Open Access: what does it mean for Reproductive Health Matters?

19/11/2012 § Leave a comment

Louise Finer, Managing Editor, Reproductive Health Matters

The third in our blog series on Open Access publishing see first and second blogs.

Open Access has undoubtedly been a game-changer for traditional publishing. Questions are being widely asked about the role and responsibilities of publishers and journals in this new scenario, and politically, the commercial interests of publishers have proved sensitive[1].

Like many journals, RHM is reflecting on its own place within this rapidly changing panorama, but for us, the discussion is quite different to most journals.

How RHM is currently published

Print version

–          In English: tiered subscription rates for institutions and individuals; free for developing country groups (86% of current readers).

–          In Arabic, Chinese, French, Hindi, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish: free for all readers.

 Online version

–          In English: free to print subscribers and to those with free subscriptions. Editorials and “article of the month” available free of charge. All     content available free after 3-year embargo period. Single articles available for purchase from Elsevier ($12 per article) or Science Direct ($31.50 per article). All content available from Science Direct as part of (paid-for) bundles of journals.

–          Post-embargo all content available through HINARI (WHO’s Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative database, for institutions in low income countries) and Jstor (tiered subscription for libraries and others).

–          In other languages: all content available free.


–          Elsevier distributes but does not own RHM and publishes RHM online. It gains income from subscriptions and downloads, and from a fee charged to RHM.

–          RHM accepts no payments for publication, actively seeks contributors from the developing world, and secures peer reviews free of charge.

–          Authors and peer reviewers receive free copies of the issue they contributed to. 

–          Bulk subscriptions are discounted.

RHM’s unique publishing model brings it in some ways very close to what is known as Open Access. Unlike most academic journals, RHM relies on external funding to support production, publication and dissemination. In addition to openly accessible online content, distributing free printed copies in the developing world ensures that RHM is widely read in places where traditional scholarly publishing is largely unavailable. Working closely with new authors and researchers to support them to be able to publish important research and analysis is at the core of RHM’s mission: the idea of charging “article processing fees” is inconceivable.

While at face value the principles of the Open Access movement appear to be in line with RHM’s outlook and current modus operandi, the practices of many journals implementing Open Access policies – charging authors to publish and lowering standards in particular – are at odds with RHM’s principles. The concern that the developments in Open Access will lead to new inequities among authors and researchers, lower standards, and greater influence from profit-making motives, is very real. Rather than getting swept up in a movement which in practice does not always live up to its aspirations, we believe RHM should defend its sui generis publishing model. In a context where donors are increasingly reluctant to fund free subscriptions of a journal to developing countries, RHM is committed to considering how its existing form of open access could become even more open and accessible than at present, but any changes must be aimed at further strengthening its reach rather than undermining its founding vision.

[1] A draft Act that would have required express consent from publishers for the dissemination of private sector research was presented to the US Congress in December 2011. This Act has been widely criticised as protecting publishers’ interests at the expense of democratising access to research findings. In response to the initial support of the publisher Elsevier to this Act, a petition to boycott them gathered nearly 13,000 signatures. Elsevier subsequently withdrew its support, and the Act has stalled.

Exploring Open Access: more places to look

ROARMAP provides a list of all the institutions worldwide that have registered “Open Access Repositories Mandatory Archiving Policies”.
DOAJ is a directory of Open Access journals.
OpenDOAR is a directory of Open Access repositories.
SHERPA/RoMEO is a directory of “hybrid Open Access” journals, i.e. those who do not charge for publishing an article according to normal terms, but allow authors to make published articles Open Access on the payment of a fee.
HINARI Access to Research in Health Programme database.

Other information and examples:
Wikipedia charts the history of the Open Access movement and has a useful analysis of related processes and evidence.
OpenAIRE, the European Commission’s Open Access portal gathers information on Open Access policies across the European Union.
PeerJ is a new Open Access journal for biological and medical sciences, which charges a lifetime membership fee rather than charging pay-per-publish fees. PeerJ secured $950,000 in start-up funding, and will support itself subsequently through membership fees.
eLife is a researcher-led digital journal, set up in collaboration between funders and researchers with the aim of “accelerat[ing] scientific advancement by promoting modes of communication whereby new results are made available quickly, openly, and in a way that helps others to build upon them”. All work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution Licence which allows use and re-use of all content providing the original source and authors are credited.
Feminists@law open access journal of legal scholarship editorial, “Why We Oppose Gold Open Access
Free Journals Act, the campaign for freely accessible scientific journals, supported by 154 journals worldwide.

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