The Open Access Landscape: 1. Background

In early 2015, I completed what I believe to be the closest thing to a universal survey of Open Access (OA) journals, sometimes called Gold OA: all the journals in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) as of May 7, 2014, that had enough English in some version of the interface so that I could evaluate them. That turned out to be 7,301 journals, of which 6,490 journals published at least one article between January 1, 2011 and June 30, 2014 and had websites that made it possible for me to count or estimate the number of articles each year.

The analysis and description of the state of OA journals, based on this universe of 6,490 journals, appears in mid-2015 as Idealism and Opportunism: The State of Open Access Journals: Idealism and Opportunism*, an issue of Library Technology Reports from the American Library Association.

This series of blog posts (which may turn into a book if there’s enough interest) complements that study by expanding on Chapter 5, “A Closer Look at Subjects.” If time and energy permit, I plan to prepare a post on each of 27 topics (and two clusters that aren’t really topics) and, possibly, several groups of topics. Each post will discuss the journals on one topic, looking at them in some of the ways that Open Access Journals: Idealism and Opportunism* looks at the broader set of journals. Subjects were assigned based on the very detailed subjects in DOAJ and, in some cases, the title or publication pattern of the journal.

This introductory post notes some of the definitions that apply across all of the posts, the one way in which these posts may introduce new data, and some caveats.


A number of terms and category breakdowns used in Open Access Journals: Idealism and Opportunism are also used in these posts, generally without explicit definitions.


The earlier studies on large subsets of DOAJ and the Beall lists used grades to group journals, including A, B, C, D, E, H, N, O and X. Grades E (empty), H (hybrid), N (not OA), O (opaque/obscure) and X (unreachable/unworkable) make up the 811 difference between the 7,301 journals checked and the 6,490 in the universe discussed in these posts. The following grades and subgrades appear in these posts:

  • A: Apparently good. No apparent issues with a journal, and if there’s an article processing charge as of late 2014 it’s $999 or less.
  • A$: Good but pricey. No apparent issues, but an APC of $1,000 or more.
  • B: May need investigation. The journal may be great, but something about the site suggested that a scholar might want to investigate further—e.g., poor-quality English in the interface or misleading claims or journal titles.
  • C: Highly questionable. Journals with serious problems that I believe most scholars and librarians would and should ignore. Reasons include APCs that aren’t stated (or probably exist but aren’t discussed), false claims by the publisher, and implausible things such as two-day review turnaround.
  • D: Dormant, diminutive, dying or dead—journals that might be locked out of DOAJ in the future or seem to be going away. The D grade includes these subgrades: C: Apparently ceased; D: Dying; E: Erratic publication patterns (fewer than five articles in some years); H: Hiatus (possibly); N: New; S: Small (fewer than five articles in some years, never more than 10 articles per year).

Article Volume

In some cases, I group journals based on the peak article volume between 2011 and 2013; the smallest group of volume categories has five ranges:

  • Prolific: 1,000 articles or more.
  • Large: 200 to 999 articles.
  • Medium: 60 to 199 articles.
  • Small: 20 to 59 articles.
  • Sparse: 1 to 19 articles.

Note that these are per year counts: a quarterly with 15 articles in each issue would fall into the Medium category.

These categories are not based on simple analysis of what’s out there. There are very few prolific journals, a few hundred large journals, over a thousand medium journals, more than 2,500 small journals and more than 2,200 sparse journals.

Fee Levels

I tend to refer to all fees as APCs, although some journals charge submission fees or require paid membership in an association. Where APCs are variable, I take the fee that would apply for a research paper by a non-member of an association and that is either ten pages long or a different length specified as normal for that journal.

Fee levels are based on actual analysis of the universe: while most OA journals don’t charge APCs at all, among those that do, 25% of the journals (roughly) fall into each of these four ranges:

  • High: $1,451 or more.
  • Medium: $601 to $1,450.
  • Low: $201 to $600.
  • Nominal: $8 to $200.

Note that in some cases journals are characterized as Free, Pay or Unkown: Unknown journals are those that almost certainly have APCs but don’t state the amount, and are all grade C.

New Data

Where time and energy have allowed, I’ve rechecked journals within a subject to determine the number of articles for all of 2014 (or at least all those posted to the journal site by February 27, 2015 or later).

The only change in data for any journal from what’s used in Open Access Journals: Idealism and Opportunism* (and is available in anonymized form at is the use of full-2014 numbers when available. When it is, I note it; with luck, all but one (enormous) subject will have full-year counts.


I have not changed grades, APCs or anything else about a journal based on the revisit and that article level assignments are usually based on 2013 or peak levels.

The total 2014 article counts for a topic are probably low for three reasons:

  • As with the full report, these figures omit 2,400-odd journals with no English interface, apparently accounting for 18% or so of articles not accounted for.
  • Some journals post the last issue of a year well into the next year, so some of those counts might go up later.
  • New OA journals almost certainly emerged in some (if not all) topics between May 7, 2014 and December 31, 2014. I have not included any such journals.

I would love to revisit the whole DOAJ scene for a longitudinal study, if financial resources become available to make that realistic, but that revisit would not happen until 2016 and would include all of 2014 and all of 2015. (Feel free to contact me if you know of ways to make this realistically feasible.)


*Title changed March 23, 2014, at the suggestion of the senior editor for Library Technology Reports–a suggestion with which I immediately agreed, since it’s a better title.

Subjects posted:

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