DOAJ’s open letter to SSHA communities about Plan S

The recently published Royal Historical Society (RHS) working paper on Plan S contains some errors about the role that DOAJ might play in Plan S certification. These misunderstandings are commonplace and we, the DOAJ Management Team, have seen them before in other responses to Plan S. They are disappointing but they are not surprising. The draft Plan S requirements are vague enough to allow for assumptions to be made. Many statements from organisations or representative bodies, and papers, including the one from our DOAJ Board member Jan Erik Frantsvåg, have made the same assumption.

So far DOAJ has refrained from responding to Plan S and its commentators. The draft guidelines published by cOAlition S thus far are only that: draft. DOAJ is not a confirmed “partner” of Plan S. Feedback on the bold plan, submitted after public consultation, is still being worked through and, until we hear further, nothing is confirmed. However, the responses keep coming and with them perpetuated myths about what DOAJ does and who it serves.

The DOAJ Management Team recently decided that it is time to do a bit of “myth-busting“. Therefore we are publishing this open letter, partly as a response to the RHS paper, mostly as a way of addressing the misunderstandings that have been circulated on social media, but also as a call to SSHA communities to collaborate with us.

SSHA communities are going to need a lot of support

We felt it was important to respond to this particular statement because it illustrates that there is a great need to support social science, humanities and arts (SSHA) communities. DOAJ is keen to work more closely with SSHA communities and the organisations and bodies working with them to enable them to become fully familiar with the driving forces behind open access, in a way that the STEMM communities already are. Organisations representing SSHA communities can assist their members in that process and encourage them to embrace open access and the free dissemination of publicly funded research. RHS has a responsibility to help their members to understand the importance of open access, new publishing models and the opportunities which open access publishing brings, as much as research funders have a responsibility to fund more History research than they do today in a fair and non-discriminatory manner.


With this post, DOAJ is putting out an open call to representative groups in the social sciences, humanities and arts to collaborate with us…

DOAJ falls short in its coverage

The RHS paper points out that ‘most ‘history of medicine’ journals identified from the DOAJ are not fit for purpose for high-calibre UK History research publications’ (page 3). We agree 100% that our coverage of SSHA journals is not good enough and this is something that we are actively tackling this year.

In 2014, DOAJ tightened its acceptance criteria and in 2015* made all the 10 000+ indexed journals reapply to remain indexed. Many SSHA journals failed to submit a re-application to us, or didn’t meet enough of the criteria to remain indexed. It is not enough to expect these journals to simply come to us and apply. We must go to them and help them understand why being indexed in DOAJ is a good thing, but we cannot do it alone. With this post, we are putting out an open call to representative groups in the social sciences, humanities and arts to collaborate with us and help us to identify journals that are fit for purpose, and which should be indexed in DOAJ.

(* This letter was updated on 23rd May to correct the year in this sentence. DOAJ imposed its new criteria in March 2014 and began the reapplication project in 2015.)

The current draft of the Plan S requirements disfavour any journals, SSHA or otherwise, that do not charge APCs and these are exactly the journals that DOAJ is trying to protect and promote.

Plan S and SSHA journals

The RHS paper describes an understandable concern that Plan S disadvantages SSHA journals, many of which do not charge APCs. We were pleased to read this comment as this echoes exactly the concern which DOAJ presented to cOAlition S during the feedback period. The current draft of the Plan S requirements glosses over any journals, SSHA or otherwise, that do not charge APCs and these are the journals that DOAJ is trying to protect and promote.

DOAJ also presented feedback that shows how the current draft of Plan S favours the larger, more traditional publishers since it provides incentives for them to “flip” to open access. The small, innovative, perhaps unfunded, open access journals and publishers are given no support at all and DOAJ is in agreement with RHS that this will directly affect SSHA journals in a major way.


DOAJ is not an index of high impact, high prestige journals from the Global North and neither will we become one if we become a cOAlition S partner.

DOAJ and Plan S compliance

Many commentators of Plan S have mentioned either that many journals in DOAJ are not Plan S compliant or that it is hard to identify Plan S compliant journals currently indexed in DOAJ. If cOAlition S confirms that DOAJ is a partner in Plan S implementation then the DOAJ Management Team will adapt DOAJ, both the website and the editorial processes, to allow journals to apply for Plan S compliance.

  • We will add a separate stream for those journals seeking Plan S compliance.
  • Being indexed in DOAJ will not equal Plan S compliance.
  • We will make it possible for journals to be indexed appropriately in DOAJ: Plan S compliant or DOAJ compliant or compliance for both.
  • We understand that many of the journals which eventually achieve Plan S compliance probably aren’t in DOAJ today.
  • We do expect that many of the journals in DOAJ today may not even want to apply for Plan S compliance.
  • We will work hard to make sure that Plan S compliant journals are quickly and easily identifiable by users.

