acarologia are not yet indexed in DOAJ. Thus recommendation 4.6 “to register OA diamond journals in DOAJ” stands out to me as an urgent need, and something that I have been helping-out with on a personal ad-hoc basis for some time now – some journals just don’t understand how or why they should apply to DOAJ, and they need help and encouragement to do so.

I look forward to a follow-up study in five years time. I would predict that in the near future this equitable form of open access where neither readers nor author(s) pay fees would account for a larger share of the overall system, especially in the light of traditional journals now transitioning to diamond OA states via processes such as ‘Subscribe to Open’ (S20).  If open access is to succeed globally, and across all disciplines, it must embrace and embolden forms of equitable open access such as diamond OA. I look forward to that future.


Related reading:

Diamond Mining


Protecting High-Quality Scholarship through Fair Open Access

The statement published earlier today (3rd February) by the STM Association and signed by a number of its members (and a number of non-members), continues to perpetuate a number of myths and errors relating to the Rights Retention Strategy.

From the start it is worth stressing that cOAlition S continues to engage with many of the publishers who are signatories to the letter, supporting routes which enable the Version of Record (VoR) to be made Open Access.  Funders, like Wellcome, are not only supporting Article Processing Charges in fully open access journals, but also allow their funding to be used to support transformative arrangements – such as Read and Publish agreements – and more recently, transformative journals (which a number of signatories – including Elsevier and Springer Nature – have developed). Although the Rights Retention Strategy (RRS) is indeed being implemented as of January 2021, publishers have received notice of the Rights Retention Strategy since July 2020, and cOAlition S has held various meetings with them to discuss their concerns and explain what the RSS is trying to achieve.

We agree that management and support of the peer review process require significant resources. However, while we do not underestimate the value that publishers add to the process, we point out that peer review is conducted on a voluntary basis by the research community.

We are somewhat perplexed to read that the “Rights Retention Strategy ignores long-standing academic freedoms”. As these are left unspecified, it is hard to see how that could be the case. However, we believe the Rights Retention Strategy restores long-standing academic freedoms, in that it asserts the authors’ ownership of their publication after peer review, to re-use and share as they please. It is up to the publishers to demonstrate the added value of the Version of Record, for which cOAlition S funders are willing to pay, as we have repeatedly stated.

The paper also states – without substantiating this claim – that the Rights Retention Strategy will undermine the Version of Record. Again, how exactly this will be achieved is left unspecified. We allow for publishers to formulate conditions on the relation between the Author Accepted Manuscript and the Version of Record: publishers can stipulate that reference should always be made to the Version of Record. We also believe that the authors themselves have a vested interest in referring to the Version of Record. As is well known, peak re-submissions to ArXiv happen at the time of publication, which suggests that authors are uploading the AAM or the VoR. This seems not to have affected the integrity of the VoR, nor indeed publishers’ income. So we see no reason for this gloomy and wholly unsubstantiated prediction.

Furthermore, the statement attempts to confuse authors, stating ominously that “The signatory publishers (…) urge authors to consult with their journals of choice as to what is allowed.” Authors need not do any such thing. Using the Rights Retention Strategy is an individual right that authors have to assert intellectual ownership of their work. They do not need the publishers’ permission to exercise that right. In addition, the Rights Retention Strategy is now a contractual grant condition for cOAlition S grantees. It would be a matter of significant concern if we saw the publishers encouraging cOAlition S grantees to violate their contractual obligations with their funder.

Publishers are, of course, at liberty to reject all manuscripts which give notice to the publisher of the prior right to share their accepted manuscript.  Publishers who wish to do so, should contact cOAlition S so that we can update the Journal Checker Tool with this information.

In conclusion, cOAlition S funders are prepared to pay a fair, reasonable, and transparent fee for the services publishers provide to make the VoR Open Access. And, though we believe there is added value in the VoR, to ensure this model is widely adopted, publishers need to demonstrate to the research community that the value provided by making this version Open Access is commensurate with the price charged. cOAlition S’s ultimate goal is to make sure that the publications resulting from its funding are immediately made openly available for the entire world to benefit from, free from any embargo periods or paywalls.


