TOPIC 5: The Open Access debate – why do we have to pay for certain knowledge?

We can all relate to how frustrating it is to find the ‘perfect’ article that you’re sure has everything you need in it for an assignment, only to realise it’s access is restricted.

It makes you think, why are some things free to access and others not?

Until I really researched this topic, that’s what I thought it was all about. Being at university I automatically thought about access to journals  for academia and that my trouble with it would be over as soon as I finish. However I’ve since discovered that actually access is important for employers, the music industry, and even the NHS. For example I recently found this article, which stated that patients medical records were being used to develop an early warning system for those at risk of developing acute kidney injuries, an obvious advantage here is that open access to these records allows for important research, but what about the  ethical issues associated with the exposure to patients records- something that relates back  topic 4. And I’m sure many people are aware that paying for Spotify Premium gets you better access to music than the free version, and some artists such as Adele are now restricting access to their music even more but not making it available on online libraries such as Spotify.

Access to academic journals is however where most of the debates currently revolve, although I’m sure in the future with more and more different types of information going online, many more debates will arise.

What exactly do we mean by open access?
Simplistically, it means it is both free to read and free to re-use (Clarke, 2015).

The slide share I have created below goes through the advantages and disadvantages of open access to content producers:

So those restricted journals I’m always sure would be the one that would help me so much with a certain assignment, probably contain very valued articles– it definitely seems like those articles that you have to pay to access are generally better quality and therefore more valued articles. Articles published openly are usually subject to less prior peer review before publishing and therefore are generally of lesser quality. However that is not to say that they are not citable and certainly are not all insignificant to research, there are clearly, economic, social and sustainability issues to consider before any journal is published. There is also a direct link to topic 4 here where I discussed the importance of authenticy of voice in social media for education. A similar concept applies here, it could be argued just as important is the value of the ‘voice’ that has written the work is the publisher that has published it.


Naturally beginning this topic I was very much pro open access, why should we be restricted of informative journals? However I now realise there is much more to consider and can see the reasons why, especially for the content producers, some journals are not openly accessible. The PowToon I have created below summaries what I think are the three main categories to which the debate around access fits. This can be applied to education, the music industry and employers alike.


Antelman, K., 2004. “Do open-access articles have a greater research impact?” College & research libraries, 65(5), pp.372-382.

Brown S. (2015) What are the benefits of open access? Australian Open Access Support Group. Available from: [Accessed 3/5/2016].

Clarke, A. (2015) “Open Access: A guide for busy researchers.” University of Bath [Accessed 4/5/16]

Geib, A. (2013) “Advantages and Disadvantages of Open Access” access [Accessed 3/5/16]

Worlock, K. (2004) “The Pro’s and Con’s of Open Access” Nature. [Accessed 3/5/16]

Header image retrieved from:



3 thoughts on “TOPIC 5: The Open Access debate – why do we have to pay for certain knowledge?

  1. Hi Abby! I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog post and you have made me contemplate many issues surrounding open access. I would like to touch upon one of them with you.
    In slide 4 of your slide share, you mention the issue of sustainability as a potential disadvantage. I understand where you are coming from- open access publishers must make a living somehow. My question here is how this might be overcome? I believe we have all made it clear in our posts how fruitful open access can be, and I personally believe it’ here to stay. But this means we should try and tackle its potential disadvantages. Thus, how do you think publishers can overcome this issue?

    Best wishes,
    Melina 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Melina, thanks for your comment!

    You’re right in saying that no publisher can build a good profit by publishing open access journals. That’s a difficult question that I think we are currently trying to answer as it underpins the whole debate. However, I did a bit of research and found a few sustainability initiatives to open access. For example, here’s part of a White Paper by KN consultants, which tackles the sustainability issues in institutions:
    “The financial model we propose is based on an annual or multi-year payment made by every institution of higher education, no matter what its size or classification, and by any institution that benefits from the research that is generated by those within the academy. For tertiary institutions, the payment is based on the number of their students and full-time faculty on a sliding scale tied to the Carnegie (or, in some cases, Carnegie-like) classification, as well as on the number of researchers, scientists, or scholars at other types of institutions (e.g., medical research centers). The payment is modest relative to the overall budget of most institutions, but, when spread broadly across all institutions, results in a sum substantial enough to sustain a vibrant and open scholarly communication environment. “

    Kennison, R. and Norberg, L., 2014. A Scalable and Sustainable Approach to Open Access Publishing and Archiving for Humanities and Social Sciences.

    You definitely touched on an important issue, although there is currently not much thought on it, there definitely will be as we go towards a more open-access world!


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