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Diamond: a shining route to open access

A diamond

Green, gold, bronze… there are many models of open access some of which tend to be more well known than the others. One less familiar route is diamond open access.

Diamond is the most equitable path to open access publishing- it provides free access to scholarly publications for readers whilst not charging any publication fees to authors. This year’s Open Access Week theme of ‘community over commercialisation’ provides the perfect opportunity to take a closer look at a form of open access publishing that is rooted in academic communities and opens up research to the benefit of all. In this blogpost we’ll look at how well this noble idea works in practice and its potential for revolutionising the scholarly publishing world. 

What does the diamond publishing landscape look like?

Although it has been around in some form within journal publishing for many years, it was during the rise of the open access movement from the 1990s onwards that diamond really came into being. A very good introduction to the history of the diamond route can be found here. Originally ‘gold’ open access referred to all open access journal content (whether covered by an APC or not) but came to signify the APC route as some open access activists were not keen on the conflation of commercial and non-commercial open access. The ‘platinum’ model was proposed in 2007 as an alternative to the costly gold model with no fee to publish open access and no fee to read, with the term superseded by ‘diamond’ in 2012.

In 2021 the findings of an extensive study of diamond journals were published by Science Europe and cOAlition S which reveal a critical insight into the diamond publishing ecosystem. The study estimated that there are between 17,000 and 29,000 diamond journals across the world which account for 8-9% of scholarly articles produced. In comparison APC-based open access journals account for around 10-11% of journal articles. Most diamond journals (72% of them) are published by universities; other publishers include learned societies and government agencies.

The journals are international in their focus- 45% are published in Europe (many within Eastern Europe), 25% in Latin America, and a significant portion of the remainder are published in Asia. Diamond journals are also a lot more linguistically diverse than APC-based journals, with more journals publishing in multiple languages.

In terms of size, diamond journals tend to be quite small and publish fewer articles than APC publishing journals (most publish fewer than 25 articles a year). As for disciplines, although diamond journals cover all disciplines social sciences and humanities journals have been found to be most likely to use the diamond model in comparison with medicine and science.

Open sign in lights

Why choose diamond?

The most obvious benefit of the diamond model is that it is equitable because it facilitates scholarly publishing whatever the author’s financial circumstances. Gold open access via APCs is intrinsically inequitable- this blogpost for OA week 2021 on issues with open access and equity and this statement by Allea explain why gold is so problematic. Diamond is accessible to authors who might not have the funds to cover expensive publication fees, e.g. authors from low or middle-income countries, or those from institutions which don’t have access to pots of money for open access publishing or read and publish deals.  At the same time diamond supports bibliodiversity as authors from different countries writing in languages other than English can find more spaces to publish their research.

It is also equitable in the way it makes knowledge freely available to all. Like all open access material, there are no paywalls and readers can access material regardless of their ability to pay (of course they do need access to technology and an internet connection so strictly speaking it’s not completely free!)

As diamond is a not-for-profit model, publishing in the journals is free of the commercial impulse that drives the large corporations that dominate the scholarly publishing landscape. Diamond publishers, which tend to be university publishers (funded by the institution or by grants) or volunteer-run cooperatives, do not exploit the free labour of authors for their own financial gain. As such, the journals are dedicated to the study of the disciplines or specialisms that they have been established for. Fuchs and Sandoval (2013) observe that diamond publishing provides the opportunity for the reclaiming of ‘academic commons’ and that diamond offers the potential for scholars to take back power in the communication of their knowledge: “It can realise the true essence of academia as a communication system that produces and communicates academic knowledge as a commons in an open process”. An impressive example of academics wresting back power from one of the big publishers is illustrated by the linguistics journal Lingua where the academic editors and board of the journal collectively resigned over Elsevier’s practices and subsequently established a diamond journal called Glossa.

Challenges facing diamond journals

Whilst diamond journals are undoubtedly doing great things for open access whilst putting scholarship and communities at their core, they do face some significant challenges.

Running a journal requires a lot of time and effort, consequently diamond journals can be hard to sustain. There are numerous tasks to cover when running a journal, from editorial services including copy-editing, proof-reading and translation and organising peer reviews, to technical work including system support, registering DOIs and indexing. Whilst the journals are subsidised by various sources to cover some of this work, there is a lot of uncertainty about financing and small journals in particular can find themselves under extreme pressure as they try to exist.

Diamond journals rely on different funding mechanisms to support their work, from grants and donations to shared infrastructure and freemium services, but volunteers take on the majority of their work (60% of journals in the study stated they depended on volunteers). This reliance on volunteer labour can make the operation of these journals precarious- if a staff member leaves a department, it can have a huge impact on the future of the journal since it may prove difficult to fill gaps in skill or expertise.

Lack of resources can also make it more challenging for diamond journals to meet technical standards which are essential for functioning online. The majority of diamond publishers use open source free software to manage their journals (Open Journal Systems) but this can be a challenge for editors to use as they often lack the time and skill to familiarise themselves with it. Indexation is another huge issue for diamond journals- many are not included in indexing databases (e.g. DOAJ, Scopus, Web of Science) which has an impact on how visible and accessible their content is. Furthermore preservation policies may be missing which means that the content of many journals could be at risk of disappearing over time.

All of these issues affect the status and reputation of a journal and consequently it can be difficult for diamond journals to compete with commercial journals for the attention of authors. Being a large corporate publisher presents many advantages for authors when it comes to publishing scholarly work, such as the ability to publicise work extensively, more polished looking published versions of articles, and technical infrastructure that aids findability and long-term preservation. Publishing processes in diamond journals may not be so smooth (for the aforementioned reasons) and this, along with little budget for marketing, means that they tend not to have the prestige that many commercially published journals have managed to attain and so are very often overlooked as viable venues for publication.

A future for diamond open access?

A white diamond set in the distance on a black background

Despite these challenges, diamond journals do have a future, but that is very much dependent on the scholarly community, publishers and funders coming together to fund and support the development of its infrastructure for it to have a chance of offering an alternative to the gold open access model. Big commercial funders still dominate the world of scholarly publishing but voices are being raised in support of alternative publishing models. It’s heartening to see a growing number of key international organisations championing diamond- UNESCO is one of them. Among the actions highlighted for fostering a culture of open science in their Recommendation on Open Science in 2021 is the need to ensure diversity in scholarly communications “with adherence  to  the  principles  of  open,  transparent  and  equitable  access  and  supporting  non-commercial   publishing   models   and   collaborative   publishing   models with no article processing charges or book processing charges” (2021:29).

Following on from the recommendations of the diamond open access study, Science Europe, cOAlition S, OPERAS, and the French National Research Agency have developed an Action Plan for Diamond Open Access, focusing on four core areas: efficiency, quality standards, capacity building, and sustainability. Over 160 organisations to date have endorsed the action plan which signals the strength of support for raising the status of the model and developing the diamond sector on the global scholarly publishing stage.

Let’s hope that the future is bright for diamond and that this model doesn’t fade but is finally allowed to shine!


If you are interested in exploring the wealth of research published in diamond journals, a good place to start is the Directory of Open Access Journals. To locate diamond journals in the database, refine your search results to see journals ‘without fees’ and you should find over 13,000 indexed journals.

If you like the idea of diamond so much that you’d like to start an open access journal of your own, then take a look at our post on Friday which explores the OA Toolkit- an essential free resource to support the creation and management of open access journal publishing.


Sarah Dar, Scholarly Communications Officer

Images by Raw Pixel and kirklai on Unsplash

For more information please contact the Corporate Communications Team.

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