Publishing Open Access Journals


Academic Publishing: Open Access Gold

The key takeaways from this article are


An open access journal can be published in different ways: it can be run independently, published at a research performing organisation, or with the help of a publishing house.


When starting an open access journal, roles and responsibilities should be clearly defined from the very beginning.


Overlay journals use the technical infrastructure of preprint servers. As in the case of other types of journals, an editorial team takes care of other processes, for example peer review.

Starting and Publishing an Open Access Journal

Open access journals are freely available – immediately and to all interested parties. This has various advantages for authors, readers and the academic community.

But how are open access journals published? And what should be considered when starting an open access journal? This article addresses important points that should be considered when starting and publishing an open access journal. Many of these points are also of relevance when converting an existing journal to open access (Journal Flipping).


First of all, in view of the editorial effort required, you should consider whether publishing your own journal is plausible within the limits of your resources. 

You should also find out whether and to what extent existing journals already cover the subject area of your planned journal. To do so, you can consult, among other things, the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), the German Union Catalogue of Serials (ZDB), and JSTOR. Against this backdrop, you should then consider whether starting a new journal actually makes sense (Pilaar Birch, 2014; Blechl et al., 2016). Depending on the existing situation, it may be more plausible to assume a role in an existing journal or to encourage the conversion of a closed access journal to open access.

In the case of a start-up, you should ask yourself the following questions, which will help you to develop a concept (Blechl et al., 2016; Pilaar Birch, 2014; van Edig & Rücknagel, 2021; Kaier & van Edig, 2020; K, 2021):

After finding a thematic niche in the existing range of journals, you should determine whether the interest of researchers in the niche topics is sufficient for the scope of a new journal.

To this end, you should define and analyse the potential readership. If you conclude that the establishment of a journal makes sense, it is advisable to draft a mission statement, which will appear on the journal website. It should be the length of an abstract and should present the unique thematic features of your journal.

To help those thinking of starting an open access journal to develop a business plan, SPARC Europe provides the New Business Plan Toolkit for OA Journals. As a basis for negotiations with potential funders, it is advisable to plan the first three years in advance. The legal form of the journal should be considered, and a financial buffer should be included in the plan. It is advisable to draft a written concept with essential project information.

Share the tasks and responsibilities so that as many team members as possible develop expertise in different areas. Document processes in order to conserve knowledge.

Long-term preservation is important because it is the best way to ensure the permanent availability of the content. If your own institution does not operate a professional long-term preservation service of its own, all contributions should be archived externally. Examples of professional long-term preservation services include LOCKSS/CLOCKSS and Portico. Ideally, these services offer to transfer, or migrate, content into other (modern) formats should the existing formats become obsolete Content should be migrated into open, machine readable formats.

Decide on the language or languages in which your content and the information about your journal should be available. English-language journals tend to be noticed more and to reach a wider readership. If you want to publish in other languages, you should check whether your journal can reach your target group.

Find a concise title and an abbreviation for your journal. Avoid special characters, such as ß. It is also important that the title is tailored to the desired target group.

Via the serials directory UlrichsWeb, or other search engines, you can find out whether your desired title is still available. As UlrichsWeb is a subscription-based service, you should ask your library whether they can help you access it. Also for ethical reasons, the name should be chosen in such a way that it is not possible to confuse it with the names of other journals.

The editors determine the scientific focus of the journal and usually de­cide which contributions should be published. In many cases, the editors are scholars who work on a voluntary basis, However, some open access journals work with permanently employed editors. In most cases, how­ever, editorial boards act as editors. Editorial boards are often hierarchic­ally organised and divided into areas of responsibility (chief editor, mana­ging editor, handling editor, etc.). Further details can be found, for example, in Kaier und van Edig (2020). The ownership of the journal may lie with the editors themselves, with institutions (e.g. universities or professional associations), or with publishers.

