Ongoing debates surrounding Open Access to the scholarly literature are multifaceted and complicated by disparate and often polarised viewpoints from engaged stakeholders. At the current stage, Open Access has become such a global issue that it is critical for all involved in scholarly publishing, including policymakers, publishers, research funders, governments, learned societies, librarians, and academic communities, to be well-informed on the history, benefits, and pitfalls of Open Access.
In spite of this, there is a general lack of consensus regarding the advantages or disadvantages of Open Access at multiple levels. This review aims to to be a resource for current knowledge on the impacts of Open Access by synthesizing important research in three major areas of impact: academic, economic and societal.
While there is clearly much scope for additional research, several key trends are identified, including a broad citation advantage for researchers who publish openly, as well as additional benefits to the non-academic dissemination of their work.
The economic case for Open Access is less well-understood, although it is clear that access to the research literature is key for innovative enterprises, and a range of governmental and non-governmental services.
Furthermore, Open Access has the potential to save publishers and research funders considerable amounts of financial resources. The social case for Open Access is strong, in particular for advancing citizen science initiatives, and leveling the playing field for researchers in developing countries.
Open Access supersedes all potential alternative modes of access to the scholarly literature through enabling unrestricted re-use, and long-term stability independent of financial constraints of traditional publishers that impede knowledge sharing.
Open Access remains only one of the multiple challenges that the scholarly publishing system is currently facing. Yet, it provides one foundation for increasing engagement with researchers regarding ethical standards of publishing.
We recommend that Open Access supporters focus their efforts on working to establish viable new models and systems of scholarly communication, rather than trying to undermine the existing ones as part of the natural evolution of the scholarly ecosystem. Based on this, future research should investigate the wider impacts of an ecosystem-wide transformation to a system of Open Research.
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