This month we look at diamond open access journals (“sponsored”). With some large funders advocating their use as a more equitable form of open access, can publishers make them work?


An APC-based payment model is increasingly seen as challenging. APCs represent a rising expense, especially for institutions publishing large volumes of articles. Additionally, the APC model (even with waivers) has been increasingly criticized as non-inclusive. So it’s perhaps no surprise that we have seen moves to finance “diamond” journals and promote OA without author fees from some government funders and agencies.

Using color names to describe journal business models is not self-explanatory. For this analysis, we will use “sponsored” rather than “diamond” to refer to journals for which costs of the entire journal are covered, without fees charged to read or publish articles.

Since there is no data at scale listing sponsored journals, we infer whether a journal is sponsored by analyzing our data about publishers’ price lists. From our data set of over 18,000 journals, we look for fully open journals that have been available and have charged zero APCs for at least 3 years1. The prevalence of these journals hints at whether responding to increased demand for sponsored journals requires scaling existing efforts or cutting new ground.

How many sponsored journals are there?

We analyze proportions of sponsored journals below, in Figure 1.

The chart shows proportions of fully open access journals that have, or have not, charged per-paper publishing fees (APCs). The sample only includes journals with at least 3 years’ data about APCs.

  1. The top (yellow) proportion shows our likely sponsored journals, which have not charged APCs for at least 3 years. These account for just under one fifth of our sample.
  2. The bottom (gray) proportion shows our pay-to-publish journals, which charge APCs. These account for just over 80% of our sample.
  3. The remaining proportions show journals which do not charge APCs, but only for a year or two. These cover a very small proportion of our sample. If we include newer journals – not shown above – then we would find significantly more journals not charging APCs in 2022-23. As we cannot be sure whether these are truly sponsored or (say) offering temporary discounts, we exclude them so we can look at underlying trends.

Looking at trends, the data suggest that around 18% of journals are now sponsored, down from just over 25% two years ago. The underlying data show that the numbers of journals have grown by 20% over this period.

Publisher type makes a difference

On average, sponsored journals account for a small but significant proportion of activity. However, as ever, the averages mask important variations. Figure 2, below, shows how different the picture can look from a society perspective.

The chart shows the same categories as before but split to show society journals on the right and other journals on the left.

  1. Societies make far greater use of sponsored journals: over 40%, but down from almost 60% two years ago.
  2. Non-society journals are just over half of the market averages.
  3. For context, there are around one third the number of society versus non-society journals in the underlying data.


Overall, 18% of fully open journals appear to be sponsored, but their proportion and number have been decreasing. It seems that over the last 3-4 years the market has been slowly moving away from a sponsored model. It will be interesting to see if this trend holds since discussions about “diamond” journals are now heating up.

However, these current averages vary greatly depending on whether titles are owned by societies.

Among society-run journals, sponsored titles account for more than double the market average, for non-society (commercial) journals they account for just under half. Societies’ greater proportion of sponsored titles and their not-for-profit status could therefore place them in a stronger position than their commercial competitors if we see a large scale move by funders to require publication in journals without publisher fees and – as some noises from European funders suggest – which are not for profit.

With the situation varying so wildly, and government pushes to an OA world showing no signs of abating, it’s vital that publishers look at the data for their circumstances, to fully understand the situation for their mix of journal types, profit status and discipline.

1The data can’t describe why journals don’t charge APCs. Journals that are new or newly made OA may not charge APCs as an introductory offer. So, we take journals that have been in our database for at least three years and have not charged an APC during that time. Some journals may offer longer introductory offers (and some none), but our anecdotal feedback from the market suggests that the 3 year period seems reasonable for our analysis. Subscribe to Open journals will also appear in our sample, however, at the time we carried out this analysis, they will be very few in number and make no difference to the outcome.

This article is © 2023 Delta Think, Inc. It is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. Please do get in touch if you want to use it in other contexts – we’re usually pretty accommodating.


Transformative Agreements playing vital role in OA transition – June 7, 2023

“New data from Springer Nature shows the vital role transformative agreements (TAs) are playing in driving the global transition to open access (OA). They are the main reason OA is increasing in Springer Nature’s hybrid journals, delivering OA equity across all academic disciplines.”

UKRI updates guidance for open access policy – May 25, 2023

“From 1 January 2024, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)’s new open access policy will apply to monographs, book chapters and edited collections. The open access policy applied since April 2022 for peer-reviewed research articles acknowledging UKRI funding. The policy aims to ensure that findings from research UKRI funds with public money can be accessed and built on by the research and innovation community and wider society.”

Council of the EU calls for transparent, equitable, and open access to scholarly publications – May 23, 2023

“Today the Council has adopted conclusions on the ‘high quality, transparent, open, trustworthy and equitable scholarly publishing’, in which it calls for immediate and unrestricted open access in publishing research involving public funds.”


June 14, 2023

Thieme launches new open access journal on sustainability and circularity

“Sustainability & Circularity NOW publishes latest research on benign molecules and materials, closed-loop, waste-free systems, and other actionable solutions to tackle global environmental crises. The new journal is the first open access publication with a multidisciplinary focus on sustainability and circularity in chemistry and beyond.”

June 14, 2023

PeerJ announces Open Advances, a new journal series to address the world’s biggest challenges by unlocking Open Access

“PeerJ, the award-winning open access publisher, is proud to announce the launch of the Open Advances series of journals and the expansion of its commitment to democratizing scientific communication. The series will foster an equitable approach that empowers researchers worldwide to contribute valuable insights towards solving global challenges.”

June 7, 2023

AGU’s Journal Water Resources Research Goes Fully Open Access

“Water Resources Research, AGU’s journal for research on the movement and management of Earth’s water, will be switching to a fully open-access publishing model to be completed on 1 January 2024. It is the eleventh AGU journal to switch to open access.”

June 7, 2023

Introducing Environmental Research: Food Systems – IOP Publishing’s new OA journal dedicated to achieving sustainable global food solutions

“IOP Publishing (IOPP) is expanding its open access (OA) Environmental Research portfolio to address the urgent need for sustainable food solutions globally. Environmental Research: Food Systems, which supports the United Nation’s Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs), is an interdisciplinary forum for researchers working to achieve sustainable global food security.”