Digital Damage: Open Access Journals

“Open is not forever”, with this title Mikael Laakso, Lisa Matthias and Najko Jahn report about their investigation in disappearing open access journals from the public domain. Open access journals differ from their paid counterparts, in the sense that “Efforts around preservation and continued access are often aimed at securing post-cancellation access to subscription journals”. But the OA journals were freely available. So there is no financial incentive of the research institutions to preserve them. The journals themselves have no budget for preservation. Only a small part of them participate in “preservation schema’s” like Portico, LOCKSS, CLOCKSS or PKP PN.

The vanished journals

Based on figures from Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), Ulrichsweb and SCOPUS, the authors identified a total of 176 Open Access Journals that vanished between 2000-2019. The authors raise the question who is responsible for preserving these journals. They see this as an unsolved question. In short: “preserving the “long tail” of scholarly literature might be one of the most pressing challenges the scholarly community is facing.”

Their lifetime

First a definition. The authors “consider journals as vanished when we find <50% of their content to be openly available at the time of data collection”. For their research they compared lists taken at different intervals in SCOPUS, Ulrichsweb, DOAJ. Added with information they previously collected, the authors identified 179 journals that were vanished from the web. Most journals had been publishing for over 6 years. But it took a while before they actually vanished. “more than three-quarters had vanished within five years” after the last issue. So, there would be some time to rescue them!

In which domain?

Which domains are most affected? Sadly, the conclusion is that “social sciences and humanities (SSH) journals represent the largest share of vanished journals in our sample (52.3%)”. Especially in North America, Europe and Central Asia. Would be interesting to know why.

Other players

One player in the preservation arena is not mentioned in this article: the national libraries. Some of them are presented with their collection in the Keepers registry, but many are not. Many nations have a legal deposit. Not only for analogue material but extended to digital material as well. Like for example Denmark, Finland, UK. It might be that some of the lost journals are preserved in national libraries, either under their legal deposit regime or via web archiving activities.

The authors refer to a public dataset of the research, but currently there is no reference to where to find this dataset.

Open is not forever: a study of vanished open access journals. Mikael LaaksoLisa MatthiasNajko Jahn. Preprint at

© 2020 Barbara Sierman