Although renowned researchers often have only very little time to give, the participation of established academics in the editorial board is highly recommended in order to increase the visibility of your journal. You should therefore start searching as early as possible. Ideally, your edito­rial board should consist of individuals from different institutions, and – especially in the case of a journal with an international focus – it should include persons of different nationalities. 

It is important that the journal is affiliated with several stakeholders; too strong an affiliation with individual persons can lead to relationships of dependency. All members of the editorial board should be listed on the journal website with their full names, affiliations, email addresses, research focuses, and, if applicable, links to their websites.

Especially in the start-up phase, an adequate number of high quality con­tributions by renowned authors can build up the reputation of a journal. Do some research, or ask around in professional circles, to find out who would be suitable as authors for your journal, and then actively approach them. You have good prospects of success especially with academics who have reached a point in their careers where they are no longer complete­ly dependent on publishing in already renowned journals. A further possibility is to begin with a small group of renowned contributors, who will attract other renowned contributors over time. It should be borne in mind that the reputation of a journal and its contributors still plays an important role in many disciplines. The Journal Impact Factor is still also of importance in some disciplines. However, a Journal Impact Factor cannot be obtained from the very start, but rather only after meeting various criteria, providing proof of a relatively long publishing history, and undergoing laborious evaluation. The high visibility of a journal ensures increased visibility of its articles. This also enhances the standing of the authors in – and possibly beyond – their disciplinary communities.

Responsibilities and competences should be clearly defined. This is especially important when several institutions are participating in the journal, or when external services are used. Clear roles and responsibilities are also important within the editorial board – this point is addressed in more detail in the Editorial Planning section below.

Consider becoming a member of the Open Access Scholarly Publishing Association (OASPA) and the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). For internationally oriented start-ups from the humanities and social sciences, membership of the Radical Open Access Collective is also an option.

To fulfil recognised open access criteria with regard to access and reusability, your journal should comply with the following standards and requirements:

The types of contributions that the journal will publish must be specified – for example research articles, systematic reviews and meta-analyses, or book reviews. It should be considered whether individual issues should have a thematic focus.

It is advisable to make research data – for example measurement results or interview transcripts – available as supplementary materials to the contributions in your journal (Hrynaszkiewicz et al., 2020). These data enable not only peer reviewers but also readers to better understand and check the contributions. It is advisable not only to "store" these data in the journal itself, but also to inform the authors about suitable data repositories such as Zenodo or the Registry of Research Data Repositories,

Authors should not transfer exclusive exploitation rights in their contri­butions to the publishing institution (e.g. a publisher). With regard to distribution and reuse, it is advisable to make contributions available under the current version of the Creative Commons Attribution licence, CC BY, because this licence type complies with Plan S and restricts reuse the least. In the case of other CC licence variants (e.g. CC BY-NC), possible negative effects must be considered. It should be transparently stated – in the metadata, on the landing page, and in the article itself – what licence is used. On our Open Access and Reuse page, you will find detailed information on open licences such as the Creative Commons licences. Further legal aspects are addressed on our Legal Questions pages.

Peer review is the most well-known quality assurance procedure. It is still often conducted anonymously, for example in the following forms:

  • Double-blind peer review: The reviewers do not know the names of the authors and vice versa.
  • Single-blind peer review: The identities of the authors are known to the reviewers but not vice versa.

However, open peer review procedures are becoming more common (Ross-Hellauer, 2017), for example in the case of overlay journals. Also common are editorial reviews, where the assessment of the article is carried out by one or more members of the editorial staff (Lange, 2021).

When choosing a procedure, standard quality assurance practices in the field in which the journal is located should be taken into account. After all, the journal is dependent on the support of the community, and thus on its acceptance. You should also find out what staff capacities are needed for each procedure, whether these capacities are available, and whether enough reviewers can be found.

In any case, precise assessment criteria should be defined, and a maxi­mum duration of the review process stipulated, which should not be longer than a few months. Research data, software, and other supple­mentary materials should be included in the first submission of the manuscript and made available to the reviewers. In the interest of transparency, the reasons for using the respective quality assurance procedures should be explained on the journal website.

