As we start preparing for our annual market sizing survey, we take a look at the data on open access uptake we have seen so far in 2020.

In this article we will explore how open access compares with other types of access and how the balance of output between access models is shifting in unexpected ways.


As we have discussed previously, we use data from Unpaywall1 to analyze per-article information about Open Access. The other major indexes use this data too. To perform a full analysis of the publishing landscape, we must also look at journals’ business models. As has also been discussed, there is no definitive index of journals available. Those that focus on OA journals focus only on fully OA . So, we finesse the per-article information by overlaying our own data about journal business models. Our data covers around 70% of articles indexed in Crossref since 2014.

We also need to define clearly “open access” which is used by different sources to mean different things. For our analysis, we use the “formal” definition of Open Access, as coined by the Budapest Open Access Initiative in 2002. “Open Access” requires that peer-reviewed articles are BOTH free of charge to read AND have permissive usage rights. Articles that are ONLY free to read, with NO permissive reuse rights we consider to be “Public Access” (sometimes called “Bronze”). We discuss the various definitions in a supplement to this article and note some further nuances below.

Open access uptake

Figure 1 shows our estimates of OA uptake across all scholarly output, based on data from April 2020.

Sources: Crossref, Unpaywall, publishers’ pricelists, DOAJ, ROAD, Delta Think analysis.
© 2020 Delta Think, Inc. Published under CC BY-NC license; please see footnotes for details.

At first glance, this gives us a view of OA adoption. It uses Unpaywall’s OA status indicator. For example, in 2019 the % of total output accounted for by:

  • “Gold” (articles in Fully OA journals, shown in yellow) was around 32%.
  • “Hybrid” (articles other journals, with open licenses, shown in blue) was around 7%.
  • “Bronze” (articles in other journals, without open licenses, shown in bronze) was around 9%.
  • “Green” (articles only available via legitimate repositories, shown in green) was less than 5%.
  • “Closed” (articles which are not open to read from any legitimate source, in grey) form the balance.

Under our nomenclature, we might conclude that Open Access output – articles that are free to read and include permissive reuse rights – accounted for 39% of total output in 2019 (the 32% Gold OA plus 7% Hybrid OA). Public Access – free to read, without permissive rights – refers to the 9% Bronze.

The notable trend in the chart is that the growth in both Open Access and Public Access output appears to be slowing, with the curve of these appearing to flatten over time. Repository-only access (“Green”) appears to reach a steady state after a couple of years. We would expect this, given its commonplace connection to embargo periods.

But what exactly are we measuring?

Good though they are, the numbers above miss important details. For example, the Hybrid numbers include open access articles published both in hybrid journals, and in journals that offer no advertised open access option. We term these latter journals “not OA” but of course their publishers may choose to make selected articles in them open access (free to read and reuse), or public access (free to read only).

Similarly, articles which are “Closed” – which we take to be Paid Access – could appear in both sorts of journals. Such articles form the subscription part of hybrid journals, or the core part of not OA journals.

So, to uncover more detail concerning market dynamics, we need to separate the two sorts of “not fully OA” journals. Figure 2 below shows this separation and tells us what happens when we determine the proportions of article output within each type of journal.

Sources: Crossref, Unpaywall, publishers’ pricelists, DOAJ, ROAD, Delta Think analysis.
© 2020 Delta Think, Inc. Published under CC BY-NC license; please see footnotes for details.

Here we analyze just 2019’s data and have not shown fully OA journals for clarity. We have also replaced the color-based nomenclature with names describing access type.

  • We can see that the Open Access option (in blue) accounts for just under 10% of the output in hybrid journals compared with the 7% or so we saw across the market.
  • Around 75% of output in hybrid journals is Paid Access (in grey), compared with 50% or so across the market.
  • Given this, we might conclude that hybrid has just under 10% uptake of Open Access.

We can also use this break-out to assess what might happen if hybrid journals flipped. Assuming submissions stay constant, the currently Paid Access proportion gives us our maximum additional APC-based income. The economics of the Public Access content depend on how much the market would pay to flip the license to an open access one given the content is already free to read. Pressure to reduce subscription prices (and even flip to OA) could be determined by adding the open and public access components, as neither require subscriptions. At a little over 20%, this is not insignificant.

Perhaps the most surprising finding in content outside fully OA journals, is that journals with no OA option make proportionally more content Open Access and Public Access than their hybrid counterparts. The full data set in Delta Think’s OA Data and Analytics Tool allows us to analyze this over time; although not shown here, this seems to be a trend over time.


Literature search strategies focus on finding articles, and so looking at per-article access options is useful and relevant for researchers. Here we see that the proportion of content that is Open Access and Public Access is growing, although the growth appears to be slowing.

However, for publishers and librarians, more information is needed about parent journal types and different access models. Without this, it is not possible to understand trends in the market. With it, we can quantify the uptake of Open Access options in hybrid journals and tease out nuances between journal types.

The analysis above just scratches the surface of what we can achieve by combining multiple data sets and performing a joint analysis. Are things different for society-owned journals? What about for major publishers compared with the market average? Or for the very largest publishers? How do different disciplines compare? Might trends change in response to emerging policies and activities?

The answers to these questions will vary among organizations, of course, and require further analysis. Meanwhile, we leave you with the following (perhaps counterintuitive) finding. Across the market as a whole, it seems that you are LESS likely to find OA content in a hybrid journal which offers OA options, than in a journal with no advertised OA options at all.

Stay well and have a good month.

This article is © 2020 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.

