Open Access, Global Inequalities and Scholarly Journals

Recent research findings indicate the persistence of global inequalities in the Open Access publishing sector.

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As Márton Demeter and Ronina Istratii (2020, p. 519) suggest in their article, even though scholars in Humanities and Social Sciences, such as in Area Studies, can be expected to have less financial resources at their disposal than their colleagues in natural sciences or technology fields, e.g., in Computer Sciences, this has not been found to be borne out by the levels of article processing fees that Open Access journals in these fields levy.

On the one hand, article processing charges levels have been found to be positively intercorrelated with journal-level impact factor metrics. On the other hand, Demeter and Istratii (2020, p. 519) indicate that, rather than responding to higher purchasing power levels in technology-related research sector, Open Access journals set their article processing charges' levels based on the financial ability of global scholarly associations, such as  the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), to charge lower than market-average author-facing fees, despite the high impact factor rankings of their journals.

Yet the primary reason for this apparent market failure in the Open Access publishing domain to respond accordingly to supply and demand conditions, as Demeter and Istratii (2020, p. 519) propose, is anchored not only in the predominant absence of corresponding international journal-publishing organizations in Humanities and Social Sciences that could have the financial ability to set article processing charges at author-friendly levels, which could also be due to the relatively lower resource endowment levels in this sector of the academic market, but also in the larger-scale economic inequalities between the Global North and the Global South that overlay the international market dynamics of Open Access journal publishing.

The predominant ownership of high-ranking Open Access Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) journals in the hands of publishing houses located in high-income countries also, thus, makes them likely to respond to the purchasing power of academic institutions and individual scholars characteristic of the Global North, rather than the Global South, with a corresponding effect on the levels of article processing charges moving in tandem with impact factor indicators, but not academic market conditions globally (Demeter and Istratii, 2020, p. 520).

Conversely, the higher level of internationalization in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) sectors of the Open Access publishing market, also seems to establish a closer correlation between article processing charges' levels and the purchasing power in the Global South, while exerting a downward pressure on author-facing fees. It is also likely that relatively higher competition levels in the STEM-oriented Open Access journal sector, than in the HSS sector, involve a greater extent of price competition too, as far as article processing charges are concerned (Demeter and Istratii, 2020, p. 520).

Interestingly, however, this article also suggests that, despite high levels of internal variation, wealthier East Asian countries, e.g., Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and Korea, already exceed the average country-level output of Open Access articles of their North American, Western European or Oceanic, e.g.,  Australia and New Zealand, counterparts. In contrast, less wealthier, Global South countries have been found to publish significantly less Open Access articles than what is the case in Global North ones, which is likely due to sub-optimal economic conditions in the former regions (Demeter and Istratii, 2020, pp. 517, 520).

Therefore, Open Access journals that involve no author-facing charges both need preconditions that make that possible and contribute significantly to offsetting global inequalities.

By Pablo Markin


Demeter, Márton, and Ronina Istratii. “Scrutinising what Open Access Journals Mean for Global Inequalities.” Publishing Research Quarterly, 1–18. 8 Nov. 2020, doi:10.1007/s12109-020-09771-9.

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Pablo Markin

Community Manager, Open Research Community


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5 months ago

Whereas country-level economic inequalities are likely intractable, in the Open Access sector, alternative journal performance indices cannot also necessarily be expected to supplant established impact factor metrics or weaken the correlation between the latter and article processing charges' levels: