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Open or Openwashing? Preliminary Findings from a Content Analysis of Publisher Websites
FIMS Presentations
  • Courtney Waugh, Western University
  • Emily Carlisle-Johnston, Western University
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The term openwashing originated in 2009, when Michelle Thorne coined and defined it as the process of “spin[ning] a product or company as open, although it is not.” The term has since become more commonplace around scholars and practitioners, who sometimes call out acts of openwashing to signal that despite claims suggesting otherwise, a product, service, or company does not fulfill requirements to be Open.

A recent literature review by the authors concluded that while research on the topic is minimal, commentary on openwashing coalesces around two themes: marketing and transparency. Openness as a virtue has become a marketing asset that academic publishers can capitalize on by co-opting the language of Open without adherence to Open values.

This poster presents the preliminary findings of a content analysis of publisher websites examining how publishers market 'Open' to authors. We examined webpages about Open Access from 25 medium-to-large size academic publishers, and surfaced key themes and categorized publisher tactics that are characteristic of openwashing. By openwashing, we mean cases in which a publisher has presented their organization as supporting and enabling Open, but further exploration shows that it does not.

By surfacing common themes, our research marks the first comprehensive effort to categorize publisher tactics that are characteristic of openwashing. Themes identified in our analysis will inform a framework that can teach LIS professionals “how to spot openwashing,” which will empower our field to collectively identify and challenge the ways that publishers use the language of Open to mobilize openwashing practices. These skills are becoming increasingly necessary for librarians as for-profit publishers develop new, costly agreements to appeal to the rising interest and requirements for Open Access.

Creative Commons License
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0
Citation Information
Courtney Waugh and Emily Carlisle-Johnston. "Open or Openwashing? Preliminary Findings from a Content Analysis of Publisher Websites" (2023)
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