Open Access Publishing and Self-Archiving

The key takeaways from this article are:

  1. Authors can make their publications freely available by publishing them open access or by self-archiving them in an open access repository.
  2. When choosing a publication venue, criteria such as thematic focus, quality, and costs should be considered.
  3. When self-archiving, authors should grant third parties rights of use in the works.

Open Access Publishing and Self-Archiving

Only when authors publish their research results do their findings achieve visibility and can thus be adequately recognised and cited. For a long time, publishing works in print media – for example, as journal articles, monographs, or contributions to collections – was the most common way of permanently recording and disseminating scholarly and scientific information. Through the possibility of electronic publication, and especially through open access, a large number of alternative publication options have arisen. This significantly increases the citation frequency, and thus also the visibility, of research results (Swan, 2010; Li et al., 2018). The aspects that should be considered when publishing open access or when self-archiving in an open access repository are outlined in what follows.

Publication Routes

The road to publication usually starts with the decision as to how the research results should be published. There are many reasons in favour of open access publishing; they are summarised on the Reasons and Reservations page. Basically, two different open access strategies can be distinguished: gold open access and green open access. Gold open access refers to the publication of scholarly works as articles in open access journals, as open access monographs, or as contributions to open access collections or conference proceedings. This literature is freely available and reusable immediately, without an embargo period.

Green open access means making research results freely available by self-archiving them in an institutional or disciplinary repository. This can also be done in parallel with or after publication in a journal or with a publisher.

Graphic of the roads to open access. (CC BY 4.0 International)

Source: Adapted following Oberländer, A. (2020). Open Access – Es ist nicht alles Gold, was glänzt. In E. Böker et al., Open Science: Von Daten zu Publikationen [Online course]. Zenodo.

Choosing a Publication Venue

Several parameters play a role when choosing a publication venue. These parameters are largely the same for closed access and open access publications. They include the thematic focus of the venue; the type of quality assurance it employs; its reputation in the field; and, if applicable, the licensing conditions under which the publications are made available and the level of any publication fees that may be charged. In the context of open access, research funders’ requirements increasingly play a role. Among funders, one finds not only regulations whereby grant holders should provide open access to the scholarly publications arising from funded research, but sometimes also specific requirements with regard to publication venues (Dreher, 2020; Rücknagel, 2021). Further information on research funders’ policies and a list of funding organisations can be found on the Funding page.

Gold Open Access

Finding Suitable Journals/Publishers

If the intention is to publish a work open access (gold OA), for example, as a journal article, a monograph, or a contribution to a collection, it is advisable to first search for thematically suitable journals or publishers with open access offerings. On our web page Information for Different Disciplines, we provide discipline-specific information that can offer helpful introductory pointers. Open access journals can be searched via the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) or the Electronic Journals Library (EZB). For open access books, the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB) and the online library and publication platform OAPEN are first ports of call. Suitable publication venues can also be found in conversation with colleagues. If a publisher does not offer a gold open access option, it is often worthwhile enquiring specifically whether it would allow the article to be self-archived in a repository.

Quality Criteria

Open access publications undergo the same quality assurance procedures as traditional publications. The review procedures do not differ either: from classical peer review and editorial review to open review procedures – everything can be found here. The German-language publication "Qualitätsstandards für Open-Access-Monografien und -Sammelbände" (AG Universitätsverlage, 2018) offers guidance when choosing a suitable publisher for open access books. When choosing a journal, the German-language checklist on the quality of open access journals provided by Brinken et al. (2021) can help when assessing its quality. Further information in this regard can be found on the Open Access Journals and Open Access for Monographs pages.

The impact and visibility of scholarly publications play an important role for the reputational gains and thus for the career prospects of individual scholars and scientists. Studies show that the citation frequency of open access publications is usually much higher than that of their closed access counterparts. Overviews in this regard are provided by the Open Access Citation Advantage Service and by Piwowar and colleagues’ “Large-Scale Analysis of the Prevalence and Impact of Open Access Articles” (Piwowar et al., 2018). Journal Impact Factors, a metric of the citation frequency of articles in scholarly journals, are published in the annual publication Journal Citation Reports, which also covers open access journals. So-called “altmetrics” have emerged as an alternative to the traditional bibliometric indicators. They capture the diverse reactions to a scholarly publication on the Web.


In contrast to closed access, where libraries and users pay for access, open access publications are financed in a different way. The so-called author-pays model, whereby authors pay article processing charges (APCs) or book processing charges (BPCs) to have their works published, is very common in the open access context. To find out whether, or what level of, author fees are charged, it is usually helpful to check the website of the journal or publisher. If a journal indexed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) charges APCs, details are deposited in the journal record. However, a large percentage of open access journals indexed in DOAJ are free of charge both for readers and authors (Morrison, 2018). These journals are financed, for example, by professional societies, academic institutions, library consortia, or – in kind – by voluntary work. For open access books, university presses run by universities or their libraries, and publishing initiatives established by scholars and scientists (e.g. the consortium ScholarLed) are an affordable and high quality alternative to commercial publishers. Detailed information on financing open access articles and books can be found on the Business Models page.

Many research institutions have a publication fund from which open access publication fees can be paid. The management of the funds is usually located at the institutions’ libraries. In addition, some open access publishers offer institutional membership, which is similar to a discount model. Institutions pay an annual membership fee, thereby enabling their members to publish their works in the journal in question free of charge or for a reduced fee. Moreover, via transformative agreements with commercial publishers, such as those negotiated by the German initiative Projekt Deal, contractually agreed fees for individual hybrid open access articles in subscription journals are increasingly borne by library consortia. Information on this is provided by the open access officers at the respective institutions. The funding of genuine open access models by consortia is increasingly moving into focus: the costs are borne by a consortium, and no publication fees are payable by authors, irrespective of whether their institutions participate in the financing.

