Access to Journals

Questions About Journal Access

The scholarly publishing community plays an indispensable role in the scientific research enterprise by facilitating scholarly communication, disseminating scientific information, managing the scientific record and coordinating the peer review process. Publishers’ continuing investments in digital platforms with the latest internet capabilities have helped to deepen their contributions to the science community and the public--expanding accessibility, improving interoperability and fueling innovation.

There is an ongoing public debate about how to expand access to published research literature to the research community and the public, while ensuring continued quality, integrity, preservation and sustainability of scholarly communications. Publishers share the goal of widening access and have been at the forefront of the effort that has made more scholarly information available to more users than at any time in history.

The following is intended to help answer questions about scholarly publishing and access to scholarly literature. Read more about Open Access and the NIH Public Policy on their separate pages.

What is involved in publishing research?

Do publishers support expanding access to information?

Isn’t there a need to make published research more accessible to researchers?

Should the public have access to research that is funded by the taxpayer?

Do publishers support wide access to information?

What are some of the ways people can access articles for free?

How have publishers advanced innovation in scientific publishing?

Do publishers provide access to journals in developing countries?

Can the organization of peer review be done for free?

How important is peer review?

Do publishers add value to scholarly articles?

What is the value of the U.S. professional and scholarly publishing industry?

What is involved in publishing research?

The publishing process is large, complex and costly. In recent years, publishers collectively have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the transition from print to electronic delivery, and in the process have built and continue to refine a robust digital electronic environment for delivery of information to their readers. Publishers supply editorial services and incur expenses. Even though some editors volunteer their time, many larger journals employ salaried high-level professional editors or staff editorial offices. High-quality page composition, copyediting, layout and design, scanning, and tagging bibliographic and reference data must be managed whether an article is prepared to be read online or in print. Peer review is a tightly managed process. Maintaining and periodically updating a digital archive requires substantial resources, as do launching new journals and maintaining and enhancing online platforms to improve speed, access and functionality.

Information technology has replaced or reduced some production costs but not entirely, and digital technologies have brought new and different costs into the picture. Most costs will not significantly decrease under open access. At a high quality publication, staffing and editorial costs largely remain the same under either open access or subscription-based editorial models. Archiving costs are even higher in the electronic era because electronic archiving requires building the service, regularly updating the platform and software, and continuously maintaining comprehensive searchable sites with millions of linked articles, costs that will continue under any access model. Publishers have invested heavily in systems to take in manuscripts and shepherd them throughout the review process. These systems have helped to reduce the time between submission of an article and its first appearance on the web, accelerating the availability of cutting edge research to the community.

Professional publishing has its costs. The scientific publishing industry must continue to deliver high-quality, peer-reviewed content. The existing business models of publishing are based on the principle that copyright enables publishers to invest resources to create, improve, innovate, and exclusively enter its products (i.e., content) into the stream of commerce to the public. Publishers can and do experiment with alternative models, but a publisher cannot provide these services for free.

Do publishers support expanding access to information?

Absolutely, this is a publisher’s mission. Publishers are in business to provide access to research, not limit it. The very nature of publishing is to make all information widely available to the public as well as to researchers.

Every year publishers invest extensively to support and enhance access to new scientific information. In the last two decades, publishers have developed new technological advancements that have dramatically improved the efficiency and quality of scientific communication. Publishers have explored and implemented a variety of business models to make content as widely available as possible, including a range of distribution and access models.

A direct result is the public has more access to more information in more formats through more media than ever before. These capabilities support more researchers submitting more articles, and more journals distributing more information to users, educators, practitioners, students, and the public than at any time in history.


Isn’t there a need to make published research more accessible to researchers?

There are very few gaps in researchers’ ability to access published research. Journals are openly available through libraries and at institutions to most people involved in scientific research. Access is available to the full text of articles online going back hundreds of years.
Researchers in developing countries now access published research through Research4Life, a public-private partnership of publishers, UN agencies, and universities. This program provides free or low cost access to academic and professional peer-reviewed content online in over 7,500 peer-reviewed international scientific journals, books and databases.

