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PeerJ Launches with a New Business Model for Open Access Publishing
Posted On June 25, 2012

While discussions of open access (OA) have been increasingly in the news in 2012, most discussions outside of the library and publishing world have been centered on OA for public good—mainly, the benefits of free and immediate global access via the internet to new knowledge as it is produced—not how to pay for OA. Using the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) definition as a framework, OA journals do not need to have a paper-based equivalent, thus eliminating expenses associated with printing, postage, mailing, and processing physical journals and instead provide freely available digital access to articles. However, creating a printed artifact is only one service that scholarly publishers provide, which has left publishers to join the ranks of the music and motion picture industries in trying to figure out how to cover costs and create a sustainable business model as the model once relied upon is being upended. While publishers have begun experimenting with various cost-recovery models, no single strategy has yet to emerge in this space. PeerJ, launched on June 12, 2012 amid a great deal of buzz, has introduced a new approach into the mix with a two-pronged strategy that includes membership fees to cover costs and ongoing peer-review responsibilities for authors to retain membership.

PeerJ will initially include two publications: PeerJ, a peer-reviewed OA journal focusing on biological and medical sciences, and PeerJ PrePrints, a separate space for preprints in which authors can submit draft, incomplete, or final versions of scholarship they are writing. PeerJ PrePrints is designed as a service for authors “[to] establish precedent; they can solicit feedback (either privately or publicly); and they can work on revisions of their manuscript[s].”

According to its website, PeerJ was established with the intent “to drive the costs of publishing down, while improving the overall publishing experience, and providing authors with a publication venue suitable for the 21st Century.” At the core of what they believe is the question: “If we can set a goal to sequence the Human Genome for $99, then why shouldn’t we demand the same goal for the publication of research?”

PeerJ developed an innovative pricing scheme, one that is a variation of the article-processing charge (APC) model used by many OA publications including PLoS ONE. However, while the APC model is a per-article cost, PeerJ’s model is centered on authors: Authors pay to become “lifetime members” of PeerJ. Furthermore, all authors of an article must be paid members before a submitted article undergoes peer review. PeerJ includes a three-tiered membership model, currently ranging in costs from $99 to $259. No-questions-asked waivers are available on a per-article basis for members from countries from World Bank-designated low-income economies. Full details about the pricing plans are available on the PeerJ website.

Although PeerJ refers to costs as a “Lifetime Membership,” authors are required to contribute to the community on a yearly basis in order to retain membership:

We believe that PeerJ will build a community of engaged scholars and that the community will collectively alleviate the burden of seeking and providing review comments. Therefore, a requirement of Membership is that each member must perform one review per year, or risk their membership lapsing. A review is loosely defined and can be a comment in our PrePrint Server, a comment on a published article, or a formal peer review on a submitted article.

The peer-review process will be led by an Academic Editor who will be responsible for finding peer reviewers and evaluating manuscripts. Peer reviewers will be tapped from both lifetime members and the broader academic community.

PeerJ plans to have published articles indexed by key services including PubMedCentral, PubMed, Google Scholar, Microsoft Academic Search, Medline, and Web of Science. As indicated on the PeerJ FAQ, the publisher plans to petition to receive an Impact Factor designation:

To receive an Impact Factor, a journal has to be indexed by the Web of Science (and typically, the Web of Science only indexes journals after they are three years old). Immediately upon launch, we will apply for inclusion in the Web of Science and we fully expect to gain an Impact Factor at the appropriate time.

Several questions and issues have been raised about the PeerJ model. Phil Davis, in the blog Scholarly Kitchen, raises several concerns between the relationship between quality and membership duties:

[C]hanging the incentives for providing voluntary labor (reviewing and commenting) may result in lowering the quality of that work … The incentive to review may change when it flips from a voluntary market to an economic exchange. In order to remain a PeerJ member, you have to either continue to submit papers, review others, or leave post-publication comments. It says nothing about competence. Peer review doesn’t need bodies, it needs competent peers. Attracting those peers will be the most difficult challenge of PeerJ.

Another issue not yet addressed on the PeerJ website is that of copyediting, specifically, if articles will be copyedited and by whom.

The founders and key figures of PeerJ bring a wealth of experience with OA publishing and scholarly communication. Co-founder and publisher Peter Binfield was most recently at the Public Library of Science (PLoS), where he ran the OA publication PLoS One; co-founder and CEO Jason Hoyt was a key figure behind Mendeley. Board member Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, has brought star power and visibility to the project. Collectively, the three have a great deal of successful experience introducing new, disruptive models into the realm of academic publishing while also supporting a philosophy of openness.

The PeerJ journal is expected to begin accepting submissions in late summer 2012. 

Abby Clobridge is the managing director of Clobridge Consulting, a boutique firm specializing in knowledge management, information management, and open access. Abby has worked with a wide range of organizations throughout the world, including various United Nations agencies; colleges and research universities; nonprofit, intergovernmental, and multistakeholder organizations; the news media; and private sector companies. She can be found on Twitter @aclobridge.

Email Abby Clobridge

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