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Reflections on the OA Diamond Journals Study


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

Ross Mounce

Ross Mounce is Director of Open Access Programmes at Arcadia Fund, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin. He was previously a postdoc at the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge where he researched the role of botanic gardens in ex-situ conservation of threatened species. He is also a Software Sustainability Fellow, and a Panton Fellow for open data in science. Together with Daniel Mietchen and Lyubomir Penev he is a founding editor of the award-winning open access journal Research Ideas and Outcomes. In his work on the council for the Systematics Association, he led them to sign the Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), and to experiment with crowdfunding for small grants. Ross is a member of the UKSCL (Scholarly Communications Licence) group and the Subscribe to Open community.