Moreover, you should consider offering authors the possibility of naming undesired reviewers.

And finally, it is essential that you check submissions for plagiarism. Open source software for this purpose is uncommon. is often mentioned as a suitable commercial plagiarism detection service.

You should find out whether demand for an additional print addition exists in the field in which your journal will be located. Although, generally speaking, demand for print editions is declining, it still exists, for example, in the humanities, although even there it is declining further. Bear in mind that printing even a few copies makes demands on administrative capacities that should not be underestimated, and consider whether it is worth the effort. Consider also that some of the added value of the digital publication (e.g. the direct linking with data) will be lost, and that therefore the question arises of whether a print edition is in keeping with the times.

It is essential that the content of your journal is easily findable via indexing services and search engines. Contributions and comprehensive metadata should be exposed via interfaces such as OAI-PMH or SWORD immediately after publication, so that they can be automatically processed at repositories. This is not only in the interests of long-term preservation but also of visibility. Within the framework of the DOI registration of an article (addressed in detail in the Editorial Planning section), Crossref and DataCite each provide a metadata schema. Metadata may be reused under a CC0 licence. Only with such visibility is there a prospect that the articles in your journals will be frequently cited, which is essential especially for the reputation of early career researchers. This is the only way of sustainably establishing the journal in professional circles.

In addition, the following ways of increasing the visibility of your journal exist:

  • News: Publish regular news relating to your journal.
  • Newsletter: Many readers like to keep up to date by newsletter.
  • Social media: Twitter and possibly Facebook are suitable platforms for publicising your content.
  • Post-publication tools: These tools (e.g. the comments function) encourage your readers to interact with each other and to discuss your content.
  • RSS feeds: With the help of RSS feeds, interested users can collect current notifications. This option is directly included in most content management systems, and just has to be configured.
  • Blogs: Blog articles can supplement journal contributions and report on current topics. To facilitate the exchange of views, the inclusion of a comments function is recommended. Moreover, if appropriate, blog articles can be linked to journal contributions.

It is important that communication with the scientific community functions well – concerns and interests of readers and authors should be collected and incorporated time and again into the substantive concept of the journal. It is advisable to publish the handling of readers’ concerns and interests on the website. All these measures result in (potential) readers and authors feeling that they are being addressed.

These measures should be prepared in good time because potential staff members and funders will make their participation contingent upon your position on these points. In addition, the concept has an impact on all framework conditions and work processes and must therefore be defined so that the editorial process flows smoothly.

You should make a plan as to what will happen to the content should your journal cease to exist. For authors, readers, and the scientific record, it is extremely important that published content should remain available in the long term. This aspect was addressed as early as 2003 in the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities. When registering DOIs, journals undertake to ensure that metadata and content will remain accessible via these identifers. Should a journal cease to operate, it should therefore be made clear whether the journal infrastructure can continue to make the published content avail­able or whether this is possible via a long-term archive or repository. In any case, a situation where the content disappears overnight must be avoided.

Editorial Planning

Before work can begin on the texts, several editorial framework conditions should be defined (Blechl et al., 2016; van Edig & Rücknagel, 2021; K, 2021):

Responsibilities and decision-making competences should be defined: What roles and levels exist in my/our journal (e.g. editorial board; editorial staff; copy editors and proofreaders; typesetters; main contact persons for the authors; if applicable, review board)?

Besides the linguistic quality of the articles, attention should be paid to their visual appearance so that the journal will be perceived as reputable. Standard layouts should be specified for all file formats – various typesetting systems, for example LaTeX, provide support with this. Moreover, you should keep an eye on current developments, so that the layout of the journal remains contemporary. In principle, it is possible to outsource the typesetting, but that costs money.

And finally, guidelines must be established for peer reviews, conflicts of interest, and scientific misconduct. The Committee on Publishing Ethics (COPE) Guidelines can serve as a guide in this regard.