Authors themselves also make their work accessible to the research community. Journals generally allow the authors to place their manuscripts on personal or institutional websites or repositories, distribute the copies of the final published copies of their articles to colleagues, to incorporate them in subsequent work, or to use them in classroom teaching.

More than 2/3 of the researcher respondents in a 2008 study of peer review by the Publishers Research Consortium described their access to scholarly journals literature as good or excellent. Researchers rank “access to research journals” very low on their overall list of concerns.


Nevertheless, should the public have access to research that is funded by the taxpayer?

Yes, and they do. The public has access to published articles through private libraries, university libraries (which are generally accessible to the public), hospital libraries, medical society libraries, research centers, public libraries via interlibrary loan, and often directly from the publisher upon request. The agencies that fund research already have the option to make available to the public the research reports that they receive from authors.

It’s important to note, however, that while taxpayers may fund the costs of conducting research, they do not fund the costs of publishing articles written after the research is completed and professionally edited, vetted, organized and published. So while the information upon which articles are based should be a matter of public record, the articles themselves, covered by copyrights and organized in the form of journals, are the work product of the efforts of publishers. The cost of subscriptions or author fees is necessary to recoup the considerable cost of validating, certifying, and publishing the articles that discuss and document those research findings beyond the reports and data generated by the research and on file with the funding entities.


Do publishers support wide access to information?

It is the mission of publishers to make information as widely available as possible, not to limit it. The very objective of the publishing endeavor is to make scientific information widely available in an organized manner to the public as well as to researchers. Publishers invest heavily to support and enhance access to and the availability of new scientific information. In the last two decades, publishers have developed numerous technological advancements that have tremendously improved the efficiency and quality of dissemination of scientific communication. Publishers explore new technologies and apply a variety of business models best suited to making content as widely available as possible, including open and free access models.

Publishers’ efforts have provided the public more access to more information in more formats and faster than ever before. They have increased efficiencies to accommodate more researchers who are submitting more articles to more journals. The result is faster dissemination of more information to more researchers, educators, practitioners, students and members of the public than ever before.

Read more about open access

What are some of the ways people can access articles for free?

Most people involved in scientific research and in need of scientific information already have access to the articles in journals through library subscriptions at their affiliated institutions. Most university libraries have a mandate as part of their mission to provide onsite patrons to access their large collections of journals -- both paper and electronic. The digital environment has greatly expanded the volume of information that academic libraries can offer their users, thanks to consortia and other publisher licensing arrangements that provide access to titles in addition to the subscriptions that are maintained by a particular library. Most public universities and libraries make their print journal collections available to users from the community. They also offer access to journal collections through interlibrary loan, a service which connects a wide and diverse network of cooperating libraries and that provide users with access to information far beyond what is held locally.

For people who cannot take advantage of library collections, there are many alternatives. Some medical publishers or associations provide free copies or low-priced electronic downloads to members or the public who ask for research information for their own or a family member's medical condition. Most publishers have made provisions for their articles to be posted to publicly accessible databases for free access after a period of time.

Publishers created and introduced patientINFORM in 2006 in cooperation with several Voluntary Health Organizations. patientINFORM is an online service that provides patients and their caregivers access to some of the most up-to-date, reliable, and important research available about the diagnosis and treatment of specific disease groups at no cost to the patient. With patientINFORM consumers have the ability to not only read the latest research, but also to find help interpreting that information and accessing additional materials. By making it easier to understand research findings, patientINFORM empowers healthcare consumers to have improved discussions with their physicians and make informed decisions about care.

To read more about patientINFORM, visit http://www.patientinform.com/

How have publishers advanced innovation in scientific publishing?

