The Matthew Effect of Plan S: Is Gold OA Publishing Mainly a Business Model Fitting the Rich in Science?


In this study we will focus on the role of journal metrics in assessing research in general, in particular in the transition towards an Open Science situation. The analyses will focus on the effect of Gold OA scholarly publishing on accessibility of journals for scholars from all corners of the planet. The study shows that, contrary to what Open Science was aiming for, access to journals with a relative high degree of prestige, is not helped by the Open Access to publications development. In a sense, Plan S could have the complete opposite effects, by prioritizing Gold OA as the route to OA to publications.


In the study we use data from Web of Science (WoS), namely the publications covered in WoS in 2017. WoS data are dealing with articles, letters and reviews only, and are distributed across countries. A full-counting scheme will be applied. These WoS records are linked to the data from the DOAJ list, the internationally standard for recognizing Gold OA journals. From this DOAJ list we take as variables for the analysis the fact whether a journal charges Article Processing Charges (APCs), and the value of the APCs. Given that these are calculated in various currencies, these are converted to US dollars, to ease comparability. Finally, we use data from Unpaywall, from which we distil labels to tag WoS papers as one of the four variations of OA publishing.

Results and Discussion

The study shows the distribution of publication outputs of countries publishing in Gold OA journals, by absolute numbers as well as by the share iof APC-based journals in the Gold OA realm. Inclusion of average APC-rates as well as journal impact measures show a further distribution of activities across the landscape of scholarly Gold OA publishing.


This study shows that Gold OA publishing might not be the way to a situation in which access to sciences, both on the reading as well as the publishing dimension, will be served best. Inclusion of the money factor, as well as journal metrics show that the risk exists that Gold OA publishing is mostly an activity that is open for research communities in North-West Europe and North America, while the Global south still suffers.

  • Thed van LeeuwenThed van LeeuwenLeiden University

    Thed van Leeuwen is a senior researcher at the Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS) of Leiden University in the Netherlands. As… More →

  • Rodrigo CostasRodrigo CostasLeiden University

    Rodrigo Costas is an experienced researcher in the field of information science and bibliometrics. With a PhD in Library and Information… More →