The number of contributions that will be published per year should be specified. To be recognised as a proper journal, at least five contributions a year are advisable. Even though, in many respects, open access journals without print editions have fewer constraints than their closed-access counterparts, it makes sense in terms of staff capacity to plan the number of contributions.

It should be considered whether traditional, discrete, issues should be published, or whether contributions should be published on a rolling basis – that is, as soon as the editorial process is completed. If you decide against publishing discrete issues, the individual contributions should be consecutively numbered, and at least one contribution should be published per quarter.

The desired manuscript length should be specified for each contribution category. A policy that gives the authors precise manuscript submission guidelines and explains what must be observed (e.g. file format, structure, referencing style) is advisable.

Ideally, publications should be provided in the following formats: 

  • HTML for good on-screen readability
  • PDF/A for printing (by users themselves)
  • XML for machine processing
  • ePUB for ebook readers

Furthermore, you have to decide whether multimedia presentations, tables, graphs, images, or audio materials will be possible. It must also be decided whether it will be possible to enrich texts with data or link them to data on other servers.

It is advisable to choose a domain name that is easy to remember (possibly in consultation with the IT department of your institution). In order to be perceived as a reputable journal, a professional web design should be used (if necessary with the support of external partners). If you are publishing your journal with a publisher or at your institution, talk to them about this. When designing the website, it is essential to ensure that is barrier free, so that it can be used easily by people with hearing, visual, or motor disabilities. It is advisable to use the technical standard Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, Level AA. At least one of the formats used (HTML, PDF, etc.) should comply with this standard.

The editorial team should define internal workflows, including a timeline for editorial work (calls for submissions, peer reviews, copy editing, etc). Core elements should be clearly communicated to the authors. In addition, the authors should be kept informed of the current status of their submissions. Journal management software, such as OJS, provides support with this.

To ensure the findability of content, your journal should be successfully integrated into value-added services such as the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), the Web of Science, Scopus and Sherpa Romeo. To this end, you should submit an application to these services. If evaluation is successful, your journal will be indexed. For successful evaluation by these services, the respective criteria for acceptance must be observed. Bear in mind that it can take a long time for the evaluation process to be completed. It is important to provide transparent information on the journal, the publishers and editors, the website, and – in the case of non-English-language journals – metadata. Information on DOAJ compliance can be found here. Information on other services can be found on their respective websites and in Chapter F of Blechl et al.’s German-language guide (2016). Some indexing services require that non-English-language contributions should also include an English-language title and abstract.

You should apply for an ISSN (International Standard Serial Number) for your journal via If the title of your journal changes, you will have to request a new ISSN. As a rule, an ISSN is not assigned until the first issue has been published. It is advisable to enquire in advance whether the ISSN will be listed in the ISSN International Portal. If a regular print edition is not planned, you should apply only for an ISSN (Online). The ISSN assigned to the online version can also be used for print-on-demand issues.

It is important that all contributions are assigned metadata, DOIs, and keywords. Further details can be found on page 7 and seq. of Blechl et al.’s German-language guide (2016). In order to achieve a maximum reach, all metadata should be OAI-PMH compliant, thereby enabling them to be harvested by disciplinary databases and search engines. Journal management systems, such as OJS, provide plugins for the automatic generation of OAI-PMH-compliant metadata.

ORCiD IDs enable authors to be uniquely identified. Besides unique identification in the research context, this unique identification is also important for internal processes at the institutions where the authors work. You should therefore give authors the possibility of linking their articles to their ORCiD ID. ORCiD IDs can be registered free of charge.

Via the Research Organization Registry (ROR), institutional affiliations can be uniquely identified by means of a persistent identifier. ROR IDs can be applied for free of charge.

