Canadian OA scholarly journals – Part 1: The general portrait

[ Version française ]

Marc Couture — 2020-02-12

Note. This blog post is a summary of the first three sections of my research report, Canadian OA scholarly journals: An exhaustive survey. A second post summarizes the last two sections of the report, where I discuss issues related to (1) DOAJ indexing and (2) copyright. A first version of the full report, along with the supporting dataset, is available on TÉLUQ’s R-libre repository as a working paper, open to commentaries. I will welcome on this blog (or privately) all comments and suggestions regarding the report, as well corrections to any error or omission in the dataset. Revised versions of both will eventually be posted on R-libre.


We know little about Canadian OA journals. Even their number is not known to any precision, much in the same way that we don’t know the total number of scholarly journals in the world, OA or not. Various lists of Canadian OA journals exist though: ROAD (from ISSN) lists 480 journals, CRKN made available in May 2019 a list of 420 OA scholarly journals hosted by universities, DOAJ has 150 titles with Canada as country of publishing, and Québec Érudit consortium hosts 50 scholarly OA journal, mostly in French. There is obviously an overlap between these lists, and many journals in CRKN list are actually inactive.

For Canadian journals indexed in DOAJ, the following information (among other) is available for each title: name of publisher, platform, publication fees (APCs), format(s) of full text (HTML, PDF), review process (double- or single-blind peer review, or editorial review), copyright ownership and user licence. Also, thanks to the work of Walt Crawford, annual article counts since 2013 are available. But these characteristics are not known for non-DOAJ-indexed Canadian journals, that are thought to outnumber those in DOAJ. This hypothesis (verified in this research) is coherent with a recent study on journals from Nordic countries, where Björk found that only 43 % were in  DOAJ.

I thought it would useful to obtain both a more definitive and accurate figure on the number of Canadian OA journals and, more generally, to draw a complete portrait of Canadian OA publishing landscape. Also, I wanted to explore what changes or adjustments, if any, would non-indexed journals have to make in order to meet DOAJ requirements. Finally, a subject that has been one of my research interests for years, I wanted to know how Canadian OA journals deal with copyright, notably the way they explain their copyright policy and display its various elements in their websites.

I didn’t limit my search to the four lists quoted above and, casting a wide net, I was able to identify over 1 200 potential titles, 520 of which I consider active, legitimate, Canadian, OA scholarly journals. This is more than three times the number of Canadian journals in DOAJ. I explored in depth the websites of each journal, collecting a host of data and information on the above-mentioned subjects.

A word of caution: to determine which journals to retain for my study, I had to choose a definition for each of the five terms defining the object of my study, namely active, legitimate, Canadian, Open Access, and scholarly. I deemed more careful not to eliminate too many journals, thus I used quite inclusive, though reasonable definitions. I am fully conscious that other choices, also reasonable, would have reduced the number of journals, down to about 200 with very restrictive definitions. Section 2 of the report contains a detailed discussion of the issues involved in crafting these definitions. Some of these issues are far from trivial, for instance: what is a scholarly journal? a Canadian journal?

Key findings

General impressions

What I retain from my exploration of hundreds of journal websites is the diversity of the Canadian OA publishing world. I encountered periodicals ranging from very small journals (in terms of article output), run by small teams of volunteers, to large ones supported by wealthy societies or hefty articles processing charges. Apart from the ubiquitous scholarly of scientific research article, one finds in these journals a wide variety of content,  peer-reviewed or not, often specific to the field. Some journals, mostly in the Arts & Humanities, combine scholarly content and creative works.

Another thing that struck me is the scarcity of information about the journal operation found in some of the websites. This gave me the impression that some view their audience as limited to those who already know them, perhaps not realizing that being OA increases the “risk” to be discovered by both readers and prospective authors who don’t have any clue of who or what they are. I was also surprised by the large number of student-run journals.

However, I must say that, within the limits of my exploration and my competence, I generally perceived in these often modest ventures a true dedication to the construction and dissemination of knowledge, and to the scholarly conversation.

Overall characteristics

Table 1, at the end of this page, contains all the quantitative results quoted in this section. The report includes much more detailed results.

