Computing Profession

Will Free Open Access Publication Become a Mass Phenomenon?


Every researcher attempts to meet their own requirements when seeking to submit the results of their work for publication. In this blog post, I would like to go over the value of different publication platforms from the point of view of an ordinary scientific researcher.

For most researchers, the ideal publishing scenario meets the following criteria:

  • free of cost to the author
  • the full text of the publication and all related materials are open access or can be obtained for free by any reader
  • the publication is included in freely accessible search engines. In other words, the publication is easy to find through Web searches.
  • publication is on a platform that is widely recognized in keeping with the rating system.

Unfortunately, for many authors, all of these conditions are never fully met, especially with regard to the open access of published works. While authors from developing countries suffer the most, the situation is slightly better for researchers from the BRICS countries and the Arab states. In this regard, significant bias favoring G7 countries and their closest allies is evidenced by the number of journals in the first and second quartiles when distribution by country is taken into account.

In order to alleviate this problem and eliminate the imbalance, the BRICS countries and the Arab states should provide financing for the creation of a sufficient number of new scientific journals. These journals would publish articles in the English language, and the articles and their texts would be immediately placed in the public domain. In Russia, a program to facilitate the launching of new open access scientific journals is currently being discussed. A competitive selection process has been proposed, with the winners being given the opportunity to launch the publication of their journal.

Due to the global reach, it is clear that the new journals should have international editorial boards and the majority of the members should be recognized scientists. At the same time the core personnel should be scientists who are mainly from the BRICS or Arab countries. This will help to avoid the unnecessary politicization of new publishing houses.

In my opinion, the biggest problem will be in the first steps after the launch of new journals. These steps will be associated with filling the editorial portfolio and laying the foundation on which the reputation of the journals will be built. In order to propose a solution to these issues, we should start with a little excursion into the sphere of publishing. Most modern publishing houses are large private companies with huge turnovers, and like all private companies their chief goal is obtaining maximum possible profit. It is clear that such a goal is at odds with the requirements on the publication process as put forward by scientists.

Let us consider some of the ways and means of obtaining financing for the publishing process:

  • paid subscriptions
  • creation of a paid access database of papers from numerous journals
  • payment for publication and for open access to the full text
  • reduction in the cost of the publishing process by shifting the costs for the preparation of manuscripts to the author and the use of volunteers for reviewing and on the editorial board
  • increasing publication ratings based on international citation systems
  • bonus payments from employers to authors, this would shift the royalty system to the consumer.

In the era when there were not only no computer networks but manual typesetting was used in the printing houses, there were only two ways to pay for the publication of periodicals. These were either through a subscription to the journal, such as when major universities and libraries paid for the delivery of all issues for the year, or the sales of single issues or prints. Authors were also often charged a fee to cover editorial expenses.

The situation then began to change with the development of computer technology. First came computer assisted typing and then it became possible to automate access to full texts and fragments. In the end major publishers were able to create entire databases consisting of published research and began selling access to the data. In short the advent of information technology and computer networks has completely changed the means of conducting the business of publishing.

A rapid decline in the cost of the publishing process has occurred while at the same time most of the costs associated with manuscript preparation and editing have been shifted to the authors. This is largely explained by the widespread use of templates for various publishing systems, primarily MS Office and LaTeX. For these reasons, starting in the 1990s, authors began to be exempted from paying for publication. However, most authors must sign an agreement on the transfer of the right to reprint and distribute the full text of their publications, which explains the appearance of large paid databases. Until recently, selling access to these databases was the main source of income for on-line publishers. All of this while at the same time, the costs of the publishing process saw a sharp reduction, which made it possible make a windfall in profits.

With regard to the financial component of on-line publishers, the ongoing development of information technologies, especially social networks, has served to limit their profits. Currently, there are many opportunities to obtain full texts of desired articles through various Internet sources. To keep their windfall-profit levels, publishers have proposed what they package as being a "new" way of doing business, the so-called open access model, according to which authors must pay for the publication of papers and their subsequent placement in an open database. Then, only in that case, will the author's work have all of the associated publication data freely available in the selected journal, in other words a return to the business model with expenses covered by authors. My current data shows that the IEEE charges US$1,750, which is well below the private publishers Elsevier‎, John Wiley and Sons‎, Springer Nature,‎ and Taylor Francis, who have all set publication fees well over US$2,000.

By comparison, numerous new journals that have chosen the open access model for their businesses charge anywhere from US$200 to US$300 per article. Judging from these numbers, one can make a healthy guess as to the level of profits traditional companies make. Of course it is acceptable to protect such profit levels at any cost. To do this, mechanisms are being used that were previously only based on reputation but now only protect windfall profits. These mechanisms include the Web of Science and Scopus citation systems described above which prevent the inclusion of new journals with low fees for open access publication in their databases and also exclude journals that dare to offer realistic prices.

As an example of the situation, personally I always cite the story of the International Journal of Network Security. I am personally qualified to judge their editorial procedures as I had my paper published in IJNS [1]. Since 2006, this journal has had a rating in SCIMAGO, but the journal immediately fell into the second quartile. Over the next 14 years, the IJNS maintained that position and fell into the third quartile only four times. However, at the beginning of 2018, the journal was no longer indexed in Scopus.

