Supplementary Open Access

January 23, 2008

Most economic publications do not provide open access. Yet the articles published there may be accompanied with related Internet material that is openly accessible—in particular pre-print, post-print and other versions of the published articles, and including additional material that is unavailable in the published versions. I refer to this as “supplementary open access.”

It is obviously in every author’s best interest to make their works freely available on the Internet, and it is in the interest of all economists to enjoy unhampered access to as many economic research papers as possible. It is also helpful to have open access to other versions of articles in case the original article is not available, too expensive or shortened. This makes it advisable for authors to provide supplementary open access to their published work, in particular access to pre-print versions and post-print versions. (“Pre-print” refers here pre-refereed and “post-print” to post-refereed versions of a published paper).

Supplementary open access has several advantage for authors:

Visibility and citations. In his article “Online or Invisible,” Steve Lawrence has analyzed the effect of online availability of published journal articles in physics on citation. He concludes:

“The results are dramatic. There is a clear correlation between the number of times an article is cited, and the probability that the article is online. More highly cited articles, and more recent articles, are significantly more likely to be online. … When considering articles within each year, and averaging across all years from 1990 to 2000, we find that online articles are cited 4.5 times more often than offline articles. “

There is no reason to assume that economics would be any different, although I do not know a comparable systematic study. My own experience is, though, that those articles I placed online attracted much more attention than comparable articles not available online. The further spreading of Internet publishing since 2000, also witnessed by the growth of the RePEc database, may have further strengthend the effect.

Prestige. Theodore Bergstrom and Rosemarie Lavaty have looked at all articles that appeared 33 economic journals in August 2006 and determined for all papers whether or not an open access version was available on the net. The result:

“… freely available versions of about 90 percent of the articles in the top fifteen listed journals can be found by Google-searching the title and author. [...] the self-archiving norm is less strong among those who publish in the less influential journals. Freely available versions of about 50 percent of the articles in the eighteen lower-ranked journals in our sample could be found on the internet.”

Several top-ranked journals (among them QJE, JPE, and Econometrica) scored 100% free accessibility, while lesser journals scored significantly less. The prestige of the journal thus correlates strongly and positively with supplementary open access.

Career concerns. Many hiring decisions are influenced by citation scores. I have mentioned above that open access improves citations and citation scores. These are usually taken from Thompson (Web of Science). The RePEc citation scores are increasingly used for these purposes as well. They refer not only to published work, but also to pre-prints and all other material available through the RePEc services.

For these reasons, authors should be interested in providing supplementary open access to their works. At the same time they help others.

Now to the publishers. Most publishers make supplementary open access easy, but a few still try to restrict public access, in spite of calling themselves “publishers.” (It would be better to call them “concealers.”) You may want to submit only to those publishers that permit some form of supplementary open access. These publishers are “green,” “blue,” and “yellow”:

Green publishers (most publishers) permit you to archive pre-print and post-print versions of your article.

Blue publishers permit you to archive post-print (i.e. final draft post-refereeing) versions of your article.

Yellow publishers permit you to archive archive pre-print (i.e. pre-refereeing) versions of your article.

All these publishers are fine, as far as supplementary open access is concerned. The publishers that are neither green, blue or yellow are “white”:

White publishers (a few) do not support archiving.

As supplementary open access is blocked only by the white publishers, don’t submit to the corresponding journals if possible–and don’t help them with referee reports. They obstruct the dissemination of knowledge.

You find further details on individual journals at the RoMEO database. The publishers’ websites usually offer additional information.

In order to realize the advantages of supplementary open access it does not suffice, though, to shun white publishers. You need also to make your paper available on the Internet. The usual way is to deposit your pre-refereed manuscript at the working paper series of your institution.

Make sure that all information is supplied to the RePEc database. This will guarantee inclusion in the CitEc citation compilations done by RePEc. At the same time, the paper will become easily available through the RePEc services such as IDEAS or EconPapers, as well as Google Scholar and OAIster. In addition, the paper will be advertised through the NEP mailing lists that target specific subjects. All this will make the paper very easy to find.

If your institution’s working paper series does not supply its data to RePEc, you may suggest that they do. (instructions). Otherwise you may consider depositing your paper with MPRA which provides this service. You can also have it both ways: If your institution’s series is not covered by RePEc, you may publish it in addition in MPRA, but this makes sense only if your institutions series is not covered by RePEc. Otherwise please don’t do it, as it creates confusion.

Once your paper is published, leave your pre-print on the repository—do not remove it. If you remove the open access (pre-print or post-print) versions, you lose all citations to these works, which reduces your citation score. Further you prohibit access to readers who have no subscription for the publisher’s data banks. In short, you lose all the advantages mentioned above.

Some further observations. Yes, it is true, readers can buy articles at the publishers’ data banks (such as IngentaConnect, ScienceDirect, or Blackwell Synergy), or at British Library Direct even without subscription, but prices are excessive: You may be easily required to pay 30$ for a book review of just a few pages! Most readers won’t buy a pig in a poke, though. Open supplementary access versions of the original articles help the reader to gather an impression about whether it is worthwhile to have a closer look at the original article. Publishers may increasingly become aware that supplementary open access effectively helps them to sell stuff through their data banks. Hopefully they pass some of the earnings to the authors.

Let me add a quite important additional benefit of supplementary open access: Authors keep the copyright for all material they put on the Internet. If they do not pre-publish, they may lose all rights for their own works! (The current German legislation will transfer all electronic rights to the publishers, for example, unless the author explicitly states by the end of the current year that he or she wants to keep the rights. German university libraries are very worried.) You avoid all these problems to some extent by pre-publishing on the Internet, as all pre-published versions will remain yours, even if the rights for the published version go to the publisher.

A further point: Keep the electronic manuscript of your final version. Green publishers allow you to deposit the final version, but, as a rule, not the publisher’s final PDF. This restriction, if it applies, may be inconvenient, but it does not pertain to the substance of your work. Given this state of affairs it is advisable that you produce your own PDF right after correcting the galleys (by using the free software PDFCreator or the pricey Adobe Acrobat). So you have a version that you can safely use to enhance the impact of your work by providing supplementary open access. But if this seems too cumbersome to you, just leave the pre-print version on the net! The RePEc listings will show these along with the final versions, so that readers are informed about which versions exist, and which one is the latest.


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