Abstract Background In an attempt to identify motivating factors involved in decisions to publish in open access and open archives (OA) journals, individual interviews with biomedical faculty members at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill) and Duke University, two major research universities, were conducted. The interviews focused on faculty identified as early adopters of OA/free full-text publishing. Methods Searches conducted in PubMed and PubMed Central identified faculty from the two institutions who have published works in OA/free full-text journals. The searches targeted authors with multiple OA citations during a specified 18 month period. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with the most prolific OA authors at each university. Individual interviews attempted to determine whether the authors were aware they published in OA journals, why they chose to publish in OA journals, what factors influenced their publishing decisions, and their general attitude towards OA publishing models. Results & Discussion Fourteen interviews were granted and completed. Respondents included a fairly even mix of Assistant, Associate and Full professors. Results indicate that when targeting biomedical faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke, speed of publication and copyright retention are unlikely motivating factors or incentives for the promotion of OA publishing. In addition, author fees required by some open access journals are unlikely barriers or disincentives. Conclusion It appears that publication quality is of utmost importance when choosing publication venues in general, while free access and visibility are specifically noted incentives for selection of OA journals. Therefore, free public availability and increased exposure may not be strong enough incentives for authors to choose open access over more traditional and respected subscription based publications, unless the quality issue is also addressed.