"Open Access" – Elsevier, Wiley, RSC

My survey of “open access” in chemistry publishers is part of a larger project which will be revealed shortly. I had not planned to look at closed access publishers but thought it was worth checking what they offered and the last few days of this blog records much of that. I shall summarise shortly.
Peter Suber summarises what I have posted:

In three detailed posts, Peter Murray-Rust documents the access barriers at the hybrid journals from the ACS (Author Choice) and Blackwell (Online Open). These are barriers left in place even after authors or author-sponsors pay for the “open” or “free” access options.


  • Peter examined the access barriers at the Springer hybrid journals (Open Choice) on July 8.
  • These are valuable studies, especially when supplemented by clarifying publisher responses (like Jan Velterop’s response to Peter’s post on Springer). When a hybrid program doesn’t claim to offer “open access”, then I don’t criticize it for falling short of the BBB definition of OA, even if I criticize it on other grounds. But some of the hybrid programs do claim to offer OA; and even when they carefully pick new terms and avoid promising OA, their access barriers should be well-documented to help authors, funders, and universities decide whether their fees are worth paying. Journals should clearly describe their access policies –OA or not– and when they don’t, we count on independent investigations like Peter’s.

As always PS identifies the issues and I agree completely with:

“When a hybrid program doesn’t claim to offer “open access”, then I don’t criticize it for falling short of the BBB definition of OA, even if I criticize it on other grounds.

so I did not criciticize the ACS’s Free Access policy per se, but the fact that certain pubklcations were not offered under the conditions that were advertised in the policy – i.e. a paper which was labelled “Free Access” could be accessed in a manner which required or invited the reader to pay to view. The same was true for Springer and Blackwell.
Note that I have not carried out a comprehensive survey of every paper offered as “Open” or “Free” or whatever – partly because some of the publishes make it almost impossible to locate these by this criterion alone.
To continue the survey I have looked at three publishers who offer specialist chemistry journals (i.e.journals labelled as chemistry). I shall not look at publishers who offer multidisciplinary journals (e.g. PNAS) though I would be grateful to know of other journals (e.g. from Nature, Royal Soc, etc.) which are primarily chemistry and which offer Open schemes of some sort.
I have looked at Elsevier, Wiley and RSC. The methodology was to type “Elsevier Open Access” , “RSC hybrid”, (etc.) into Google and see what I got. If the publisher had a clear hybrid offering I would visit it and try to find some papers. Findings:
Elsevier has no hybrid offerings in chemistry (Peter Suber, Open Access News) blogs 6 journals in different subjects. I shall not pursue this further other than to note that they seem to use the term Sponsored Article.
Wiley Announces New Funded Access Service [2006] and uses the term “Funded Access”. The service and list of Journals is here. Some are fully chemical – I have only scanned them very cursorily and found no offerings. I found an example of FA in proteomics and AFAICS the service was adequate – I i.e the abstract announced the paper was free to read and it was. But I only have a sample of one, and I think a number of Wiley journals are society so I don’t expect a consistent approach.
The Royal Society of Chemistry uses the term “Open Science” to describe its pay to read policy. The FAQ seems fairly clear. I skimmed the whole set of TOCs for Chemical Communications in 2007 (28 issues, ca 25 articles per issue = 700 articles). Chem Comm (in which I have published several times) is a flagship journal for rapid communications and might be the sort of place where authors would wish to pay-to-expose. I only skimmed the TOCs for icons and found none relating to Open Science. So I conclude one of the following:

  • There are no Open Science communications in Chem Comm
  • The RSC does not label the TOCs with OS icons

To summarise so far:

  • It is EXTREMELY difficult to find any instances of Hybrid Open Access. The only publisher which helped me find articles was ACS who had a direct pointer to all 27 articles under its Free Access Scheme.
  • The way that publishers lay out their journals and their TOCs is AWFUL. There is no consistency between publishers (well I wouldn’t expect that) but all of them make things very difficult. For example in ACS you do not seem to be able to find all the TOCs for a given journal.
  • The nomenclature for Hybrid Open Access (and presumably in Springer’s case Full Open Access) will confuse the hell out of any normal human. “Online Open”, “Sponsored Access”, “Open Science”, “Free Access”, “Author Choice”, “Open Choice”. What are these meant to mean?? (Andrew Walkingshaw pointed me at APS whose TOC page is simple, honest, does-what-it-says-on-the-tin, and uses the simple phrase “FREE TO READ”. But there again, physics is light years ahead of chemistry as a scholarly discipline.
  • There is very little evidence that any of these publishers want to actively promote anything Open other than noises in press releases. The take up appears to be between 0% and 1% (these are approximations and I would be delighted and surprised if any publisher supplied me with accurate figures.)
  • Where a society journal is published by a major closed access publisher there is even greater confusion. None of my findings are critical of society publishers. Some of them appear to have dual access – one through their own web site and one through the major publisher and the offerings can be different.

Most of the hybrid schemes in chemical journals appear to have been going for about a year. (Some societies have been running this for longer). So to be fair it will take some time for the community to react.
But the simple fact is that after a year less than 1% of chemistry papers which could be published as hybrid open access actually are thus published. There are many reasons but one of them is that the publishers are not working hard enough to make it work. The impression going through all these websites – a depressing experience – is that there is no promotion of the concept, visual signals are awful, web architecture is inconsistent, rubrics are illogcal and fuzzy, there is little good labelling, etc. The immediate impression is that for most of these publishers hybrid open access is an inconvenient political necessity that they must pay lip service to but that they would rather it wasn’t around. Peter Gregory, when at RSC in 2006 described Open Access as “ethically flawed” (my first post on this blog!) and stated:

But the Royal Society of Chemistry’s director of publishing, Peter Gregory, disagrees. ‘We have absolutely no interest shown from our editorial board members, or our authors, for open access publishing,’ he said.

Now PeterG has left RSC (to another large publisher I think?) and I don’t think RSC hold the same views now. However I haven’t found many “open science” publications.
So end-of-term report of the class of 2006 hybrid access publishers we can give the following report:
“Could try harder”

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