Open Access works

Bee on open flower

Open access is the free access to scholarly publications. A new study confirms its benefits and clarifies reservations. 

04/28/2022 · News · HP-Topnews · TIB – Leibniz-Informationszentrum Technik und Naturwissenschaften · Mathematik, Natur- und Ingenieurwissenschaften · Forschungsergebnis

Open access – free access to scholarly publications – offers many advantages. As surveys show, however, some researchers still have reservations. In the past decade, numerous empirical studies have been published providing substantiated results on the hopes and concerns regarding open access.

The study entitled Wirkungen von Open Access. Literaturstudie über empirische Arbeiten 2010–2021” (The effects of open access. A literature review of empirical studies 2010–2021), conducted by TIB – Leibniz Information Centre for Science and Technology on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), now provides a comprehensive overview of empirical study results on the effects of open access.

“The findings are useful in determining the advantages and disadvantages of open access. They serve as a knowledge base for the open access strategies of scholars, publishers, institutions and policy-makers alike,” explained Professor Dr. Sören Auer, Director of TIB.

What was investigated? – Analysis of 61 relevant studies on the effects of open access

To conduct this review, TIB identified a total of 318 scientific studies that empirically examine various effects of open access. From this corpus, the authors selected 61 particularly relevant studies for a systematic comparison; these were then analysed thoroughly and the various results were compared in detail.

The effects studied relate to seven major aspects of open access:
  1. Attention in the scientific community
  2. Quality of scientific publications
  3. Knowledge transfer
  4. Productivity of the publishing system
  5. Use of publications
  6. Inequality in the science system
  7. Economic impact on the publishing system
The findings: state of research on the effects of open access

Dr. David Hopf, lead author of the study, reported the key findings: “The literature reviewed confirms several advantages of open access: open access leads to increased usage and to a professionally and geographically more diverse readership. At the same time, open access publications make a greater contribution to knowledge transfer than traditionally published research results, and the publishing process – the time between the submission and acceptance or publication of articles – is shorter. What is more, a number of negative concerns assumed in relation to the effects of open access – for example, that open access publications are of an inferior quality and lead to disadvantages in print edition sales – have been dispelled.”

However, one partial result came as a surprise: the fact that open access publications are cited more frequently than publications that are not freely available is often mentioned as an advantage of open access – and is also confirmed by most empirical studies. However, a substantial proportion of the empirical literature deviates from this result, which means that an OA citation advantage cannot be conclusively confirmed empirically. In light of a high level of plausibility and methodological difficulties in this area, however, it can still be assumed that such an advantage exists.

Just one finding indicates a negative effect of open access: where so-called article processing charges (APCs) – publication costs incurred by many open access publications – exist, authors with fewer resources may be discouraged from publishing open access, e.g. due to low income levels in some regions of the world or a lack of institutional funding. However, this is not an effect of open access per se, but rather an effect of a particular business model for financing open access publications.

Unresolved questions – further research required

Besides providing answers to questions concerning the effects of open access, the TIB study also identifies aspects related to the effects of open access that may be highly relevant, but that have not yet been adequately explored. Research gaps exist on questions such as the following: How does the negative impact of APCs on inequalities in the science system relate to the positive effect of open access on the diversity of the use of scientific publications? How exactly does open access influence researchers’ career paths? Who benefits to what extent from open access – are the benefits evenly distributed or do gender and access to financial resources play a role?

Moreover, further studies may help to verify the existing results and improve the generalisability of the statements in almost all of the areas of impact investigated, for example through sophisticated research designs and methods that systematically exclude possible confounding factors.

“The results on the effects of open access show that the objective of achieving an extensive transformation to open access – a goal to which research organisations in Germany have committed – is the right approach. Four specific recommendations can be derived from the results of the study we conducted: expand open access further; close the research gaps mentioned; promote further research on certain effects; and tackle the negative effects of APCs on inequalities by taking appropriate countermeasures,” concluded Marco Tullney, Head of Publishing Services at TIB, who is responsible for the study.

Original publication

David Hopf, Sarah Dellmann, Christian Hauschke und Marco Tullney (2022): Wirkungen von Open Access. Literaturstudie über empirische Arbeiten 2010–2021, Technische Informationsbibliothek (TIB).

Further information and contact

Press release - TIB – Leibniz Information Centre for Science and Technology