February 3, 2021


Robert Kiley, cOAlition S Coordinator

Johan Rooryck, Executive Director, cOAlition S

The rhetoric of some scholarly publishers lately has shown a troublesome trend with respect to Open Access repositories (often referred to as Green OA). Most recently, the CEO of Springer Nature, Frank Vrancken Peeters, delivered a presentation to the Academic Publishing in Europe conference in which he mischaracterizes OA repositories in several ways. In that presentation, which I did not attend personally, but has been reported on by Porter Anderson in Publishing Perspectives, Peeters echoes a number of inaccuracies posted in an earlier OASPA guest blog, to which COAR immediately responded with Correcting the Record: The Critical Role of OA Repositories in Open Access and Open Science.

Unfortunately, I must again speak out, to correct the many errors contained in Peeters’ presentation. Contrary to what Peeters states:

  • OA repositories support Open Access and Open Science. The original definition of open access as defined by the Budapest Open Access Initiative included two paths: OA journals and OA repositories. Depositing an article in an OA repository without embargo is full open access (and, as such, this route is an option for compliance with Plan S).
  • OA repositories most often provide access to the author’s accepted manuscript (AAM), which can be licenced CC-BY and the text contained in the AAM differs very little from the formatted publisher version.
  • OA repositories can easily link to related content held elsewhere, including published versions, datasets, and other related materials. They also include open metrics and employ open standards and software.
  • Articles in OA repositories are discoverable through major discovery systems including Google Scholar, Unpaywall, OpenAIRE, CORE, LA Referencia and so on. Researchers do not need to search through individual repositories to find the articles contained in repositories.

The great irony is that the themes touched on in Peeters’ presentation were trust, openness, and transparency. But those values are undermined by the misrepresentations in his presentation, not to mention a history of obfuscations by some publishers about open access and the widespread use of non-disclosure agreements.

What is motivating these developments? I can only assume that these publishers are concerned about protecting their revenues in the face of a growing number of policies coming into effect, such as Plan S. It is painfully clear that this is not about quality or trust, but about maintaining control, preserving the traditional publishing paradigm, and protecting profit margins.

Perhaps not coincidentally, this hyperbole comes at the same time as a group of scholarly publishers are proposing to define the repository selection criteria for where their authors’ should deposit research data. These criteria, which are very narrowly conceived, threaten to exclude thousands of national and institutional repositories as options for deposit.

As service providers, scholarly publishers should not be defining the requirements for research communications. Rather, it is the role of the research community, the funders, and research institutions to specify these conditions. The role of scholarly publishers is to develop services that support the needs of the research community.

A mixed, complementary approach to the practice of open access, via OA journals and OA repositories, is both necessary and desirable for the future of open science. This will allow for greater innovation in scholarly publishing, a model which has not markedly evolved over the last 350 years, despite significant flaws. Furthermore, Open Access based on an APC payment model is not achievable, equitable, or sustainable over the long term for some countries and regions. Many researchers around the world simply do not have the means to pay OA publishing fees (APCs), nor do their governments or institutions have money for transformational agreements.

So, let’s not allow the rhetoric to percolate or pass by unchallenged. OA repositories – managed by long-lived and trusted institutions – are critical infrastructures for open science and part and parcel of the foundation for a sustainable and equitable scholarly communication system.

In the previous blogs, I covered Plan S and the requirements for repositories, and the benefits of deposit & dissemination of research findings via repositories. In this piece, I focus on the cOAlition S Rights Retention Strategy and how it relates to repositories. I also take a brief look into possible futures.

From 1st January 2021, the cOAlition S Rights Retention Strategy (RRS) will start to be implemented by funders. A key reason for adopting this initiative is to allow authors to have the widest possible range of journals to choose from for article submission and to make sure they take advantage of the benefits of OA, whilst meeting their funder’s OA requirements. The RRS is not principally about compliance – OA should never primarily be about box-ticking and compliance – it is about restoring intellectual control of works describing research findings to the authors themselves. Adoption of the RRS gives authors the security that acceptance of their article for submission ensures that they can eventually make their work OA either via the Version of Record (VoR), or the author accepted manuscript (AAM), independently of the choice of venue (fully OA or subscription journal).

