A window into open access publishing in China

How has open access publishing changed in China? Here, Joyce Li, Associate Publisher for BioMed Central, based in the Beijing office, provides an insight into this growth, and the reasons behind it.


In 2011, I joined BioMed Central as the first member of the editorial team to be based in China, and at the time I had only two other colleagues who worked in sales and marketing. Back then I never thought we would transform into a team of 14 people based in Beijing and Shanghai in only four years, covering publishing and commercial functions to serve the Chinese research community.

This rapid expansion in staffing levels is in line with the growth potential we see in China, which is now the country from which BioMed Central receives the most submissions, with a steady annual growth. When we look further at the Web of Science, we see the open access share of all English publications (research and review articles) by Chinese authors has grown from 9.3% in 2011 to 14.4% in 2014.

What are the reasons for this increase?

There are various driving forces behind the growth. Government funding is definitely the most important one. Chinese government heavily invests in research and development to boost scientific research output and its international impact. Almost all funders tend to cover publishing costs including article-processing charges through research grants, although there is no specific budget set aside for open access publishing.

Life sciences and medicine are the leading fields but physical sciences, engineering and material sciences are also catching up. Many prestigious institutes such as Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) have also joined BioMed Central’s membership program to provide support with the financial costs for their researchers when publishing in BioMed Central journals.

A big step for open access in China came in May 2014 at the Global Research Council meeting held in Beijing. CAS and National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) announced the first open access mandate at national level requiring researchers to make their work free access within 12 months of publication. Following this, NSFC launched its open repository in May this year.

In my time at BioMed Central, I have also noticed changes in the attitudes of those in the research community.

In my time at BioMed Central, I have also noticed changes in the attitudes of those in the research community. A major part of my job is to collaborate with Chinese institutes or societies that wish to publish in open access journals. Previously, I would spend lots of time addressing people’s concerns for quality, explaining what continuous publishing is, why we give copyright to authors, and the other features of open access publishing.

The key factors to consider

We have more and more journals joining our portfolio, some with impressive results, such as Journal of Animal Science and Biotechnology and Infectious Diseases of Poverty, which received its first impact factor this year. Based on the results of these journals, I have received more queries from subscription journals that would like to convert to open access or ideas for new open access journals.

One of the main priorities for journals originating from China is to achieve global visibility and impact. Open access is a good solution for this aspiration as it allows information to be disseminated to larger numbers of researchers than a subscription journal ever could.

For individual researchers, open access publishing is not one of their primary concerns when deciding where to submit their work. The key factors for them when considering where to publish are still the prestige and impact factor of the journal, time to publication, and so on. Because of this, and as a publisher of a large portfolio of journals, the most important things for us are journal quality and to provide excellent author service.

It is hard to predict how open access will develop in China but there is no doubt that the whole research community in China and globally will benefit from it. I’m really excited to be part of the process of making history together with the Chinese research community we serve.

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