From the time the first journal was published, publishers have been the organizers of the scientific record. Publishers make this organized record available to the scientific world and to the public. Publishers develop and use the latest information technology, production tools and Web innovations to ensure connectivity to and availability of information, and to equip researchers with the best tools possible.

Publishers developed the widely used Digital Object Identifier (DOI) and CrossRef service to standardize article reference linking across primary journal databases and to link information elements within an article to a range of data repositories. Publishers employ "forward citation linking" so readers can trace how articles have been cited by other scientists and by the popular media. By licensing their copyrights, publishers permit linking content to other integrated databases of information. Many journal publishers also link articles to public or private databases that act as repositories of the raw data generated by researchers within federal agencies and by research funded by the U.S. government.

Publishers have aggressively addressed issues of current and future information collections. Numerous publishers have invested substantial funds for retrospectively digitizing back volumes of their journals — in many cases as far back as volume 1, number 1, covering more than one hundred years in many instances — to make a rich history of scholarly literature electronically accessible and robust with one click from the user’s desktop.

The Cochrane Collaboration provides an example of a cooperative international endeavor that maintains a database of clinical evidence-based medical analyses and consensus statements to help clinicians separate "fact from fiction". It offers links from its analyses to the underlying cited literature via Digital Object Identifiers and CrossRef links.

Medical publishers have also cooperated with web-based information services such as WebMD to provide linking arrangements that enable both physicians and patients/caregivers to navigate authoritative information resources for trustworthy, reliable and current medical information.


Do publishers provide access to journals in developing countries?

Yes. Since the 1990’s, publishers have been working with the United Nations on a series of programs to provide developing countries with free or low-cost access to important life sciences-related content. Research4Life is the collective name given to three public-private partnerships, HINARI, AGORA and OARE that make health, agricultural and environmental research available to institutions in the developing world. The Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative (HINARI), launched in 2002, a partnership with the World Health Organization, ensures that relevant health information is available to health personnel, policy makers, researchers and scientists around the world. Similarly, Access to Global Research on Agriculture (AGORA), a partnership with the Food and Agricultural Organization and launched in 2003, provides researchers, policy-makers, educators, and students in developing countries access to vital research that will ultimately help increase crop yields and food security. Finally, Online Access to Research in the Environment (OARE), a partnership with the United Nations Environment Program launched in 2006, expands the capacity of developing world organizations to improve the quality and effectiveness of environmental research, education, and training in low-income countries.

Collectively, these three programs provide researchers at more than 5,000 institutions in 108 developing countries free or low cost access to over 7,000 journals from the world’s leading scientific, technical, and medical publishers.

For more information on these programs, see

Can the organization of peer review be done for free?

Probably not. In a recent global study commissioned by the Publishing Research Consortium, 85 percent of scientists indicated that they believe peer review greatly helps scientific communication, while 93 percent of them believe peer review is necessary. Scientific publishers have been at the forefront of innovations that have improved and continue to improve the peer review process. However, this is not free of expense.

Scientific publishers process more than a million papers every year through a rigorous vetting with help from hundreds of thousands of distinct referees. While it is true that peer reviewers themselves are usually not paid, publishers invest hundreds of millions of dollars in managing the peer review process. Managing peer review uses the latest communications technologies and requires large and sophisticated electronic resources (databases of referees, their areas of expertise and current assignments, the status of papers under review, etc.), associated support personnel, and many paid full- and part-time editors.


How important is peer review?

Extremely. Peer review identifies and validates research and innovation. It encourages authors to meet the accepted standards of their discipline. The process can help to avoid unsubstantiated scientific claims, unacceptable interpretations, and personal opinions. Peer review specifically identifies weaknesses in scientific papers and ensures that the content of a scientific paper is both novel and advances the scientific record. In fact, industry estimates suggest that approximately half of all papers submitted for publication are rejected in their initial submission because they do not sufficiently meet a journal’s criteria. Scientists tend to rely upon the editorial process and peer review as validation of quality, and it is almost universally accepted in support of the research process.

