For me, one of the more appealing aspects of open access publishing is that by making costs transparent it could stimulate competition between publishers and generate innovative solutions to drive down prices.
Today sees the launch of one such innovation: a new open access platform for life and medical sciences called PeerJ.
It is a fascinating gamble that may well pay off. According to the minimal information that has been available until now, PeerJ offers open access publishing at ‘$99 for life’, a price point that has intrigued onlookers. It seemed too good to be true, never mind economically viable. But in Peter Binfield, formerly of PLoS ONE, and Jason Hoyt, until recently a VP of R&D at Mendeley, the venture has co-founders who are deeply rooted in internet publishing and give every appearance of knowing what they are doing.
The details published today reveal that the reality of pricing is more complex and, in most cases, will work out to be more expensive than the trailed $99 figure. Nevertheless PeerJ is shaping up to be a highly competitive entrant in the burgeoning field of open access publishers.
The catches are three-fold. First, for your $99 you get lifetime membership that entitles you to publish just one paper per year. $169 gets you two papers per year but if you can stump up $259, then there will be no limit on the number of papers you can publish in PeerJ. It will only depend on how hard you work.
The second catch is that all authors (up to 12) need to be paid-up members for any paper that is accepted by PeerJ. So to begin with, the cost of publishing a paper with 10 or so authors won’t be significantly cheaper than going for PLoS ONE, which currently charges $1350. However, if you stick with the system — and I guess this is what Binfield and Hoyt are counting on — the longer-term costs will be minimal.
Sticking with the system is the way to avoid the third catch, which is that your membership will lapse if you don’t contribute at least one review per year. This can be a full peer review of a submitted manuscript or simply an informal comment on a paper in PeerJ (or one deposited with their planned preprint server). To my mind this condition isn’t much of a catch and is in fact a nice way of encouraging authors to participate in pre- and post-publication review. It gives PIs an incentive to get their students and postdocs involved in reviewing the literature.
For sustainability, PeerJ is looking to capture some of the megajournal market; clearly modelled along the lines of PLoS ONE, it will judge papers only on “scientific and methodological soundness”.
Will it work? I, for one, certainly won’t bet against them. Too many things are shifting in the publishing world right now for anyone to be sure about what lies ahead but it looks like Binfield and Hoyt have thought through many of the likely pitfalls.
There is perhaps a question mark about the capacity of the scientific community to support the volume of peer reviewing engendered by new open access journals — a strain that PLoS ONE already seems to be experiencing — but that is a difficulty that we will have to face together. For now I salute the innovation represented by PeerJ. The academic publishing industry just got more interesting.