How Many Open Access Journals Are There?

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Open-access journals have transformed the academic publishing landscape over the past two decades. One question: How many open access journals are there right now?

Unlike traditional subscription-based journals, open-access journals provide free online access to all published research articles. The purpose of open access is to remove barriers to accessing scholarly research, allowing more widespread dissemination and use of published findings.

This introduction will explain open access journals, compare them to subscription journals, and discuss their growing impact on scholarly communication.

What is an Open Access Journal?

An open access journal operates under a publishing model that provides users free, immediate, and unrestricted online access to all published research articles. Rather than requiring subscriptions or pay-per-view fees to access content, open access journals are accessible to all readers. This removes financial, technical, and permission barriers that can limit access to information.

There are several types of open access journals, but they aim to provide barrier-free access to academic research. This broader distribution aims to accelerate research and discovery across disciplines. Let’s dive deeper into more details about open access, before delving into how many open access journals are there.

Open Access vs. Subscription Models

For over a century, most scholarly journals have used a subscription-based model. Readers or libraries pay subscription fees to access journal articles. These fees help publishers cover their costs. But subscription costs have risen drastically in recent decades, pricing out some institutions and individuals. This limits who can access the latest research findings.

Open access journals offer a different model by making content freely available to all online without requiring subscriptions. However, open access journals have costs, too. Common funding models include author publication fees, subsidies, and advertising. So, while access barriers are removed, financial barriers persist in academia.

Impact Factor and Research Impact of Open Access Articles

Despite some criticisms, studies show open access journals have achieved impact factors and citation counts equal to or exceeding subscription journals. Impact factors reflect how often other researchers cite journal articles. More citations generally indicate wider dissemination and influence.

Research also suggests open access increases article downloads and readership. This supports the goal of open access in spreading academic knowledge beyond paywalls. However, there is variation across disciplines. Some fields have been quicker to adopt open access than others. Open access journals and articles have carved out a vital and expanding role in scholarly communication.

The Prevalence of Open Access Journals

The open access publishing model has grown tremendously over the past two decades. In the early 2000s, only a small percentage of academic journals provided open access to their articles. However, recent analysis shows that the proportion of open access articles now accounts for over one-third of all scholarly publications.

How Many Open Access Journals Are There?

According to statistics from the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), over 16,000 open access journals publish more than 4 million articles. This represents a significant increase from just a few thousand open access journals in the early 2000s. The number of open access articles published yearly likely exceeds 1 million.

In terms of overall number, there are more than 30,000 academic journals globally. This means that about half of the academic journals publish on the open access model.

The largest open access publishers include PLOS, Hindawi, and BioMed Central, which publish hundreds of open-access journals spanning various academic disciplines. However, smaller publishers are also making significant contributions to open access growth.

Comparison of Open Access Prevalence Across Different Disciplines

The uptake of open access varies considerably across academic fields. Studies show that over 50% of articles in biomedical sciences are now published open access. However, the social sciences and humanities continue to lag with less than 20% open access on average.

Within the natural sciences, specific disciplines have embraced open access more than others. For example, the open access percentage for astronomy articles exceeds 90%, while chemistry remains under 20%.

There also appear to be disciplinary differences regarding access type. Gold open access is more common in the life sciences, while green open access through repositories predominates in physics and mathematics.

Highlighting the Variation in Access Types Within Different Fields

As mentioned, there are two main types of open access: gold and green. Gold open access refers to articles published in open access journals that are freely available online immediately upon publication. Green open access involves authors self-archiving versions of their articles in online repositories.

Most major publishers now offer a hybrid open access option, allowing authors to pay an article processing charge (APC) to make individual subscription articles open access. However, the uptake of hybrid open access remains relatively low in most fields under 10%.

In the humanities and social sciences, green open access through repositories appears to be the most viable route to open access. Meanwhile, gold open access is flourishing in the life sciences partly due to requirements from funding agencies.

Understanding these disciplinary differences can help inform open access policies and strategies in the future.

Characteristics of Open Access Journals

Open access journals have increased in recent years, accounting for a significant proportion of all scholarly publications. However, there is considerable variation in the availability of open access articles across different academic disciplines. Analyzing the largest open access journal publishers by volume reveals some interesting trends.

Examination of the Largest Publishers by Volume

A few major commercial publishers dominate the open access landscape. For example, Elsevier, Springer Nature, Wiley, and Taylor & Francis publish over half of all open access articles. Society publishers and university presses have also successfully transitioned journals to open access models. However, smaller publishers focused exclusively on open access struggle to compete with the resources and prestige of these established players.

Proportion of Open Access Articles Published by Top Publishers

The proportion of open access articles varies widely, even among the largest scholarly publishers. For instance, nearly all of PLOS’s articles are open access, while this percentage drops to around 30% for Elsevier.

Publishers focused on open access have the highest rates, unsurprisingly. However, traditional subscription-based publishers are increasingly offering open access options, with the percentage of open access articles growing across the board.

Variation in Availability Across Different Disciplines

There is significant disciplinary variation in open access availability. Fields like medicine and biology have embraced open access, with a wealth of quality journals. However, many humanities and social science disciplines still lack reputable open access options.

Researchers in these areas often struggle with the choice between visibility in an open access journal or the prestige of a traditional subscription journal. Hybrid open access journals allow authors to pay fees to make individual articles open access, helping to bridge this gap during the transition period.

Open Access Publishing Model

The funding model for open access publishing has evolved significantly over the past two decades. In the early days of open access, most journals were published by academics voluntarily, without any author fees. However, several different funding models have emerged as open access has grown.

The most common model now is where authors pay an article processing charge (APC) to cover publication costs. APCs typically range from $500 to $5,000 per article, with the fees varying widely depending on factors like the publisher, journal, and academic field. The APC model has enabled many publishers to transition journals to open access while being financially sustainable.

However, the APC model also has some significant drawbacks.

Since authors or their institutions usually pay the fees, it creates an economic barrier, especially for researchers from less well-funded institutions and low-income countries. This leads to concerns about equity of access. There are also concerns that some publishers are exploiting their monopoly power and charging excessive APCs.

Some alternative open access funding models are:

  • Institutional subsidies – Universities and research funders covering APCs on behalf of affiliated authors
  • Freemium model – Some content is open access, other content requires subscriptions
  • Advertising revenue
  • Crowdfunding and community support

The impact of open access publishing on the scholarly community has been significant. It has dramatically increased the discoverability and readership of academic articles. As we have seen, there is strong evidence that open access articles receive more citations than paywalled articles. Open access has also enabled new research analytics and text/data mining tools to analyze the scholarly literature.

How many open access journals are there

However, some researchers argue that the quality control standards are lower in open access journals than in traditional subscription journals. This claim is hotly debated, with evidence on both sides. There are also concerns that some open access journals and publishers lack integrity and engage in unethical practices.

In conclusion, while open access has led to many benefits for the scholarly community, the current publishing models have flaws that need to be addressed through further evolution and innovation.


The write-up addresses the perennial question: How many open access journals are there now?

Nonetheless, there are things more critical than numbers. The open access publishing movement has made significant strides in recent years toward making scholarly research more accessible. As highlighted throughout this analysis, challenges still need to be addressed though.

Open-access publishing helps advance science by removing access barriers for readers worldwide. It also accelerates the pace of research by facilitating collaboration and data sharing. Open access has an exciting history and equally fascinating future.

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