1 Unpaywall is an open source application that links every research article that has been assigned a Crossref DOI (more than 100 million in total) to the OA URLs where the paper can be read for free. It is built and maintained by Our Research (formerly Impactstory), a US-based nonprofit organization.” – The Future of OA: A large-scale analysis projecting Open Access publication and readership. Piwowar, Priem, Orr. Oct 2019.


Will Trump White House tear down journal paywalls? Many anxiously await a decision – May 21, 2020

“Scientific publishers, universities, librarians, and open-access (OA) advocates are waiting anxiously to see whether the Trump administration will end a long-standing policy and require that every scholarly article produced with U.S. funding be made immediately free to all.”

EarthArXiv announces new partnership with California Digital Library to host earth sciences preprint service – May 20, 2020

“The Advisory Council of the EarthArXiv preprint service for earth sciences is pleased to announce a partnership with the California Digital Library (CDL) that will support EarthArXiv’s mission, future growth, and long-term sustainability. Core to this partnership will be the transition of EarthArXiv’s preprints server – including public display and submission management – from the Center for Open Science to the eScholarship Publishing program at the CDL.”

cOAlition S announces price transparency requirements – May 18, 2020

“Adhering to Plan’s S key principle of transparent pricing, cOAlition S publishes today its guidance on implementing price transparency when Open Access (OA) publication fees are applied. Specifically, cOAlition S announces that from July 1st, 2022 only publishers who provide data in line with one of the two endorsed price and service transparency frameworks will be eligible to receive OA publication funds from cOAlition S members.”

New from eLife: Invitation to submit to Preprint Review – May 13, 2020

“Beginning today, authors who have shared their work as a preprint on bioRxiv are invited to submit to eLife’s new Preprint Review service. Preprint Review offers authors the opportunity to have eLife review their work directly on bioRxiv and, simultaneously, consider the work for publication in the journal.”

ResearchGate and Wiley announce cooperation agreement – May 6, 2020

“ResearchGate, the largest professional network for researchers, and Wiley, a global leader in research and education, today announced a cooperation agreement to explore ways in which Wiley and ResearchGate can collaborate to better support the needs of researchers through ResearchGate’s collaboration platform.”

TOP Factor to appear in Master Journal List – May 5, 2020

“The Center for Open Science and the Web of Science Group are collaborating to incorporate TOP Factor among the information and metrics available through participating journals in its Master Journal List…Based on the Transparency and Openness Promotion (TOP) Guidelines, TOP Factor rates journals on the degree to which their policies implement open data, research design transparency, replication studies, and address publication bias.”

Jisc and LYRASIS help US universities and research organisations gather new usage insights – May 5, 2020

“Jisc and LYRASIS, a global non-profit membership association providing technology and content solutions for libraries, museums, and archives, are joining forces to introduce Institutional Repository Usage Statistics (IRUS) in the United States. IRUS-US is the first service to bring together standards-based usage statistics of participating repositories in the US.”


May 20, 2020

Pathology & Oncology Researchtransitions to Open Access with Frontiers

“Frontiers is thrilled to announce that the journal Pathology & Oncology Research, currently published by Springer Nature, will be transferring to Frontiers as of January 2021. The journal will also be transitioning from a Subscription, Hybrid model to Gold Open Access.”

May 12, 2020

The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Elsevier announce new publishing partnership

“The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) and Elsevier are delighted to announce a new partnership to publish the ASBMB’s Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC), Molecular & Cellular Proteomics (MCP) and Journal of Lipid Research (JLR). As part of this agreement, all three titles will move to a gold open access (OA) publishing model.”

May 11, 2020

New OA Journal of European Landscapes by Amsterdam University Press launched on ARPHA

Journal of European Landscape (JEL), an openly accessible, peer-reviewed academic outlet, was launched by Amsterdam University Press (AUP) with the aim to bridge the gap between heritage and future-proof landscapes, between local and international perspectives, between what is and what is only in the eye of the beholder.”

May 7, 2020

animal announces move to Gold Open Access and launch of new publishing agreement with Elsevier

animal, a monthly international journal of animal bioscience, is delighted to announce it has entered into a new publishing agreement with Elsevier beginning 1st January, 2021. As part of this agreement, animal will move to Gold Open Access (OA), with all future published articles being shared worldwide.”

May 4, 2020

IAVS and Pensoft launch a gold OA journal on vegetation classification on ARPHA platform

“Last summer, the International Association for Vegetation Science (IAVS) took the decision to launch a gold open-access academic journal, titled Vegetation Classification and Survey (VCS). Then, IAVS signed a contract with the scientific publisher and technology provider Pensoft and its self-developed innovative, fast-track scholarly platform ARPHA.”

May 1, 2020

The International Journal of Public Health transitions to Open Access

“The International Journal of Public Health is pleased to announce that from January 2021 it will transition from a subscription model to Gold Open Access. The journal will also be transferring from its current publisher Springer Nature to Frontiers, a leading Gold Open Access publisher offering tailored services and a highly technologically advanced platform.”

May 1, 2020

Oxford University Press launches a new open access journal series

“Oxford University Press (OUP) today announces the first two titles in the new flagship open access journal series. The Oxford Open series launches today with Oxford Open Immunology and Oxford Open Materials Science.”

April 30, 2020

UC Press and UC Global Health Institute Announce Partnership to Launch Advances in Global Health

“University of California Press is delighted to announce a partnership with the UC Global Health Institute to develop a new transdisciplinary, open access journal, Advances in Global Health, that will showcase the latest research devoted to improving worldwide health outcomes.”