The ~150 Canadian journals indexed in DOAJ (DOAJ-CA, 28 % of total) and the ~370 non-indexed ones (non-DOAJ-CA, 72 % of total) that I retained are typically small-output, university or society-published  journals in the Humanities and Social Sciences sector (HSS) that don’t charge publication fees. About 125 Canadian OA journals are run by students, a tiny share of them (5 %) indexed in DOAJ. These tendencies, distinguish DOAJ-CA journals, and non-DOAJ-CA journals even more so, from the subset of DOAJ journals from high-income countries (DOAJ-HIC), a more suitable reference group than all of DOAJ (DOAJ-all).

More precisely:

  • Canadian OA journals published about 10 500 articles in 2018. Among these, 5 000 (47 %) were from DOAJ-CA journals, amounting to 1 % of the total output of DOAJ-HIC (0,7 % of DOAJ-all).

  • Canadian OA journals have an average mean and median annual article output of 21 and 12, respectively, much less than in DOAJ-HIC (72 and 25). As the distributions are highly skewed, with a long tail, the median is a better basis of comparison. About 40 % of them publish less than 10 articles / year (13 % in DOAJ-HIC). Note that this includes more than research or review articles (see the report for the types of articles that were counted or omitted).

  • A large majority (88 %) of Canadian OA journals are published by a university of a society (48 % in DOAJ-HIC).

  • A fair majority (73 %) of Canadian OA journals are in the Humanities & Social Science (HSS) sector (46 % in DOAJ-HIC).

  • Very few (10 %) Canadian OA journals charge APCs (38 % in DOAJ-HIC). A larger, though still modest share of articles (27 %) incurred fees (72 % in DOAJ-HIC).

For all these characteristics, DOAJ-CA journals differ significantly from DOAJ-HIC journals, and non-DOAJ-CA ones much more prominently. Furthermore:

  • The 54 Canadian OA journals that do have APCs charge in average 1 400 CAD (1 800 in DOAJ-HIC). However, there are significant differences between sectors, and between DOAJ-CA and non-DOAJ-CA. Notably, DOAJ-CA HSS journals have fees comparable to their counterparts in DOAJ-HIC (see report, Table 8, for details).

  • About 1/3 of Canadian OA journals publish under an all-rights-reserved regime. Most of the others use a Creative Commons licence, the most liberal (CC BY) in half of the cases, while licences with the non-commercial (NC) restriction are used just a bit less often (by definition, all DOAJ-indexed journals must have a user licence equivalent to a CC licence).

  • About 1/3 of Canadian OA journals ask authors to transfer all rights (28 %, vs 40 % in DOAJ-HIC), or grant them some exclusive rights (6 %, through an exclusive a licence) from authors.

  • Among these 155 journals acquiring exclusive rights, only 1/3 (52 journals) give authors effective reuse rights, that is more extensive than user rights. These reuse rights are generally limited: only 16 journals give authors unlimited reuse rights.
Number of journals (% of All-CA)519372 (72 %)147 (28 %)5 987
General characteristics
Student-run journals (% of respective group)124 (24 %)116 (31 %)8 (5 %)
Total articles in 2018 (% of All-CA)10 6195 620 (53 %)4 999 (47 %)478 794
Mean number of articles / year (2016-2018)21163272
Median number of articles / year (2016-2018)12102025
Journals with < 10 articles / year (2016-2018)41 %51 %18 %13 %
Published by university or society88 %94 %72 %48 %
Sector: Humanities & Social Sciences (HSS)73 %77 %65 %46 %
Journals with fees10 %8 %18 %38 %
Articles with fees27 %15 %39 %72 %
Mean fees (journal-based, among journals charging fees)1 428 CAD1 359 CAD1 502 CAD1 779 CAD
Copyright policies
All rights reserved33 %45 %2 %
CC licence61 %49 %90 %96 %
CC BY (% of CC licence)49 %47 %51 %44 %
CC with NC restriction (% of CC licence)46 %49 %43 %53 %
Journals owning copyright*124 (28 %)102 (34 %)22 (15 %)40 %
Journals owning all or some exclusive rights155 (35 %)120 (40 %)35 (24 %)
Journals with effective author reuse rights53 (12 %)37 (12 %)16 (11 %)
* % in this row and the next ones are of journals with known ownership.
Table 1. Characteristics of Canadian OA journals, with comparisons between (1) Canadian journals indexed or not in DOAJ and (2) Canadian DOAJ-indexed journals, and DOAJ journals from high-income countries (DOAJ-HIC).

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