Traditional v Open Access

A brief introduction to Traditional vs. Open-Access Publishing arguments and problems:

            For those who have experienced the aches and pains of trying to submit an article to a journal, you may also be familiar with the great expense that comes along with it. Although many larger, well known journals, charge a fee for the public to view their articles, open access journals are increasing in numbers and provide viewers and sometimes authors, a way to read and share their work without charge.

            Before discussing the different journal types, it is important to understand what a publisher is and their structure and relationship with journals. As defined by, a publisher is either an individual or company whose primary role is to provide a connection between authors and the public. Publishers are typically responsible for advertising and overseeing a journal and may own more than one type of journal.  Journals are usually organized by type, so articles with a common theme (poetry, science, fashion, etc.) are collected and presented together. Publishers may make a profit from these journals by either charging a membership fee for viewing, by charging authors, or through advertisements for third parties. In general, editors run the day-to-day operations and manage long-term goals of individual journals within a publishing firm.

            In the traditional model, most publishing firms allow authors to publish their work for free. They generate revenue by charging user-based subscription fees to libraries or individuals for unlimited access to these articles, or by charging a fee per article for those who do not have a subscription. New journals are emerging, however, and are operating as open access journals that allow the public to view scientific work for free. There are different types of these journals; the two most common ones shall be discussed below.

            The first is a fee-based open access journal and these include publishers such as BioMed Central and the Public Library of Science (PLoS).  These journals charge authors a fee for publication of an article to cover the cost of providing free public access. Authors typically pay for this using their own money, funding from an academic institution or employer, or funds from research grants. In many journals, authors will pay the fees if the article is accepted, rather than paying as the article is submitted.

            A second type of open access journal is the no-fee type, such as the MSRJ. Articles are free for viewing by the public and in addition, authors are not required to pay a fee for publication of a manuscript. These types of journals typically receive funding from universities, government agencies, donations, advertising, etc.  Our goal at MSRJ is to provide an outlet for medical students to share and publish their work for free and to allow medical students and others to read articles free of charge. For these types of journals, it is a win-win for both authors and readers.

            There has been recent discussion about the costs of publishing and the increase of open access journals. An article by Richard van Noorden (2013) reviews the costs of publishing a scientific article and the benefits of submitting to open-access journals. He states that publishers that charge fees to view their articles are very secretive when it comes to disclosing actual costs of publishing compared to the prices that larger institutions, such as campus libraries, pay to buy these journals.  An article from The Economist (2013) stated that the revenues of some of the major journals reached into the billion dollar range in 2012.  The article, Free-for-all (2013), cited that the revenue of the Dutch journal publisher, Elsevier, had reached $3.2 billion. However, as both articles (Economist, 2013 and Noorden, 2013) mentioned, these publishing firms are facing more competition from the increasing number of open access journals. It is widely believed that open access journals are more expensive to publish in for authors. Indeed, Noorden states that publication fees can be in the multi-thousand dollar range to publish one article in some journals. However, some publishing companies, such as the open-access publisher Hindawi, state that their average costs are only in the hundreds for each article. This brings us to question why large, well known journals, have such high publication costs.  There is a certain amount of prestige surrounding these journals that could be due to their high review standards, which raises the level of difficulty for an author to have a manuscript published. They have high impact factors, and are read and cited by many because their standards engender trust in the integrity of their content. There is encouragement from universities for faculty to submit to these journals, offering promotion or increases in research funding for publishing in high impact journals.  This puts more pressure on researchers to structure their research around topics or results that could increase their chances of becoming published in such journals. With the rise of open-access journals, it becomes easier for authors to publish their work . As large open-access journals like PLoS allow anyone to access their work, more articles are cited, and their impact factor improves. Over time, open access journals may improve their impact factor such that they rival the traditional elite journals. Some traditional journals have changed in recent years to accommodate open access by allowing authors the ability to pay for articles to be made available to non-subscribers; an article by Gargouri et al. suggests that this can actually increase the number of citations for these articles, as more scientists are able to read and incorporate the work into their own articles. 

            These, along with the growing opinion that scientific knowledge should be free for access to the public, are  possible explanations for the increasing number of publications in open access journals. In addition, because public money in the form of grants from funders such as the NIH supports much of the research being published, many believe that the public should have access to their investment. Overall, despite the varying opinions on the different publication types, many authors still submit their articles to both publishers who charge readers and to open access journals who may charge an up-front fee. Increasing awareness about these different types will hopefully enable authors to better assess the pros and cons each type offers and allow them to make better decisions for what works for them.



1.      “Free-For-All.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper Limited, 4 May 2013. Web. <>.


2.      Butler, Declan. “Investigating Journals: The Dark Side of Publishing.” Nature. Nature Publishing Group, 27 Mar. 2013. Web. <>.


3.      Finch, Janet. “Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications. Report of the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings.” (2012).


4.      Gardner, R.. (2013). Open access and learned societies. Debating Open Access (pp. 4-29). The British Academy.


5.      Germano, William. “What Do Publishers Do?” Getting It Published, 2nd Edition: A Guide for Scholars and Anyone Else Serious about Serious Books. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2001. N. pag. Print.

6.      “Publisher.” N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2013. <>.


7.      Osborne, R. (2013). Why Open Access Makes No Sense. Debating Open Access (pp. 96-105). The British Academy.


8.      Van Noorden, Richard. “Open Access: The True Cost of Science Publishing.” Nature. Nature Publishing Group, 27 Mar. 2013. Web. <>.


9.      “Academic Publishing.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 25 Sept. 2013. Web. 26 Sept. 2013. <>.


10.  “Open Access Journal.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Sept. 2013. Web. 26 Sept. 2013. <>.

11.  Gargouri Y, Hajjem C, Larivière V, Gingras Y, Carr L, et al. (2010) Self-Selected or Mandated, Open Access Increases Citation Impact for Higher Quality Research. PLoS ONE 5(10): e13636. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0013636


The following two tabs change content below.

Tina Chaalan

Junior Editor
Tina is a second year medical student at Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine. She graduated with a B.S in Biological Sciences at the University of Michigan- Dearborn in 2012. She is interested in pursuing a career in Surgery but is still keeping an open mind towards other fields. She has a great interest in public health policies and hopes to play a larger role in the public health sector later in her career.

Latest posts by Tina Chaalan (see all)