Spot the Difference: Open Access vs. Traditional Journals

What makes an open access publication different from a traditional one? In some cases, not much!

Outstanding Book

One of these things is not like the others.

Open access (OA) journals, books, and data are fully available to everyone online at no cost. This distinguishes them from traditional publications, which charge subscription fees and typically have to be accessed through libraries. OA journals reach larger audiences and the authors who publish research in them are cited more often than those publishing in traditional journals (see here), but often are not as well-established as traditional subscription-based journals. Many subscription-based journals have existed much longer and are better known within (and outside of) various disciplines.

Scholars have a host of things to consider when publishing their work, not least of which is the reputation of the venue they select. Subscription-based journals seemingly have an edge on OA journals in this area. Traditional journals are respected for their practices of publishing high-quality scholarship as a result of rigorous peer review and editorial processes. Can OA journals provide the same sort of quality scholarship that paid journals might?

Yes! Many open access journals provide the same thorough peer-review processes as subscription-based journals. A simple way to find OA journals that employ respected scholarly practices is by searching or browsing the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). The DOAJ was launched in 2003 as group of members ‘dedicated to quality, peer-reviewed open access.’ Many of its members are publishers committed to publishing rigorous open access scholarship, and publishers must apply to have their journals included in the directory. A basic requirement for inclusion in the DOAJ is a fully developed quality control system of editorial or peer review. You can find more information about the DOAJ’s criteria for listing publications here.

This means that everyone can have access to high-quality scholarship, and that libraries are able to provide even more scholarship to their users. Many libraries, including Copley, list high-quality open access journals right alongside their subscription-based journals. Though the way OA journals are funded may be different, their use of established practices for evaluating research does not have to be.

This blog post is brought to you as part of Open Access Week, currently taking place everywhere. For more information about Open Access Week and increasing public access to research, visit For questions about Open Access, scholarly publishing, or scholarly communication, contact Kelly Riddle, Digital Initiatives Librarian, at


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