DOAJ’s mission is to ‘to increase the visibility, accessibility, reputation, usage and impact of quality, peer-reviewed, open access scholarly research journals globally, regardless of discipline, geography or language’. That missions includes a focus on open access journals from the Global South. It is impossible today to tell what effects Plan S will have on scholarly publishing in the Global South.

The RHS paper states that ‘relatively low quality standards of the OA journals in DOAJ suggest that these outlets lack staff, expertise and/or funding to undertake essential editorial work (of which English prose enhancement forms only one example)’ (page 20). This is a sweeping generalisation. The author of the paper assesses the academic quality of these journals by their structure and financing and this is a mistake we see time and time again, particularly from commentators in the Global North. Every journal in DOAJ has been manually reviewed to ensure that it meets our standards for best practice and publishing standards in open access. We index journals from all over the world, journals of all shapes, sizes and business models and yes, many of them are run single-handedly without funding. But DOAJ is not an index of high impact, high prestige journals from the Global North and neither will we become one if we become a cOAlition S partner.

The RHS paper also states that ‘Plan S’s reliance upon DOAJ, …has caused some bemusement in the OA community.’ (page 17) Any bemusement displayed by the open access community is based on misunderstandings: the misunderstanding that DOAJ, in its current form and structure, is ready to monitor Plan S compliance; and the misunderstanding that DOAJ still has a problem with quality. DOAJ took proactive steps in 2013 to address the problem of questionable journals and implemented its expanded application form in March 2014.  We hope that this post goes some way to address those misunderstandings.


DOAJ has grown to represent the gold standard of open access.

‘…DOAJ, which has well-known issues with quality/reliability’ (Page 17)

We refute the claims that we have problems with quality and we would welcome a discussion with the author of the RHS paper to look at the evidence she has for this statement. In 2014, DOAJ rewrote the standard for quality, peer-reviewed open access publishing. The re-application project referred to above was the start of a long process to raise the bar to be indexed with us and since then, DOAJ has grown to represent the gold standard of open access. In fact, it is very hard to find questionable publishers in DOAJ today.

Our criteria form the basis of the criteria for almost all of the other services operating within open access and our metadata is pulled into every major aggregation, indexing and discovery service, including Scopus, Web of Science and others. Indeed Scopus will only add their open access tag to a journal when they see it has been indexed in DOAJ, and Web of Science requires indexing in DOAJ for open access journals to be in their list.


DOAJ article metadata is as up-to-date as the publishers wish it to be

Some of the journals mentioned in Appendix 1 of the RHS paper have published content more recently than stated but have not supplied metadata to DOAJ. Unlike other indexing services, we do not go out and collect article metadata from journals so DOAJ only contains the article metadata that publishers have provided to us. We work very hard to encourage publishers to send their metadata to us and the advent of our API has gone a long way to facilitate this. We are seeing the number of articles deposited rapidly increase. (266,255,000 hits recorded to the API in 2018.) We are researching ways to make depositing metadata with us even easier, particularly by allowing other XML formats to be deposited with us. This work will need to be complete should DOAJ become a key player in Plan S. 


Many journals from countries where English is not the first language enhance their article content’s visibility in DOAJ by uploading translated abstracts to us.

Non-English language content in DOAJ

‘The DOAJ descriptor often suggests that a journal publishes both in English and other languages when in fact only an English abstract is published’ (page 18). In fact, where a language or multiple languages are displayed against a journal entry in DOAJ, this refers to the language of the full text and not the language of the abstracts. See Many journals from countries where English is not the first language, and which publish in their native language, enhance their article content’s visibility in DOAJ by uploading translated abstracts to us, but the full text content often remains in a language other than English. They do this because they know that the article metadata will be widely disseminated and DOAJ is an excellent platform for them to share their published work.

As I wrote earlier, DOAJ would love to work closely with societies and other organisations in SSHA, like the Royal Historical Society, to identify journals which are ‘fit for purpose for high-calibre … research publications’. We note the statement that ‘RHS lacks sufficient staffing or financial resources to undertake a full analysis of the availability and Plan S-compliance of OA History or Humanities journals’ (page 16) and expect that that may be true of other SSHA communities. I wonder if there isn’t a piece of work here that we can do together to kick start this process?

Why do we ask applicants to wait 6 months before they apply again?

When we reject an application, the rejection email contains details about why the application was not successful and usually tells applicants that they must wait 6 months before submitting another application for the same journal to us. Why do we do this?

One reason is that it is an attempt to discourage repeat applications, made in haste, and we get many, many of those. Repeat and duplicate applications clog up the system and take our dedicated volunteers and team away from those applications which need some time spent on them. (In 10 months alone, DOAJ received 221 duplicate applications!)

