It’s International Open Access Week!

In the first in our series of daily blog posts to celebrate open access (OA) Repository Assistant Simon Cobb gives an overview of repository statistics.

White Rose Research Online

The most visible manifestation of open access at the University of Leeds, White Rose Research Online (WRRO) is a shared repository for research outputs that aims to make available a full-text version of each work deposited by staff across the White Rose Consortium (Universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York).

University of Leeds  WRRO deposits and downloads 2012-2017

University of Leeds research outputs have been downloaded more than 3 million times since 2012. White Rose Research Online statistics are available at:

Some 22,000 items have been deposited in WRRO by Leeds authors and over 15,000 are already open access, thus free to read without a subscription. Full-text of a further 2,600 papers will be available upon expiry of an embargo period stipulated by the publisher.

One of the benefits of open access is the potential to disseminate research much more widely than is possible when papers are behind a paywall. University of Leeds research in WRRO is visible to a global audience and has been accessed from 227 identifiable territories. Whilst six countries (UK, USA, France, Germany, China and India) account for a significant proportion (58%) of the 3.4 million downloads, there were also 78,500 downloads from Africa, where the lack of access to subscription journal packages is still a major issue for researchers.

Map showing the location of downloads for University of Leeds research outputs in WRRO

In the fifteen years since it was first defined in the Budapest Open Access Initiative, OA has experienced strong growth. A good indicative example is the number of indexed sources and documents in Bielefeld Academic Search Engine (BASE), which have increased from 1,666 and 24.5 million on 31 May 2010 to 5,542 and 111.4 million respectively on 31 May 2017. Likewise, the number of titles in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) increased from 300 to 10,229 between 2003 and 2017. Nature reported that immediate (gold) OA represented a 17% share of the journal articles published worldwide in 2014 (see Growth is likely to continue to be driven by research funder and institution policies that mandate OA.

Nevertheless, academic publishing is dominated by an oligopoly of publishers, with the five most prolific accounting for over 50% of papers published in 2013. It is a lucrative business (Elsevier’s parent company, RELX, reported a £1.15 billion profit in the first half of 2017) and publishers are unwilling to embrace practices that threaten their revenue.

Preliminary analysis of WRRO has indicated that half of the articles published by University of Leeds authors appeared in journals owned by four publishers; Elsevier (dominant in STEM), Springer Nature, Wiley and Taylor & Francis (particularly strong in Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences). A larger group of 25 publishers are responsible for 80% of the articles published. In this group, we find four OA publishers: Public Library of Science (PLOS), Copernicus Publications, MDPI and Frontiers (BioMed Central would feature but is counted with its parent company Springer Nature); PLOS has published the most articles and achieved a 2% share of the total.

Publishers of journal articles in White Rose Research Online (% of University of Leeds total)


Some of the major publishers have adopted OA policies that embrace the principles of unrestricted access to knowledge as a public good and allow researchers to freely share articles with their peers. SAGE, for example, permit the author accepted manuscript (AAM) version, which is an author produced file that is textually representative of the published version, to be made OA on acceptance via the author’s institutional repository. Cambridge University Press also permit the AAM to be deposited on acceptance for publication in many of their titles. Emerald recently amended their OA policy to allow the AAM to be made available immediately on publication. Unrestrictive policies like these give momentum to the OA movement and steer us toward to a sustainable model of academic publishing.

There is, however, a suspicion that the transition to OA could be hijacked as the major subscription publishers target grants earmarked for funding gold OA. Business practices have emerged to access this stable revenue stream, including the marketing of OA options in hybrid journals, converting individual journals to OA and negotiating national level licensing agreements that bundle big deal subscription packages with payments for publishing OA articles in hybrid journals. If we let this happen, the pressure on library budgets will continue and publisher profits will be ensured.

Come back tomorrow

In tomorrow’s post, Kate Petherbridge talks about White Rose University Press (WRUP) one of a new wave of University and Academic-led presses founded to challenge the traditional publishing model.