In addition to funding research, some funding organisations also bear publication costs for articles in scholarly journals and other publications. When submitting a funding proposal to the German Research Foundation (DFG), application can also be made for a publication grant. The Austrian Science Fund (FWF) and the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) have established dedicated funding programmes to finance open access articles and books. The Volkswagen Foundation also bears the publication costs incurred by the projects it funds and expects grant recipients to publish open access. International funding organisations, such as the Wellcome Trust, as well as the EU framework programme Horizon 2020, reimburse publication charges for open access articles within the framework of their funding. In addition, the Open Access Books Toolkit provides a list of funding sources for open access books.

Self-Archiving (Green Open Access)

It is not always possible to publish open access, for example, when no suitable open access journal is available. A publication can nonetheless be made freely available by self-archiving it in an open access repository. In this way, the author can comply with the open access mandate of a funding organisation or their own institution, and the publication can be made freely accessible to everyone worldwide.

Finding a Suitable Repository

The self-archiving of publications can take place in institutional or disciplinary repositories. The Information for Different Disciplines page lists the repositories available in the respective disciplines. The Open Directory of Open Access Repositories (OpenDOAR) and the Registry of Open Access Repositories (ROAR) also provide overviews. Authors do not have to pay any charges to make their publications available in an institutional or disciplinary repository, nor do readers have to pay to access these publications. The Making Documents Available in Repositories page on this website explains the specific things that should be considered when self-archiving.

Self-Archiving Rights

Most publishers allow their authors to make their works available in repositories in parallel with publication. The Sherpa Romeo database provides an overview of the open access policies of many journal publishers. Publishers often allow the author’s final version after peer-review (author’s accepted manuscript, AAM) or the published version to be self-archived. Publishing agreements should be drafted in such a way that the authors reserve the right to self-archive their works online in a freely accessible way. Ideally, authors should grant the publisher only non-exclusive rather than exclusive rights of use for the intended types of use. If this is not possible, and no alternative publishing option is available, authors can consider attaching an addendum to the publishing agreement in order to reserve a non-exclusive right to use the work online in a repository. Various possible solutions to this problem are available on the Publishing Agreements page.

Under Section 38 of the German Act on Copyright and Related Rights (UrhG), authors of scientific contributions that result from research activities at least half of which were financed by public funds, and that were published in a collection that appears periodically at least twice a year, have the right to self-archive them in an open access repository upon expiry of 12 months after publication. According to this statutory provision on self-archiving, it is therefore possible in these cases to make these works available in a repository even if the publishers have been granted exclusive rights of use (Brehm, 2021). A German-language guide issued by the Communication, Information, Media Centre (KIM) at the University of Konstanz provides an overview of the topic of self-archiving.

Self-archiving is easier when a work is published in an open access journal or with an open access publisher. As a rule, they allow the work to also be made available in a repository provided the place of publication is credited.

Legal Parameters of Open Access Publishing and Self-Archiving

Authors who wish to make their works available in open access should observe several legal parameters. Of central importance is that the authors themselves have the right to exploit their works online. However, this is not necessarily a given in standard publishing agreements. An overview of the legal situation in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland can be found on the Legal Issues page, which provides information on copyright, making documents available in repositories, publishing agreements, licences, liability law, and data protection.

Open Access Licences

One important aspect of open access is the reuse of publications. In order to make it clear what rights third parties have when (re-)using research results, user licences are granted. It is up to the authors themselves to decide what degree of freedom of use of their works they wish to allow. It is recommended that they allow a free worldwide right of access to and reuse of the publication. The granting of open licences by authors should take place in consultation with the respective publishers or, if applicable, in compliance with the repositories’ licensing requirements. In the area of science and research, the open Creative Commons (CC) are the most common. An overview of various open content licensing models can be found on our Licences page. The use of licences to grant specific rights of use facilitates law enforcement in the case of misuse and gives users explicit indications as to how the document in question may be reused. At the same time, the author reserves the right to permit in separate agreements further uses that go beyond those specified in the licence.

Predatory Journals

Unfortunately, there are also journals that exploit publication charges. These predatory journals, which are founded by so-called predatory publishers, try – sometimes massively – to attract researchers to publish in their journals. However, they do not observe the usual standards of good scientific practice. Hence, there is no quality assurance, for example, in the form of peer review, nor is there adequate editing.

Thus, predatory journals damage science and scholarship because they also publish poor-quality contributions whose compliance with academic or ethical standards has not been checked. As publications in these dubious journals can cause substantial damage to the reputations of scholars and scientists, they are urgently advised against submitting manuscripts to them.

It is not always easy for authors to recognise whether a journal is predatory or not, because the providers often go to a lot of trouble to make their journals appear trustworthy. On professional-looking websites, sometimes entire editorial boards are given false names or well-known researchers are listed as editors without their knowledge.

The German-language checklist on the quality of open access journals provided by Brinken et al. (2021) can help authors to make informed decisions. Other criteria for the assessment of the trustworthiness of a journal are provided by the website Think. Check. Submit. It can also be helpful to ask colleagues whether they have ever heard of the journal in question. In case of suspicion, attention should definitely be drawn to the journal. By keeping their eyes open and being the properly aware, authors can avoid publishing with predatory publishers by mistake.

Further German-language information on predatory journals and predatory publishers can be found in an overview provided by Helmholtz Open Science and in a fact sheet published by the Science Media Center Germany.


Further Reading

  • Solomon, D. J., & Björk, B.-C. (2012). A study of open access journals using article processing charges. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 63(8), 1485–1495.