Open Access Content—Not Ours!—Has Disappeared

Open access journals make published content freely available for all to read. In open access journals, content is not secured behind a paywall, so you don’t have to get out the credit card to pay $39.95 (and up) to read an article in a journal you don’t have a subscription to. Most folks agree that open access is a good thing, leading to more readers, wider dissemination of knowledge, less discrimination, and more citations for the work.

However, researchers in Finland and Germany discovered a problem with open access that hasn’t been identified previously. Mikael Laakso, Lisa Matthias, and Najko Jahn reported in 2020 that 154 open access journals had completely disappeared from the web, and another 20 journals were only partially available: individual and incomplete issues of 7 journals were available online, print copies of some issues of another 7 journals were available in libraries, and individual volumes and issues of 6 journals were held by subscription services.

These disappeared journals had no content preservation strategies in place, so the articles published in them are gone. Poof!

The researchers’ methodology for identifying disappeared journals is detailed and painstaking because no single data source exists that tracks the availability and accessibility of journals over time. But once they had created their 174-journal dataset, they were able to provide some analysis.

Seventy-nine percent of the disappeared journals were English-language publications. On average, the disappeared journals had published for just over 6 years (median 5 years), and more than half of them stopped publishing after 5 years or less. A troubling finding is that 10 journals had been published for 15 years or more before disappearing. A 15-year publication track record sounds pretty stable.

Laakso, Matthias, and Jahn raise legitimate concerns about the “integrity of the scholarly record” when previously published—and presumably cited—work vanishes, and they emphasize the need for digital preservation.

Ochsner Journal is an open-access publication and has been since its inception in 1999. In addition to the Ochsner Journal website where the full archive is available, the Journal also has a solid content preservation procedure in place: the entire full-text, up-to-date archive is deposited with the National Library of Medicine (NLM).

Authors who publish their work in Ochsner Journal enjoy all sorts of remarkable benefits: open access, free publication (no page charges or other fees), indexing on PubMed, and forever availability of their work at NLM.