In the interests of transparency, readers should be given access to journal-level citation metrics, such as the Journal Impact Factor (JIF), the Source Normalized Impact per Paper  (SNIP), and the SCImago Journal Rank (SJR). Moreover, it is advisable to also make article-level metrics (ALMs) available to enable readers to find out how many accesses or downloads an article receives. In addition, via so-called altmetrics, mentions of the contributions in social media and scholarly networks can be statistically analysed. Provided you use DOIs, OJS has a plugin for this. And finally, it is advisable to communicate the number of submitted, accepted, and rejected manuscripts, as well as the average time from submission to publication, so that authors know what processing time to expect.

Authors of articles in digital journals can also receive royalties from collecting societies. In Germany and Austria, contributions must be assigned a counter from the collecting society VG Wort and must achieve a high number of accesses (e.g. VG Wort). If you are interested, you can contact Literar Mechana in Austria or VG Wort in Germany.

Practical tip

Here you can find the slides of the Open Access Talk Founding journals - what do I need to think about? (in German)

Practical tip

Supporting Open Access – Practical Tips for Publishers and Journals (in German) gives concrete advice on how publishers can support open access.

Practical tip

The Wellcome Trust's Society Publishers Accelerating Open Access and Plan S toolkit provides tips on implementing Open Access and Plan S compliance. For OJS journals, the Public Knowledge Project provides the very useful Guide to Plan S compliance in OJS.

Practical Tip

The Open Access Journals Toolkit produced by DOAJ and OASPA is a good support for publishers of open access journals. It "covers topics across the entire journal development lifecycle and everyday operation, such as journal creation, costs, staffing, policy development, through to indexing and other technical aspects".


Affiliation of the Journal

Open access journals can be run within the framework of an existing offering or (largely) independently (scholar-led publishing). Affiliation with a publisher is one possibility; other options are to run the journal with the help of a university or a library or to publish it independently. Journals can also be published as so-called overlay journals (see below).

When choosing a provider, the following aspects should be taken into account:

  • Is there an editorial system? 
  • Are there possibilities to preserve content in the long term?
  • Can the desired manuscript formats be processed?

  • What does usage cost? 
  • What direct and indirect costs will arise (e.g. server operation, DOI assignment, personnel costs, external service providers)? 
  • Are the desired forms of financing supported?

  • What services are provided? 
  • What is the nature of the infrastructural integration with regard to metadata and the traceability of the content?

  • Who will control the journal? 
  • Who will hold the rights in the journal title?
  • If a publisher is involved: 
    • Will the publisher limit the open access orientation of the journal?
    • Is separation from the publisher possible (e.g. regulation of the transfer of metadata and full texts)?

When choosing a provider, you should critically assess your own resources – both in financial terms and with regard to the amount of work to be done (van Edig & Rücknagel, 2021). You should not only ask yourself what and how much you can do yourself, but also how much freedom you wish to retain. If you want to publish your journal via a publisher, you should bear in mind that many things will be prescribed by the publisher – for example, the software, the fun­ding model, and minimum standards that the quality assurance procedure must fulfil. If the publisher’s requirements are in line with your ideas, cooperation may be beneficial. In other cases, cooperation with a publisher can severely restrict the freedom of the editors.

Scholar-led publishing is an alternative to cooperation with a publisher. If you wish to publish your journal at an institution, it is advisable to find out whether the journal can be hosted on the institution’s web server, whether the institution can make journal management software available to you, or whether a professional hosting service would be an option (Blechl et al., 2016). Some institutions offer a specialised advisory service for these questions (e.g. CeDiS, Freie Universität Berlin). Hosting services are also provided by some specialised information services, for example the Specialised Information Service Linguistics, the Specialised Information Service Germanistik im Netz, the Specialised Information Service Comparative Literature, and the Specialised Information Service Classics, Propylaeum (van Edig & Rücknagel, 2021).

