Not another new open access journal

Or, rather, not just any other new open access journal. The Wellcome Trust, the Max Planck Society and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute have announced that they are to launch a new top-tier open access journal for biomedical and life sciences research. The first issue of the journal, whose name has yet to be decided, is expected to be published in the summer of 2012. The journal will accept submissions from any researcher, not just those funded by the three founding partners.

Some of the key features and innovations are:

  • editors will be highly regarded, experienced and actively practising scientists
  • fair, swift and transparent editorial decisions followed by rapid online publication
  • open and transparent peer review process – for transparency, reviewers’ comments will be published anonymously
  • papers will be accepted or rejected as rapidly as possible, generally with only one round of revisions, and with limited need for modifications or additional experiments
  • an opportunity to create a journal and article format that will exploit the potential of new technologies to enable improved data presentation
  • the journal is considering whether to pay reviewers

One other big difference is that there will be no publication fees. No subscription costs, no publication charges, just supported by the three funders. That may change in the longer term but for the immediate and medium term there are no fees.

This is a surprising business model and has led some commentators, such as Declan Butler from Nature News, to question the rationale. Despite describing himself as an OA supporter, Butler has previous form as an outspoken critic of open access publishers, so his opposition to this development is not very surprising. Here is an excerpt from his recent post, in which he asked Mark Walport, Wellcome Trust supremo, about the new journal’s business model

“the PLoS model has shown that having a stable of journals provided the ultimate sustainability, and in the long term we will be looking to develop a sustainable model,” replied Walport. In the meantime, the three agencies would pay for everything — a non sustainable model — with no author charges at all being required. How much in dollars this support would amount to Walport wouldn’t say, only that they would “fund it sufficiently to do its job well.” So they are heftily subsidising it, but have so far committed only to cover the costs of launching the journal to ensure its a success. What happens after, who will pay, and what business model it will have remains unclear.

News about the development has been bubbling under the surface for the last twelve months or so. The Medical Research Council has no involvement, so far as I know, presumably because the new journal could be seen as unfair competition for commercial publishers and therefore not an appropriate way for a publicly-funded organisation to spend its money.

There was more of a welcome for the new initiative over at Science, which reported the news fairly dispassionately. They quote Michael Eisen, a PLoS co-founder and board member, saying that

there are a lot of things fantastic about this. The instinct here is that peer review needs to be shaken up.

Cameron Neylon, again unsurprisingly, comes out strongly in support of the new journal. On his blog he observes that the top of the journal pile has remained firmly in the grip of Nature, Science, and Cell and also comments drily that

scholarly publishing has never really had a viable business model, it has had a subsidy from funders. Part of the problem has been the multiple layers and channels that subsidy has gone through but essentially funders, through indirect funding of academic libraries, have been footing the bill.

Hence, he argues, this move makes a good deal of sense.

Government funders are mostly constrained in their freedom to act but the Wellcome Trust, HHMI, and Max Planck Society have the independence to take the logical step. They are already paying for publication, why not actively support the formation of a new journal, properly open access, and at the same time lend the prestige that their names can bring?

About Frank Norman

I am a librarian in a biomedical research institute. I've been around a few years, long enough to know that exciting new things fall into the same familiar patterns. I'm interested in navigating a path for libraries as we slip from print through to electronic information resources.
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4 Responses to Not another new open access journal

  1. Stephen says:

    Nice job Frank – I agree with Cameron.

  2. Pingback: Independent top-tier open-access biomedical and life sciences journal | Code for Life

  3. Frank says:

    Thanks Stephen. I think Cameron usually gets it right and always has something interesting to say.

  4. Pingback: Research Foundations Get Into the Journal Game; Aim to Shake It Up « Pasco Phronesis