Discipline-specific open access publishing practices and barriers to change: an evidence-based review

Authors : Anna Severin, Matthias Egger, Martin Paul Eve, Daniel Hürlimann


Many of the discussions surrounding Open Access (OA) revolve around how it affects publishing practices across different academic disciplines. It was a long-held view that it would be only a matter of time for all disciplines to fully and relatively homogeneously implement OA.

Recent large-scale bibliometric studies show however that the uptake of OA differs substantially across disciplines. This study investigates the underlying mechanisms that cause disciplines to vary in their OA publishing practices.

We aimed to answer two questions: First, how do different disciplines adopt and shape OA publishing practices? Second, what discipline-specific barriers to and potentials for OA can be identified?


In a first step, we identified and synthesized relevant bibliometric studies that assessed OA prevalence and publishing patterns across disciplines. In a second step, and adopting a social shaping of technology perspective, we studied evidence on the socio-technical forces that shape OA publishing practices.

We examined a variety of data sources, including, but not limited to, publisher policies and guidelines, OA mandates and policies and author surveys.


Over the last three decades, scholarly publishing has experienced a shift from “closed” access to OA as the proportion of scholarly literature that is openly accessible has increased continuously.

The shift towards OA is however uneven across disciplines in two respects: first, the growth of OA has been uneven across disciplines, which manifests itself in varying OA prevalence levels. Second, disciplines use different OA publishing channels to make research outputs OA.


We conclude that historically grown publishing practices differ in terms of their compatibility with OA, which is the reason why OA can be assumed to be a natural continuation of publishing cultures in some disciplines, whereas in other disciplines, the implementation of OA faces major barriers and would require a change of research culture.

URL : Discipline-specific open access publishing practices and barriers to change: an evidence-based review

DOI : https://doi.org/10.12688/f1000research.17328.1