For our last piece of analysis for 2021, we revisit how the “quality” of OA journals compares with the market average.


We have previously examined the longstanding perception that OA journals are of lower “quality” than average. We used a few different citation-based measures of impact as a proxy for perceived quality. Although we found that fully OA (gold) journals had slightly lower average impact, they had caught up over the years from 2009 to 2017. At the time of our last study in 2018, we suggested that OA journals might have even been on track to beat the average. What’s happened since then?

Plus ça change

The figure below shows how the average Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP)1 has changed over time, including the most recent years’ data. (The data set covers around 25,000 journals.)

Source: Crossref, Unpaywall, CWTS, Delta Think analysis. © 2021 Delta Think, Inc.
All rights reserved. May not be reused without permission.

The chart above shows the average SNIP each year analysed by journals’ OA type. The total number of journals in the sample shown above rose from 14.4k in 2010 (of which 1.6k were fully OA) to 20.1k in 2020 (of which 5.9k were fully OA).

  • The average for all journals (in black) is the baseline.
  • The average for fully OA (gold) journals (in yellow) has slowly been converging on the average over time, with an uptick in 2020.
  • However, journals that are not fully OA (grey) have also picked up in recent years.

Our previous study looked how quickly numbers of the highest quality journals were changing. The following chart brings this up to date.

© 2021 Delta Think, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reused without permission.

The chart above analyzes journals whose SNIP lies in the top quartile.

  • The year over year (YoY) change in all journals (in black) serves as a baseline.
  • The number of fully OA journals (in yellow) is gaining share – it is growing much faster than the baseline.
  • Journals that are not fully OA (in grey) are losing share. Numbers are shrinking in recent years.
  • Although not shown above, we should note that the numbers of journals across all quartiles follow similar patterns. Their rate of growth is slowing, but fully OA journals are growing significantly faster than the others.

We have looked at averages across all subjects above. However, there are variations depending on subject. The patterns for multidisciplinary journals or some physical sciences, for example, are different from the averages. Subscribers to our tool can drill down into subjects specific to them and explore the data further. Likewise, Society journals may show different patterns compared to the average.

We should also note that the fully OA figures do not include Hybrid. As these are journal-wide metrics, it’s not possible to split out the OA component of hybrid for this analysis.


The performance of fully OA journals is significant because they are required by the vanguard of OA policymakers.

When we first did this analysis, we found that fully OA journals had lower impact metrics than average, but over time they were catching up. The trend has continued, and fully OA journals are still gaining ground. Some of this is simply due to there being more such journals. However, the speed at which fully OA journals is catching up is slowing. At current rates it will around 2033 before fully OA journals overtake the average. This slower rate of change may be of concern to researchers and publishers because, rightly or wrongly, researchers and publishers often perceive “quality” through the lens of impact metrics.

Finally, the original question we were investigating in 2018 was geared toward dispelling the myth that OA journals are relegated to low quality and that it was a business model that caused this. The reality remains that journal quality is in the hands of the editorial team that curates and models the journal, not the business model.

We wish all our readers a happy and healthy 2022.

1 The SNIP is based on the Scopus data set and is calculated independently by the University of Leiden’s Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS). It is like Clarivate’s well-known Journal Impact Factor, but it covers 3 years’ citations and corrects for differences in citation practices between scientific fields. The calculation is complex, but basically a SNIP of 1 is the average across the entire data set. Our charts show SNIPs from citing sources only, which basically excludes things like trade journals.

This article is © 2021 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.


Major milestone reached as Springer Nature publishes one million Open Access articles – December 2, 2021

“Springer Nature has become the first publisher to immediately publish one million gold open access (OA) primary research and review articles – testament to the company’s long commitment to making research immediately available for all to read, share, use, and reuse to advance discovery.”

Wiley Acquires Open Access Innovator Knowledge Unlatched – December 2, 2021

“Global research and education leader Wiley today announced the acquisition of Knowledge Unlatched, an innovator in online open access solutions… Knowledge Unlatched helps libraries and publishers reduce complexity through seamless online services to approve, pay, and manage their open access transactions and maximize the impact of library budgets to make more content open access.”

The State of Open Data 2021 – Global attitudes towards Open Data – November 30, 2021

“Figshare, Digital Science, and Springer Nature’s annual State of Open Data report finds increasing concern among researchers about misuse of data as well as a lack of credit and acknowledgement for those who do openly share their data.”

Open access content from Rockefeller University Press now available on ResearchGate – November 22, 2021

“ResearchGate and Rockefeller University Press (RUP) today announced the completion of the first phase of a content syndication pilot partnership. ResearchGate users can now find full-text Immediate OA articles and a subset of five years of archival content published in the Journal of Cell Biology (JCB), Journal of Experimental Medicine (JEM), and Journal of General Physiology (JGP) between May 2016 and April 2021 on the network.”

New agreement announced supporting the Directory of Open Access Journals through OhioLINK – November 15, 2021

“A new agreement between Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and OhioLINK paves the way for the sustainability of vital open access library infrastructure, key to the future of science and research. DOAJ curates and indexes over 17,000 peer-reviewed, open access journals from around the world in a free and independent database.”


December 7, 2021

AIP Publishing to Launch Two Fully Open Access Journals in 2022

“AIP Publishing (AIPP) is pleased to announce the addition of two new titles to the growing family of Open Access (OA) journals: APL Energy and APL Machine Learning…The journals will open for submissions in mid-2022 and start publishing by the end of 2022.”

December 6, 2021

Wiley launches new open access journal: Public Health Challenges

“Wiley, a global leader in research and education, announced the launch of its newest open access journal, Public Health Challenges. The journal aims to publish original research, reviews, and perspectives that represent the full spectrum of global public health research, policy and practice.”

November 10, 2021

Journal of Dairy Science is moving to open access in January 2022

“The American Dairy Science Association (ADSA) and Elsevier are delighted to announce that Journal of Dairy Science (JDS) will become a gold open access (OA) journal with the January 2022 issue.”

October 26, 2021

Oxford Open Neuroscience joins OUP’s flagship Oxford Open journal series

“Oxford University Press is delighted to announce the launch of the sixth title in the Oxford Open series, Oxford Open Neuroscience. Oxford Open Neuroscience will publish rigorous and broad interest papers and research into the nervous system in both health and disease, encompassing basic, translational, and clinical research.”

October 19, 2021

AACR Announces Official Call for Papers for New Open Access Journal, Cancer Research Communications

“The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) today announced the opening of the submission site for its new open access journal, Cancer Research Communications, signaling the official call for papers. This new journal is the 10th in the AACR’s prestigious portfolio of scientific publications, adding an open access publishing option to this high-quality, trusted journal collection.”

October 19, 2021

Open Access Transformation for Astronomy & Astrophysics

“The A&A Board of Directors has announced that their journal will move to a Subscribe-to-Open (S2O) model. If libraries renew their subscriptions, A&A will be published in full open access in 2022.”