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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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I've had two people now come back to me on Twitter saying that Gold Open Access, "by definition", means that the author pays. It does not. Much of the terminology around Open Access was proposed by Peter Suber and here's what he has to say about it (I've bolded the relevant portions):

OA journals ("gold OA"):

  • OA journals conduct peer review.
  • OA journals find it easier than non-OA journals to let authors retain copyright.
  • OA journals find it easier than OA repositories to provide libre OA. OA repositories cannot usually generate permission for libre OA on their own. But OA journals can.
  • Some OA journal publishers non-profit (e.g. Public Library of Science or PLoS) and some are for-profit (e.g. BioMed Central or BMC).
  • OA journals pay their bills very much the way broadcast television and radio stations do: those with an interest in disseminating the content pay the production costs upfront so that access can be free of charge for everyone with the right equipment. Sometimes this means that journals have a subsidy from a university or professional society. Sometimes it means that journals charge a publication fee on accepted articles, to be paid by the author or the author's sponsor (employer, funding agency). OA journals that charge publication fees usually waive them in cases of economic hardship. OA journals with institutional subsidies tend to charge no publication fees. OA journals can get by on lower subsidies or fees if they have income from other publications, advertising, priced add-ons, or auxiliary services. Some institutions and consortia arrange fee discounts. Some OA publishers (such as BMC and PLoS) waive the fee for all researchers affiliated with institutions that have purchased an annual membership.
  • A common misunderstanding is that all OA journals use an "author pays" business model. There are two mistakes here. The first is to assume that there is only one business model for OA journals, when there are many. The second is to assume that charging an upfront fee is an "author pays" model. In fact, most OA journals (70%) charge no author-side fees at all. Moreover, most conventional or non-OA journals (75%) do charge author-side fees. When OA journals do charge fees, the fees are often paid by author-sponsors (employers or funders) or waived, not paid by authors out of pocket.
  • A growing number of universities maintain funds to pay publication fees on behalf of faculty who choose to publish in fee-based OA journals.
  • Some OA proponents use a color code to classify journals: gold (provides OA to its peer-reviewed research articles, without delay), green (permits authors to deposit their peer-reviewed manuscripts in OA repositories), pale green (permits, i.e. doesn't oppose, preprint archiving by authors), gray (none of the above).
  • For details on the business side of OA journals, see the OAD list of Guides for OA journal publishers.
  • We can be confident that OA journals are economically sustainable because the true costs of peer review, manuscript preparation, and OA dissemination are considerably lower than the prices we currently pay for subscription-based journals. There's more than enough money already committed to the journal-support system. Moreover, as OA spreads, libraries will realize large savings from the conversion, cancellation, or demise of non-OA journals.
  • For a list of OA journals in all fields and languages, see the Directory of Open Access Journals.
  • For news about OA journals, follow the oa.journals and tags at the OA Tracking Project.


  1. I am advocating for scholar-run models of OA. I've shown the very low financial costs in my guide and these can be funded publisher-side in this case.
  2. Please check the definitions before blasting me down on Twitter or elsewhere!