The open access movement is giving rise not only to a combination of green, gold, and hybrid versions of familiar types of journals but also to entirely new categories of journals. In particular, these publications welcome research that may not be traditionally publishable, such as negative results) or studies that are scientifically sound but limited in significance and novelty (as published by PeerJ, for example). The rapidly expanding range of open access journals is providing numerous opportunities for the global dissemination of ideas.
Barriers to international publishing
Many developing countries, such as Brazil and India, are increasingly investing in research and have correspondingly high research output but limited increase in publications in international journals. There are multiple barriers to publication, including
- The cost of publishing in gold or hybrid open access journals (with fees as high as $4,000)
- Limited English-language proficiency, both reducing understanding of the journal’s guidelines and obscuring the content of the manuscript
- Different cultural beliefs regarding publishing standards, including about plagiarism
- Biased editors and reviewers who are eager to pare down their substantial pool of submissions
- The narrow regional relevance of many studies from developing nations
These hurdles have been addressed in various ways, including waived fees and language editing. Moreover, education in research and publication standards, such as via workshops or mentoring by peer reviewers, international collaborators, or other researchers (as provided by AuthorAID) and the involvement of international researchers who are sensitive to these issues in peer review and editorial work could help to improve the acceptance of manuscripts from developing countries in international journals.
However, international publishing has its shortcomings. The irony of publication by foreign researchers in US- or UK-based open access journals is that the content may not be accessible to other researchers in the same country due to language barriers. To address this issue, some have suggested that translations be encouraged by the green open access model (no publication fee and delayed open access) or routinely funded by gold open access journals (an author-pays model with immediate open access).
Regional journals as an alternative
An alternative or additional approach that may increase publication rates and enhance the local accessibility of research is regional open access journals. These journals publish research with primarily domestic significance in developing countries, including new findings on endemic disease and agricultural methods. In fact, open access journals based in developing countries are rapidly multiplying. For example, the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) indicates that Brazil published 798 open access journals in 2012, 141 of which were new, and that India published 458 in 2012, with 95 new. These novel journals may facilitate the publication of local research output without requiring public funding or English proficiency.
While benefitting their countries of origin in many ways, regional journals are struggling to gain international recognition despite their open access status, again due to language barriers, differences in publication quality, and the predominantly local relevance of the content. Along these lines, in 2007-2009, only 16% of regional journals (independent of access) met the standards of the Web of Science for indexing in its database, and only few of these journals receive impact factors. Disparate quality standards could be addressed by the active involvement of international researchers in the editorial boards and reviewer networks of regional journals and by editorial associations (such as the Forum for African Medical Editors and the Eastern Mediterranean Association of Medical Editors that standardize publication requirements across regions. Finally, some have recommended an index for distinguishing between regional journals based on quality, which may help to increase international readership.
An extra hindrance to worldwide recognition is one of the major negative outcomes of the open access movement: predatory journals, also known as sham journals. Masquerading as legitimate journals and even mimicking the names and websites of reputable publications, these predators collect fees from unsuspecting authors for open access publication despite little or no peer review. Due to these false journals’ underdeveloped websites, scant guidelines for authors, and frequent foundation in developing countries, genuine regional open access journals may be mistaken for shams. Inclusion in the DOAJ, which now requires a quality review, and/or in a regional journal-specific quality index, as discussed above, may help to improve the distinction between predatory and legitimate regional publishers.
Despite limited international acceptance, regional journals can play a key role in developing countries by boosting access to locally relevant information and helping domestic researchers to improve their publication records. This emerging category of open access journals is thus an important entity in national publishing that will hopefully gain broader prominence as awareness increases and the above efforts are implemented.