The importance of the process has been underscored in light of high profile cases of scientific fraud. The instances of a few authors successfully publishing fraudulent or fabricated data in major journals call for oversight that is more rigorous by the entire scientific publishing industry. Several cases focus on conflicts of interest in the scientific research community where authors failed to disclose financial support for research that had perceived or obvious implications for the companies that provided that support. Today, it is incumbent upon publishers to be as rigorous as possible in the peer review process to help uncover financial conflicts of interest by reviewers, editors, and authors and to thoroughly evaluate articles and associated materials for signs of scientific fraud -- both before and after publication. The costs of additional checks on the process are mostly borne by publishers.

Publishers are also supporting a shared plagiarism detection system called CrossCheck designed to detect instances of unauthorized use of articles previously published. This system is entirely financed by the publishing community.


Do publishers add value to scholarly articles?

Absolutely. For more than two centuries, publishers have served society and promoted the advancement of science and the arts through widespread organized distribution of scientific and scholarly ideas. Publishers have actively built their journals into recognizable and trustworthy brands and avenues for scholarly findings and concepts, and in doing so they provide a direct benefit to society and and the advancement of human knowledge.

Scientists publish their research and enjoy the prestige of the journals that accept their articles. Their peers recognize the value of their work based in large part on the reputation of the journals in which they publish. Tenure committees at universities weigh the reputation and quality of journal when considering promotions. A researcher’s ability to attract additional grant funding is greatly enhanced by publishing in respected journals.

Building prestige takes time and investment. Publishers devote substantial resources to establishing peer review systems, keeping editorial processes at the highest levels, and maintaining the operations of their journals. Through these direct investments, publishers reinvest the revenue from their journals into science. Journal revenues fund advocacy for research and the cost effective or gratis dissemination of information to the public.

Typically, the publisher's site integrates the peer reviewed, vetted version and is also likely to have embedded links, enhanced functionality, post-publication annotations such as errata, and other tools and services that add significant value for the user.


What is the value of the U.S. professional and scholarly publishing industry?

Considerable. Publishing is a cornerstone of research, and research is critical to the U.S. economy. U.S. investment in research and development accounted for 5 percent of real GDP growth between 1959 and 2004, and 7 percent between 1995 and 2004. American research drove our economy in the 20th century, and it will continue to be a driver in the 21st. The publishing industry is integral to this growth, according to a study conducted by the National Science Foundation

The professional and scholarly journal publishing industry segments include academic, non-for-profit, society/association, government, private, and public corporate sectors, all providing services and benefits to their members, constituents, and markets. Scientists, educators, and researchers rely on the reputation of research journals to validate the credibility and contribution of their published work, to disseminate research, to certify the work of others, and to share perspectives about entire bodies of research. Top-tier journals inspire confidence and promote the advancement of science and its translation to practice.

Scholarly publishing provides jobs. Within the U.S., more than 1,000 scholarly, professional and research publishers employ over 30,000 people and directly support an additional 20,000 jobs. The total annual revenue from the U.S. industry sector is more than $8 billion, including journals, books, and databases, with approximately half of the revenues supporting those jobs coming from journal publishing. In science for example, U.S. authors produce about 40% of the global article research output. Over 50% of U.S. professional and scholarly publishers’ revenues derive from subscriptions delivered outside the US, totaling an estimated $2 billion in foreign trade. Mandated large-scale public access policies can disrupt this significant economic sector.

Publishers’ copyright exports are a large economic sector in which the U.S. enjoys a positive balance of trade. Foreign entitles who now license copyright (translations, derivative works, etc.) will exploit a free access policy as they will no longer be required to pay for access to U.S. research articles. Global foreign industries that compete fiercely with U.S. corporations (e.g., pharmaceutical, high tech) will take advantage of free access to U.S. research findings, while the increased burden of maintaining the global research information infrastructure will be inequitably borne by the U.S. taxpayer and research institutions.