PeerJ Launches: Lifetime Open-Access

PeerJ Launches: Lifetime Open-Access

Today, June 12th 2012, we are pleased to formally announce PeerJ. Our website now includes full information about our two publications (PeerJ and PeerJ PrePrints); our 3 tiers of membership plan; and how we will operate as a dynamic, innovative scholarly publisher.

Our press release can be read here, endorsements from thought leaders can be read here, and early media coverage has already included pieces in Nature, Ars Technica, The Library Journal and pandodaily.

In blog posts over the next few days we will be explaining more of the details behind how PeerJ will operate, as well as what makes us different. Please check out the full details on our site; follow us on Twitter; or take advantage of our launch discount offers and become a member of the PeerJ community.

Science-publishing ventures continually battle for market space, yet most operate on one of only two basic business models. Either subscribers pay for access, or authors pay for each publication — often thousands of dollars — with access being free. But in what publishing experts say is a radical experiment, an open-access venture called PeerJ, which formally announced its launch on 12 June, is carving out a fresh niche. It is asking its authors for only a one-off fee to secure a lifetime membership that will allow them to publish free, peer-reviewed research papers.

Relying on a custom-built, open-source platform to streamline its publication process, PeerJ aims to drive down the costs of research publishing, say its founders: Peter Binfield, who until recently was publisher of the world’s largest journal, PLoS ONE, and Jason Hoyt, who previously worked at the research-paper-sharing site Mendeley. Their involvement is a major reason for the buzz around PeerJ. “I thought — wow — if the people I’m hearing about are working there — that’s the sign of something happening. It makes it less crazy,” says John Wilbanks, an advocate of open access and a senior fellow at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Missouri.

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PeerJ is just one of a flurry of experiments, encouraged in part by the gathering momentum of open access, that might shape the future of research publishing. “We are seeing a Cambrian explosion of experiments with new publishing models. It’s going to be an interesting period for the next few years,” says Binfield.

Binfield hopes PeerJ’s growth will resemble that of PLoS ONE, which went from publishing some 1,000 articles in its first full year (2007) to its current 2,000 articles a month. “PLoS ONE is publishing so many articles that it is stretching the boundaries of what is a journal — instead, it’s becoming a large, peer-reviewed repository of research articles. We’re setting ourselves up for exploring that future,” says Binfield. But he adds that PeerJ will not need PLoS ONE’s volume of papers to be viable.

Whereas PLoS ONE charges $1,350 per paper, PeerJ users pay $299 for unlimited open-access publications and submissions, or a smaller fee ($199 or $99) for a limited number per year. (All authors on multi-author papers must be members, although papers with 13 or more authors need only 12 paying members.) The journal, which received undisclosed start-up support from the venture-capital fund O’Reilly Alpha­TechVentures in San Francisco, California, will be accepting articles from August.

“I thought — wow — if the people I’m hearing about are working there — that’s the sign of something happening.”

Despite the low publication cost, PeerJ’s founders promise that, as with PLoS ONE, articles will be peer reviewed for scientific validity — but not for importance or impact. Other open-access journals have also adopted this policy, including Nature Publishing Group’s Scientific Reports. It marks a distinction from selective open-access journals such as the forthcoming eLife, which plans to publish only high-impact work. To avoid running out of peer reviewers, every PeerJ member is required each year to review at least one paper or participate in post-publication peer review.

Untangling user fees from the publication of individual articles is a significant innovation — but other radical ideas are in the pipeline. In high-energy physics, for example, a consortium called SCOAP3, which includes funding agencies and libraries, is planning to pay publishers for all the costs of publication, so that articles can be free to access and authors will not be charged directly. On 1 June, the SCOAP3 initiative said that it had sent out tenders to publishers to bid for these contracts, with services expected to start in January 2014.

Other ideas under discussion include journals that charge for submissions rather than for publications; direct government funding for all publications; and research funders setting up their own publication infrastructure (much as some do with biology databases), says Cameron Neylon, recently appointed director of advocacy at the Public Library of Science in San Francisco, which publishes PLoS ONE.

No one knows what will work. But many say that the experiments now under way will help to reveal the true costs of sustainably publishing articles and research data. “PeerJ is part of the assertion that this can be done cheaper — and for that alone it will be interesting to watch,” says Neylon.

There has been a lot of buzz lately about how journal publishers are making exorbitant profit margins over scientists’ hard work and how at the same time they prevent tax-payers from accessing the work that they sponsored. Although multiple open-access journals already exist, a major hurdle (aside from the impact factor obsession for those aspiring a scientific career) is the cost of publishing in such a journal, which is usually charged to the author. PeerJ, officially launched today, plans to disrupt this market by charging a one-time $99 fee for lifetime rights to publish in the open-access journal. Inspired by PloS One, PeerJ accepts papers solely based on scientific and methodological rigor and not perceived impact. The focus of PeerJ will be on the biological and medical sciences.

PeerJ‘s publishing model has been made possible by making the maximum use of modern technology. The journal will use customized software for the article submission and peer review process, and, except for a few servers for internal use, everything will be in the Amazon cloud with data stored on Amazon’s S3 service and presented to users via software running on EC2. Long-term archiving happens at the National Institutes of Health’s PubMed Central archive.

There are a few catches: although the basic plan is $99, that allows you to publish only one paper a year. Two papers a year will cost you $169 and for $259 you can publish as much as you want. In addition, each author of a paper needs to be a member (up to a maximum of 12). Lastly, you need to review at least one other paper each year to keep your membership active.

Although some of the above may sound like a wild experiment in publishing, PeerJ‘s two founders are no strangers to this industry. The first is Peter Binfield, under whose leadership PloS One became the largest scientific journal in the world and the second is Jason Hoyt, former Chief Scientist/VP of R&D at Mendeley. Financially PeerJ is backed by none less than Tim O’Reilly.

PeerJ will begin accepting submissions in the fields of biology and medicine in the summer and with actual publishing starting in December. PeerJ articles will be indexed in all major databases, including PubMed, PubMedCentral, Google Scholar and Microsoft Academic Search. Although the academic world is a conservative one which will not be easy to disrupt, PeerJ certainly has the potential to shape the future of research publishing.

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