The RRS cuts through much of the confusion, obfuscation, and – to be frank – utter nonsense surrounding copyright transfer claims made by some publishers. Take for example the incorrect claim that copyright transfer is required to ensure the widest possible dissemination of a work, as stated by Cell Press:

Upon acceptance of an article, authors will be asked to transfer copyright. This transfer will ensure the widest possible dissemination of information.

The author only needs to grant a licence to publish to the publisher for it to have the rights it needs to publish and disseminate the work (with the caveat that additional permissions and exclusive rights, if signed by an author, can be as restrictive as wholesale transfer of copyright) – it does not need transfer of copyright. Transfer of copyright enables the publisher to control the use of the article, which can include putting it behind a paywall and imposing embargoes on AAMs, which is hardly ensuring widest possible dissemination.

There is also this strange example in AAP journals (see ‘Pediatrics’) that imposes a 12-month embargo on articles which can then be followed by open access for a limited period of four years. Exactly what benefit is accrued to authors or to scholarship when access is closed down after four years is hard to imagine. The RRS eliminates this sort of absurdity and other inconsistencies that only serve to confuse both authors and readers, and prevent full, immediate, and long-term access to research findings.

cOAlition S is mindful of the choices of areas of the world where repository OA is currently the preferred and only practical option. In some countries, funders cannot afford the expensive OA options paid for by more wealthy funders of the global north. In these countries, repository OA is currently the only workable (and often preferred) solution. cOAlition S is also aware of the situation of small publishers and small learned societies. Some specialist journals might only publish a handful of cOAlition S funded papers every year. Such journals often have minimal resources, so a commitment to ‘flip’ to a fully OA journal is not always viable in the near future. In this situation, the repository OA option enables them to offer a workable immediate OA solution for their authors.

Differing views on the pros and cons of immediate repository OA have been well-rehearsed elsewhere (for example see Times Higher 23/4/19, Scholarly Kitchen 16/12/19 and 18/12/13, RSB presentation 2012,  Unlocking Research 20/5/16 and LSE blog 14/1/14), but there is no evidence so far that the OA availability of AAMs in repositories harms library subscription of the corresponding VoRs. In fact, a number of publishers already permit zero embargo for AAMs, some with CC BY licences. Emerald Publishing recently partnered with Jisc to extend its existing zero embargo policy so that OA AAMs “will be auto-deposited to their institutional repository via Jisc’s Publications Router when their institution has a subscription to the journal. Articles will be deposited based on the author’s affiliation at the time of submission, under a UKRI OA compliant licence.” I feel sure that Emerald would not have made this move if they felt it would toll the death-knell for its journals.

In recent news, AAAS Science journals have adopted a trial new OA policy that actively enables the cOAlition S RRS including for its prominent title Science. Under this new open-access policy, cOAlition S ‘authors may deposit near-final, peer-reviewed versions of papers accepted by paywalled Science titles in publicly accessible online repositories’ under a CC BY licence. cOalition S has welcomed this move. This development is particularly notable because it is in direct opposition to the direction taken by its competitor Springer Nature, which publishes the journal Nature. Although a pilot for 12 months, again, I think it is highly unlikely that such high profile journals as Science titles would have adopted the new policy and embrace the green route solution and its benefits, if its management felt that it would contribute to the downfall of the publication.

Horizon gazing

As mentioned previously, cOAlition S supports mixed models for OA. In this respect, depositing AAMs and other works in OA repositories is ‘supportive of innovation whilst also collectively managed by the scholarly community’ (COAR Next Generation Repositories Report). My prediction is that in 5 years’ time we shall be seeing much greater roles for pre-prints, micro-publishing (e.g. microPublication Biology), other forms of research description that support open science (e.g. registered reports), overlay peer review (e.g. PCI), combined with improved forms of research evaluation. I would hazard a guess that author rights retention and repositories will play a positive supporting role in getting scholarship to that point.