The other reason is that many of the recommendations that we make in our rejection emails, recommendations made to help journals meet our criteria, take time to implement. Adding words to a website isn’t enough. Changes need to be implemented properly, communicated to stakeholders, tested, and managed. Some changes will require other parties to implement changes too. This all takes time. After the 6 months has passed, we welcome a new application but we ask that the journal website demonstrates very clearly that our recommendations have been put into practice and our editorial team will be very careful to check that all our recommendations have been implemented.

Large Scale Publisher Survey reveals Global Trends in Open Access Publishing

9th January 2019 – A survey of publishers with journals indexed in DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals) has revealed surprising trends in the way that content is published; what types of organisations are publishing the content; on how publishing standards are being accepted globally; and geographical trends on the uptake of open access.

The survey was sent out by DOAJ to its 6000+ account holders, that is to say publishers, in the Summer of 2018. Account holders were allowed one response each, regardless of how many journals they have in that account and all accounts have at least 1 journal active in DOAJ. The total number of responses returned was 1065. Answers revealed some interesting facts, especially when compared to answers provided in the last publisher survey carried out in 2013.

All links point to the underlying data.

  • Type of publishing organisation:
    Out of survey respondents, the top 5 most common types of publishing organisation in DOAJ are: University Department or Press, Non-commercial Publisher, Library publisher, Research centre and Society publisher. (It should be noted however that in terms of pure output, the top ten organisations in DOAJ account for just over a third of the 3.6 million articles indexed. Eight of the top ten organisations are commercial publishers.) 
  • Geographical spread:
    The geographical spread between 2013 and 2018 remains relatively unchanged apart from two notable exceptions. Open access in Indonesia has become de rigueur. In 2013, DOAJ received 9 survey responses from Indonesia; in 2018 that jumped to 155, the most responses from any one country in the 2018 Survey. Conversely, responses from India fell from 101 in 2013 to just 11 in 2018. (The number of Indian journals in DOAJ has fallen from 643 in 2013 to 254 in 2018.) The Top 5 countries providing responses in 2018 were Indonesia, Brazil, Spain, Romania and USA; in 2013 it was Brazil, Spain, India, Romania and Italy. 
  • DOIs for articles:
    While the DOI is an internationally recognised publishing technology, for some the financial and technical barrier to use of DOIs is a problem. In 2013, only 35% of respondents used DOIs; in 2018 this has jumped to 73%*. However, when publishers were asked why they did not use DOIs the 5 most common words given in responses are: implementing, cost, funding, financial, paying.
    * see note 
  • Article metadata:
    More publishers are supplying metadata to DOAJ than ever before; even more would if the process was easier and yet, for many article metadata is still a mystery. The number of respondents providing article metadata to DOAJ has increased from 55% in 2013 to 84% in 2018. When asked which format of metadata publishers would like to supply to DOAJ, 46% said they preferred CrossRef, while 8% said JATS. However, 42% of all 2018 respondents said that they didn’t understand what a metadata format was so there is much work to do here! 
  • Benefits of being indexed in DOAJ:

Our respondents said that the top 3 benefits of being indexed in DOAJ in 2018 are:

  1. Certification that our journal(s) are quality publications
  2. Increased readership
  3. Increased scientific impact

In 2013, it was:

  1. Increased visibility of content
  2. Certification of the journals
  3. Prestige

74% of respondents said that submissions had definitely or maybe increased since being indexed in DOAJ while over 70% thought that traffic had increased to their sites.

  • Predatory publishing:
    Predatory publishing really isn’t considered to be a big deal for DOAJ publishing community. 62% of respondents said that they didn’t have to deal with competition from predatory publishers or journals. There was no equivalent question in 2013.
  • Research Assessment:
    It’s where you publish that counts.” 86% of respondents said that in their countries researchers are evaluated on where they publish rather than what they publish. There was no equivalent question in 2013.

Building on these findings the DOAJ team will continue to adapt and develop its systems, in accordance with its strategy, to ensure that the DOAJ platform meets user needs, particularly those needs of the global publishing community. After all the platform consists entirely of journal and article metadata, all of which (bar one exception) is provided by the publishers themselves.

Dom Mitchell
Operations Manager

About DOAJ Directory of Open Access Journals

DOAJ is a community-curated online directory that indexes and provides access to high quality, open access, peer-reviewed journals. DOAJ is independent. All funding is via donations, 40% of which comes from sponsors and 60% from members and publisher members. All DOAJ services are free of charge including being indexed in DOAJ. All data is freely available.

DOAJ’s mission is to increase the visibility, accessibility, reputation, usage and impact of quality, peer-reviewed, open access scholarly research journals globally, regardless of discipline, geography or language. DOAJ will work with editors, publishers and journal owners to help them understand the value of best practice publishing and standards and apply those to their own operations. DOAJ is committed to being 100% independent and maintaining all of its services and metadata as free to use or reuse for everyone.