Open access (OA) journals are scholarly and scientific journals in which all published articles are freely accessible - immediately and to all interested parties. For journal editors and their authors, this so-called gold road to open access brings much greater visibility than that achieved by closed-access journals. This applies irrespective of whether these restricted-access journals are published in print or electronic form. Electronic publishing, with which OA, as a rule, goes hand in hand, opens up additional possibilities of presenting and distributing scientific and scholarly information. The work involved in editing an OA journal hardly differs from that of a traditional journal. The challenges associated with founding an OA journal are also comparable: a concept and a business plan must be developed; the question of how to cover the costs must be addressed; it must be decided whether the journal should be affiliated or independent - for example whether the aim is to publish it under the umbrella of a publishing house or independently; and the operation of the journal must be ensured. These points are also of relevance when a closed-access journal is being converted to OA. In particular, the choice of a suitable business model that manages without subscription revenue presents a challenge.

A key task of the editors of OA journals is to develop awareness of the nature of OA; to make decisions on how to fulfil OA requirements - in particular, decisions on what usage licences are to be employed; and to communicate the specifics of OA to all participants. The opportunities afforded by electronic publishing should also be considered when addressing the way in which the journal is to be operated.

The Open Access Journal Business Guides, which are published by the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) on behalf of the Open Society Institute (OSI), also provide useful information on founding an OA journal, converting a journal to OA, etc.

Concept and business plan

Many things must be taken into consideration when founding an OA journal. Running a journal of your own involves considerable editorial effort. It is therefore important to (self-)critically consider whether such a project is meaningful and justified in principle. Working on, or collaborating with, an existing journal may be a better alternative. An overview of existing OA journals can be found in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ).

Important questions that must be addressed when considering whether to found a new journal include:

  • What will the distinguishing feature of the journal be? What thematic field will be covered, who are the potential authors, what readers constitute the target group?
  • What scope (national, international, disciplinary, trans-disciplinary, etc.) is of interest and for what reasons? What requirements with regard to formats, language, etc. result from this?
  • What quality assurance procedures should be used? Are enough potential peer reviewers available?
  • How can the journal be run at a qualitatively high level in the long term? What tasks are expected and what revenues can be achieved?
  • Will the contributions be published under an open licence? If this is not possible, will a restricted licence be used? Or will the contributions only be readable free of charge but not otherwise usable?

Some suggestions in this regard and about drawing up a business and finance plan are provided in a brochure entitled "Guide to Business Planning for Launching a New Open Access Journal" (Edition 2, 2003) (PDF, 217 KB), published by the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) on behalf of the Open Society Institute (OSI). The publication is addressed mainly to an academic clientele interested in setting up journals or repositories. It is part of a series of three SPARC/OSI brochures for editors of OA journals. The third brochure entitled "Model Business Plan" (Edition 1, 2003) (PDF, 176 KB) offers helpful tips for developing a business plan for a born-OA journal.

Covering the costs

The costs of producing OA journals are considerably lower than in the case of print journals (or toll-access electronic journals) because, as a rule, OA journals are accessible only online; no costs arise for handling subscriptions, identifying authorised and non-authorised users, issuing overdue notices, etc.; and open source e-journal management and publishing software is now available.

Nonetheless costs do, of course, arise. The fact that articles in OA journals are accessible free of charge to all interested parties does not mean that it costs nothing to produce them. As far back as 2002, the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) made various suggestions for covering the costs of OA journals, noting that "[t]here are many alternative sources of funds for this purpose, including the foundations and governments that fund research, the universities and laboratories that employ researchers, endowments set up by discipline or institution, friends of the cause of open access, profits from the sale of add-ons to the basic texts, funds freed up by the demise or cancellation of journals charging traditional subscription or access fees, or even contributions from the researchers themselves." Especially in cases where OA journals do not wish to pass costs on to authors, forms of institutional funding, revenues from ancillary services, the establishment of a support infrastructure, etc. must be considered.

Within the framework of its "Infrastructure for Electronic Publications and Digital Communication of Science" programme, the German Research Foundation (DFG) supports the establishment of OA journals (and other publication venues).

Journal affiliation

An OA journal can be operated under the umbrella of an existing publishing house or on a largely independent basis. However, by now the distinction between these two options is blurred. Many publishers operate OA journals, aggregated hosting options on the part of universities, libraries, or independent providers can offer the same service, and a fully independent operation is also possible. If you wish to independently found and publish an OA journal, the open source software Open Journal Systems can be recommended.

When assessing existing offerings and your own options, you should take at least the following aspects into account:

  • Technical issues: Is there an editorial system? Is long-term archiving available? Can the manuscript formats desired by the journal be processed?
  • Financial issues: What does usage cost? Are the forms of financing desired by the journal supported?
  • Services-related issues: What services does the respective offering provide? How are they integrated into the general infrastructure? Are metadata delivered? Where will the journal be indexed?
  • Organisational and legal issues: Who has control over the journal if a (commercial or non-commercial) publisher is involved? Who owns the name? Is separation at a later date possible? Does the publisher restrict the OA orientation of the journal?

Many further questions must be resolved, and, at least in the case of a born-OA journal, it is advisable to seek help with the decision between the two options.


Independently founding an Open Access journal and running it yourself with open source software

The costs of an independent publishing solution can be reduced by using well-established open source software. This applies both to hosting platforms that provide hardly any features other than the technical operation of the journal and to publishing a journal on your own webserver on a completely independent basis.