Practice Tip: Scholar-Led Publishing

Scholar-led publishing can be implemented cost-effectively by means of open source software such as Open Journal Systems (OJS). OJS under­goes continual further development; the source code is freely available; and the software, which is also available in German, can be used free of charge. The application supports the entire process of online publishing (submission, review, copy editing and proofreading, publication, com­menting on published articles). Numerous templates, for example for communication with reviewers and authors, support the editorial work. Moreover, the software contains interfaces, so that metadata can easily be delivered to services such as the Directory of Open Access Journals (Mruck et al., 2018). The German-language OJS Information Platform is the first contact point for German-speaking users when they have questions; it is also a place where OJS users interact. Further information can be found in the User Guide, which also includes an FAQ page. Accor­ding to Martin Paul Eve (2012), inexperienced OJS users with average technical competence should “budget in a fair few hours” to install and configure the software. You should also bear in mind that the amount of time needed to actually publish a journal should not be underestimated. In particular the preparation of the content is a challenge for scholar-led journals. Scholar-led projects that operate the technical infrastructure themselves should engage with formal standards (see Section 3.3 in Bosman et al., 2021). Alternatives to OJS are Janeway and PubSweet (van Edig & Rücknagel, 2021). The focus group also deals with the topic; members jointly search for suitable models, and share experiences.

Overlay Journals

A further option is to publish the journal as an overlay journal. Overlay journals use the infrastructure of preprint servers, such as arXiv, that are already well established in some disciplines, for example mathematics and physics (Schmeja, 2016). Authors deposit their papers (in the usual way) on arXiv or another preprint server and submit them from there to the overlay journal, which takes care of peer review. If the paper passes peer review, it is included in the journal – that is, the journal posts a link from its website to the preprint server, assigns a DOI, and, if applicable, attaches an editor’s comment to the article (Schmeja, 2016). One of the first overlay journals was the mathematics journal Discrete Analysis, which was founded in 2015 (Gowers, 2015).


In any case, when establishing an open access journal, it is very advisable to seek the advice of your institution’s open access officer. The Fair Open Access Alliance (FOAA) is a further suitable point of contact. FOAA is a group of scho­lars and librarians that propagates and promotes the principles of Fair Open Access. It provides support – financially and otherwise – for the establishment of new journals. The FOAA can be contacted here. Moreover, the TIB – Leibniz Information Centre for Science and Technology and University Library, for example, provides the open access platform TIB Open Publishing, on which open access journals and conference proceedings can be published.

And finally, it is advisable to engage with other publishers. The Free Journal Network (FJN) promotes scholarly journals run according to the principles of Fair Open Access, for example by sharing best practices and obtaining funding for its journals. By updating its acceptance criteria, it further aims to ensure that journals in the network continuously improve in quality.

Covering Costs

The production of open access journals in general, and overlay journals in particular (Ball, 2015), is in part cheaper than print journals or toll-access electronic journals (Swan, 2016). Besides savings from not having to print the journal, open access publishers also have savings, for example, from not having to handle subscriptions or identify (non-)authorised users. Because open source software, such as OJS, is often used to run the journal, or, in the case of overlay journals, the infrastructure of preprint servers is used, the software costs are usually low.

The options for covering the costs of an open access journal are as follows (Budapest Open Access Initiative, 2002; Blechl et al., 2016, van Edig & Rücknagel, 2021):

  • Funding from private, state, or disciplinary research funding organisations
  • Funding from the institutions (e.g. universities) at which the authors are employed
  • Cross-financing, for example by conferences
  • Consortial funding (see Knowledge Unlatched or projects such as KOALA)
  • Donations (e.g. from institutions, individuals, crowdfunding)
  • Advertising revenue (to this end, draw up an advertising policy)
  • Article processing charges (APCs) payable by authors or their institutions. As these charges create barriers for authors, other funding options should be chosen where possible. It is important to provide exact details of how the costs arise and of the APC per contribution. Moreover, the time point of invoicing should be clearly communicated. Discounts, for example for authors from low-wage countries, should be considered.

Especially when you want to avoid costs for authors, it is very advisable to seek support from research funding organisations or consortial funding. Details of the funding model used by the journal should also be provided on the website.


Further Reading