For me personally, this was completely unexpected, since in previous years the number of published articles in the journal did not increase, with about 120 articles being published every year. Every manuscript was reviewed by several resident reviewers with only 10% to 12% of the manuscripts being accepted for publication. Naturally, with such an approach, plagiarism was eliminated immediately. It is possible that one can make claims against the usage of the English language itself, since most of the authors are from Asia. Nevertheless, the contribution to science of each study is quite clear and understandable. The reason listed for the exclusion of IJNS from Scopus is the Radar search engine. No matter how much I searched for a detailed description of how this mechanism works, I could not find anything. Therefore, in my fact-based opinion, the only logical explanation as to the real reason for the block is the low publishing fee. This is based on the fact that a couple of years before being excluded from Scopus, the journal switched to an open access model and announced their pricing with the price range for publication being from US$300 to US$600, depending on the length of submitted papers. That price is, in fact, 5 or more times lower than the price of publication in the journals of the leading publishers. As a result, it appears that Radar is being used as a tool to eliminate competition.

In their efforts to limit competition, traditional publishers have constantly launched information campaigns to vilify competitors and continue to do so. In this regard, during the dawn of the concept of open access, Beall's List of Predatory Journals (2010) appeared. Jeffrey Beall argued that all open access journals are dishonest and published in violation of scientific ethics. We underline the fact that since January 2017, all materials by Jeffrey Beall have disappeared from public access. During the same period of time, the major publishing houses began to shift to the open access model. I have cited these examples specifically to make it clear as to how much resistance the opening of new journals will face. New publishers and their editorial boards need to be prepared to withstand this kind of pressure. Moreover, there are, in fact, tools to counteract unfair practices and promote new journals.

First and foremost, these tools are related to the direct and indirect funding of leading publications. By direct funding, I mean paying for the publication of open access articles. According to the Russian Academy of Sciences, the size of such financial transfers from Russia alone exceeds US$10 million a year and the share of paid publications in relation to the total volume is growing rapidly[e].

This amount, however, can in no way be compared to the indirect funding used to support such publications. Systems providing researchers with incentives (real world contracts); applications for, and reports on, grants and government tasking and orders; and then the various types of ratings, both on individuals and organizations, are all tied to citation systems. The simplest preliminary estimates show that up to a quarter of the allocated funds for payroll should be spent on paying for these types of incentives. With regard to the scale of Russian science, this is a huge sum amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars. It is a fact that royalties are paid to Russian authors for publications in leading foreign journals directly from the Russian federal budget, with 90% of these first- and second-quartile journals in the list of publishers being published by the G7 countries and their allies. Here we should note that the situation with the financing of foreign publishing houses is one that is typical in all of the BRICS countries. China itself pays out tens of billions of dollars annually in the form of indirect support for such publications.

The mechanism of influence that we have described in fact can and should be used for our own benefit. It is therefore for this reason that I have written this report and to underline the need for the establishment of new open access journals with international editorial boards from the BRICS and Arab countries. These journals should be supported by the governments concerned and in the initial stages should be completely free to authors for the first several years.

Initially in each of the countries concerned, it will be necessary to change the list of journals that will be used for the implementation of award and evaluation systems. During the first stages, this list should include no more than 500 journals from the G7 countries and their allies. Journals from the first and second quartiles published outside these countries should be retained and the list should be expanded to include third-quartile journals published in the BRICS countries. In the second phase, which should begin after the launch of the system of new open access journals, all journals from the G7 countries and their allies should be removed from the whitelist and the newly opened journals should be added to it.

The main disadvantage of the aforementioned scheme is the lack of an existing rating system for the updated list of new journals. Therefore, it will be necessary to create our own rating system that will analyze all publications included in our own list. In order to do this, it would probably be desirable to conclude a contract with national Internet search engines, which in the case of Russia is the Yandex, with their main task being the development of ranking technologies. Accounting for ordinary citations clearly will not be sufficient and discussion is needed on how to take into account contributions by other indicators, including the practical application of results.

It should be noted that new open access journals have excellent chances of immediately being included into many citations databases. This will happen if the new journals are able to reach agreements on the placement of articles in the libraries of the largest international research communities, namely the ACM Digital Library and/or IEEE Xplore. As a rule, such international communities are less dependent on politics, as all members of the community take part in the elections of governing bodies. In addition, several types of decisions can be made at the level of national sections. An excellent example of an international open access journal is the Serbian journal TELFOR. Judging from the evidence, it seems to me that the practice of opening new journals based on digital libraries will expand soon.

So far, it is not yet clear however how quickly the new open access journals with state support from the BRICS countries and the Arab states will begin to appear. Although it is vital that national publishing reward systems be modified to protect our own interests, the aim of such changes should be to encourage the publication of articles in the journals of the new national publishers. If such a program is coordinated by and with the science and education authorities of the BRICS countries and the Arab states, the results, in the form of effective free open access publications, will appear very quickly.


[1] Sagatov, E.S., Lovtsov, K. and Sukhov, A.M., 2019. Identifying Anomalous Geographical Routing Based on the Network Delay. Int. J. Netw. Secur., 21(5), pp.760-767.
[2] Khokhlov A. N., Morgunova G. V., 2022. Herbivore journals vs predatory journals–the battle is already lost, what's next?. Science Editor and Publisher, 7(1 (Suppl)), pp.40-46.


Andrei Sukhov ( is a senior member of ACM, and a professor of Sevastopol State University and Samara University. He lives and works in Samara, Russia.

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