Mention should be made here of Open Journal Systems (OJS). Over 8,000 journals worldwide are currently being run with OJS. OJS was developed within the framework of the Canadian Public Knowledge Project. As an open source software, OJS undergoes continuous development and adaptation. The code is freely accessible, and the software can be used free of charge and is also available in German. OJS supports the entire online publishing process (from manuscript submission, through peer review, copy editing, and proofreading, to publication and commenting on published articles).
The German-language Open Journal Systems (OJS) information platform offers specific customised information (checklists, guides, evaluations) on founding and operating OA journals, especially for hosting providers, such as libraries and computing centres, and editors. Despite the low-threshold requirements, it may be advisable to enlist the support of a data centre, a library, or another service provider with the technical operation of the journal, and to exchange experiences with them.

Operating the journal

New possibilities opened up by online publishing, and the growth of the OA movement have given rise to an increasing number of born-OA journals. Groups of scientists and scholars who are now engaged in founding and operating journals must first familiarise themselves with the required tasks and roles.

If you intend to publish your OA journal with a publisher, many decisions will already have been dictated by the publisher (e.g. the minimum requirements that your quality assurance procedures must fulfil; the software to be used; distribution of the content; the business model). The situation is different when you are able, to an appreciable extent, to independently decide how the journal is to be run.

Open Access

If you wish to set up an OA journal (or convert an existing journal to OA), you must first clearly define the underlying OA concept: Under which open licence is the content to be published? Will the current recommendations regarding the  use of a CC-BY licence be followed? How will the journal finance its operations in the absence of subscription revenue? Will authors contribute to the financing? These questions should be resolved and communicated at an early stage because, on the one hand, they play an important role in the decisions of potential collaborators, and, on the other hand, they must be presented in an intelligible way and established in the form of workflows and legal agreements long before the first submissions are solicited.

Participants with a strong academic reputation

Very often the "good name" of the editors (the academic advisory board, the reviewers, the authors, etc.) plays an important role. Robert K. Merton coined the term Matthew Effect to describe "processes of social selection  ... that may serve to heighten the visibility of contributions by authors of acknowledged standing and to reduce the visibility of contributions by authors who are less well known" (Merton 1968, p. 7). Following Merton, Hanekop and Wittke (2005, p. 197, our translation) describe how publishers transfer this effect to journals: "Well-known authors, editors, and reviewers earn the journal a [good] reputation, which it can then transfer to the author whose essays are published in the journal. (...) If the journal's attractiveness for authors increases, this, in turn, has a positive effect on the number and quality of the articles submitted."

Enhanced perception can also lead to increased impact and visibility: more citations, more follow-up works, the invitation to submit further contributions or to assume other functions. Winning the participation of well-known colleagues who already have a strong academic reputation can be an excellent way of enhancing the perception of a journal. However, especially when it comes to engaging the support of renowned scholars and scientists, consideration should be given to the extent to which they will actually be able to participate.

Planning the editorial process

In any event, the actual substantive and technical work on the journal must be well organised. In addition to deciding whether the journal should be affiliated or independent and what technical framework it should have, numerous other decisions have to be made. They include, for example, deciding on the journal name, layout, and design; the design and technical implementation of the journal website; the publication process and the functions associated with it; the kind of peer review to be used; manuscript formatting guidelines; copy editing and proofreading. Specialised copy editing and proofreading for each language in which the journal is published is to be recommended. Clear rules should be established for copy editing and proofreading, and they should be communicated in a clearly visible way.

And finally, the formats in which the articles are to be made available must be decided. Electronic publishing, and thus OA publishing, opens up new possibilities of presenting and distributing scientific and scholarly information.
For the presentation of the articles, this means, for example, that

  • multimedia and dynamic presentations are possible
  • text can be enriched with further data or linked to data on other servers
  • writing, reviewing, and commenting can take place in a more interactive and public way.

While these presentation options apply to all forms of electronic publishing, the special opportunity offered by OA journals is that knowledge can be made widely available to an international interested (specialist) public without financial access barriers. As a rule, however, it is not enough to operate one's own journal at a qualitatively high level and to "hide" it away on one's own server. Coverage of the journal content by indexing services and search engines, efforts to actively promote the journal, and a continual flow of information to the community are also important aspects to which those responsible for the journal should attend. Questions and interests not only on the part of readers but also, and especially, on the part of authors should be gauged and anticipated, and unequivocal replies should be easily accessible on the journal's website.

Converting an existing journal to Open Access

If you have the authority to decide about the future of an existing journal, and you would like to convert it to OA, some decisions may have already been made, for example regarding the kind of peer review to be used, the participating individuals (Will they all remain involved? Do you need further participants?), etc. However, analogous to the points mentioned above, many things still have to be considered, in particular the kind of OA concept you will use and the technical implementation of the journal. Especially when the journal has existed for some time, you will have to give some thought to changing habitual work steps, for example when you switch to a different technical content-management system (e.g. Open Journal Systems, OJS). Will you leave the publisher with whom your journal has been published up to now, or does the publisher support the OA concept and will it provide the infrastructure for it? If you intend to implement your journal independently in future, can you get help and advice from infrastructure providers (libraries, data centres, media centres) regarding the migration of back issues, if you hold the rights to do so?