Business of Academic Publishing

Geographical Differences in Open Access Ecosystems: Implications for Research Societies and Publishers

Open access (OA) has moved from a niche challenger to conventional scholarly publishing, to a movement that is transforming the traditional academic publishing landscape. In response to the rise of OA and the overall shift to open science, many publishers and societies have shifted to fully open or hybrid OA models to meet the increasing demand. While there is a clear grassroots shift towards OA in scholarly publishing, many governments and organizing bodies are also paying attention to these changes. Increasingly, national and regional initiatives to support OA are guiding this transition. Ultimately, this is leading to the rise of new OA ecosystems across the world, both in advanced and developing economies.

This article describes the geographical differences in OA ecosystems and explains why societies and publishers need to pay attention to these differences while transitioning to an OA model. We present examples of both major industrialized economies and developing nations across the globe that are proactively encouraging OA.

United States—A giant step

The US is a huge net contributor to global scientific output and research funding, only recently being eclipsed by China. Likewise, many of the world’s leading research societies such as the American Chemical Society and prestigious journals like the New England Journal of Medicine are based out of the US. Thus, any changes in OA publishing in the US are likely to have a ripple effect in other economies.

In August 2022, the Biden administration issued a memorandum (the OSTP to all federal agencies with publicly funded research expenditures, calling for all data to be published without embargo by 2026. This decision signifies the most significant recognition of the need to change to open publishing to date in the US, and it has been supported by hundreds of organizations representing researchers, clinicians, and universities. While federally funded research is not the only research performed in the US, this top-down change may influence many other organizations.

See also: OSTP Mandate Will Increase Scholarly Society Focus on Author Services

Japan—Major commitment

As another leading economy, Japan remains one of the top contributors to global research expenditures, and it boasts an outsized contribution to Nobel Prize winners for the sciences. The Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) is the body charged with implementing policies set by the Japanese Ministry of Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, which it coordinates in tandem with academic institutions and major businesses in Japan. One of its primary roles is as a funding body for research and development. In April 2022, JST announced that “Open Access should be applied to all research publications in principle. In particular, peer-reviewed research articles (including review papers, and conference papers that are accepted for publication in a conference proceeding) should be made openly available within 12 months…” Given the immense role that JST plays in publicly funded science in Japan, this decision will greatly affect the publication choices of many of Japan’s researchers. As part of this initiative, JST has also launched Jxiv, Japan’s own preprint server. While a forward-thinking measure, it has yet to be fully embraced by researchers. Nevertheless, JST has taken a leading role in ensuring openness.

Together with the USA, publicly funded research is clearly moving towards an OA-only model in the Global North.

India—A unified policy

India is a large and populous nation that has become a major contributor to research worldwide. India’s embrace of technology has been a major engine driving its overall development.

The government of India has been cognizant of the vast importance of access to information and has taken an unprecedented step to ensure that Indian citizens have access to all the published information they can receive. It has been dubbed the “One Nation, One Subscription” (ONOs) policy, and is expected to come into effect from April 2023. The ONOS concept was proposed in late 2020 as part of the Fifth National Science Technology and Innovation Policy of India. Under this proposed plan, all Indians will have access to the archives of major publishers, negotiated under a single payment by the Indian government. At present, researchers based in public institutions have access to a basic level of online resources through E-ShodhSindhu, an initiative by India’s Ministry of Education, with individual institutions purchasing further subscriptions for journals or publications that are not covered under E-ShodhSindu.

Compared to open initiatives that place the onus on researchers to publish their information openly, this initiative works with existing publishers to improve access overall. This is likely to be favorable to traditional publishers. India itself has had a complex history with publishers, as it has attracted criticism in the past for being permissive in terms of intellectual property. Further, India has become the venue for a major litigation between Elsevier and the repositories SciHub and Library Genesis, who have in turn received support from a number of Indian academics. Nevertheless, we can expect scientists in India to enjoy a greater level of free access even when journals publish under restrictive models.

South Africa—A model for the Global South

Africa is contributing greater amounts to research as its many nations develop. At the vanguard of these changes is South Africa, a leader both in governmental and grassroots initiatives to improve OA. As such, it has become a model for other nations in the Global South to follow. Researchers in South Africa have shown immense foresight in launching numerous publications and repositories to share their work openly.

OpenDOAR, the UK-based Directory of Open Access Repositories, has records for 50 repositories in South Africa, many of which have been founded by national universities or other research foundations, showing that there has been a remarkable grassroots desire to meet the need for OA. As such, it is vital for publishers and societies to recognize the role that researchers in South Africa have played in securing their own OA ecosystem.

East Africa—Strong multinational alliance

In May 2022, the East African Science and Technology Commission (EASTECO), the Public Library of Science (PLOS), and the Training Centre in Communication (TCC Africa) announced a joint project of East African Community (EAC) partner states to advance OA in East Africa.

East Africa has enjoyed robust economic development, and as its development has continued, so too has East Africa’s contributions to science. Accordingly, EASTECO was founded to promote innovation in the East African region by supporting the development and commercialization of new technologies. Meanwhile, PLOS, best known for its journals such as PLOS ONE, has been at the forefront of OA publishing since its founding in 2001. Finally, TCC Africa is a non-profit that supports researchers by offering training in scholarly communication.

Together, this collaboration aims to promote OA in the region. As PLOS has become a major publisher in its own right, it is likely that researchers in EAC member nations will continue to build strong bonds with PLOS and other OA publishers.

Latin America—Strong grassroots collaboration

The Latin American OA ecosystem is an interesting case of grassroots collaboration. Latin America is unique as Spanish is a used as a lingua franca for research and because it contains a mix of developed and developing economies.

The Latin American system comprises numerous non-commercial repositories. One key difference is that publishing costs are funded by universities and other institutions, meaning that researchers in Latin America are not accustomed to paying the large publishing costs that many OA or hybrid publishers request. As such, publishers from the Global North may need to adjust their models to better coexist with the Latin American OA ecosystem.


There is an undeniable worldwide shift towards OA models. However, each geographical region offers unique challenges. It is vital for publishers moving to an OA model to consider geographical region when creating OA strategies. Lessons to take away include:

  • Researchers from the Global South account for a growing proportion of submissions to research journals. These researchers value OA, as evidenced by their grassroots OA initiatives.
  • Countries have proposed numerous conflicting solutions to improving OA in their own regions. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach.
  • OA publishing is often funded by researchers; however,  the costs involved mean that some regions have come up with their own initiatives.
  • Both OA and traditional publishers have shown a lot of willingness to accommodate these new regional OA plans.
David Burbridge

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