Bibliometrics Open access
The many flavors of open access
August 5, 2016
, , , ,

Life used to be so simple. If you wanted to find a scholarly paper, you looked in a journal. If somebody asked you where a paper was, you gave them the name of the journal. With the rise of open access, things have gotten more complex, and not just a little more complex. In this post I am going to explain why there are now over 150 varieties of scholarly paper.

At one time, people read scholarly papers that had been refereed, edited and laid out by a journal by paying a subscription to the journal or getting a copy from a library that had a subscription. Use of the paper was subject to copyright and the paper was available in perpetuity from the date the journal was printed. This model still applies, though the paper isn’t printed so much as mounted on a website behind a paywall.

Today, with over 3,000 repositories operating around the world, more than half of published papers are available open access, often in addition to being behind a paywall. Open access has brought with it a huge amount of variation. Mounting a paper on arXiv seems straightforward enough, but does not exhaust the possibilities. ArXiv exemplifies green open access, where the author makes available the pre-refereed version. There is also gold open access, where the journal makes available the refereed, edited and laid out version as part of an open access journal or as a single open access paper. The journal might make papers available immediately or after an embargo period. They might make a paper open access for a limited period as a marketing device.

Rights to use a paper also vary. Libre is the term used for papers made available with reduced restrictions on use, while gratis means some or all rights are reserved (Suber, 2012). The persistence of papers in open access is also not assured—for example, if a journal is sold and the policy changes, or if an author mounts a paper on a site that is later forgotten and removed in an institutional website reorganization. Arranging these options in various ways creates over 150 permutations.

So today, an author could say: Here is my [draft/ refereed/ published] paper. To get it [now/ after the embargo] [click here/ go through your library/ pay to view it/ register here to download it/ view html version] [copyright restrictions apply/ use it how you like] and this will work [today/ for a while/ forever (I hope)].

This table details a few of the more common combinations, including the formerly standard pay model, ideal open access, usual author posting, open access journals, journals making single papers open access and rogue posting by authors.

OA models
The large variety of types of papers matter to advocates who will rule some types not “real” open access at certain points depending on current arguments. They also matter to those compiling inventories of open access papers, such as Science-Metrix in its 2014 study for the European Commission. Transience and delay cause particular challenges but the effect of variation in the other dimensions is not trivial either. Science-Metrix, for example, consolidated papers into three categories: green, gold and other. Just as databases such as the Web of Science served to clean up a messy publishing world for their users and set some standards to which journals aspire (frequency of publication, abstract in English, etc.), so indexers of open access papers may come to serve a simplifying, standardizing role in the open access world by setting rules for what will and will not be included in the database.


Archambault, E., Amyot, D., Deschamps, P., Nicol, A., Provencher, F., Rebout, L., & Roberge, G. (2014). Proportion of open access papers published in peer-reviewed journals at the European and world levels—1996–2013. Montréal, Canada: Prepared for the European Commission. Retrieved from

Suber, P. (2012). Open Access. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. ISBN 9780262517638.


All views expressed are those of the individual author and are not necessarily those of Science-Metrix, 1science or Georgia Tech.


About the author

Diana Hicks

Professor Diana Hicks specializes in science and technology policy as well as in the innovative use of large databases of patents and papers to address questions of broad interest at the intersection of science and technology. Her recent work focuses on the challenges of bibliometric analysis in the social sciences and humanities and on developing broad understanding of national performance-based research funding systems and their consequences. Professor Hicks’s work has appeared in such journals as Policy Sciences, Social Studies of Science, Nature, Research Policy, Science and Public Policy, Research Evaluation, Research Technology Management, R&D Management, Scientometrics, Revue Economique Industrielle, Science Technology and Human Values, Industrial and Corporate Change, Japan Journal for Science, and Technology and Society. She was also lead author of the Leiden Manifesto (2015, see, which presented 10 principles for guiding research evaluation and has been translated into 11 languages. Hicks is a Professor in the Georgia Tech School of Public Policy, and previously chaired the School between 2003 and 2013. Prior to this, Professor Hicks was the Senior Policy Analyst at CHI Research, Inc. She was also on the faculty of SPRU, University of Sussex (UK), for almost 10 years, taught at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, and worked at the National Institute of Science and Technology Policy (NISTEP) in Tokyo. Visit to view Professor Hicks’s publications.

Related items

/ You may check this items as well

Mapping science: a guide to our Twitter series

Over the course of 2018, we’ll be publishing a s...

Read more

Bibliometric fun facts

Bibliometrics is a complex and nuanced field, and ...

Read more

2017: the best of

Over the past year, the blog ha...

Read more

There are 0 comments