November 26, 2015

New OA Journal, Backed by O’Reilly, May Disrupt Academic Publishing


An open access academic publishing company called Peer J Inc. launched today, and its notable co-founders are promising that the company’s business model will revolutionize the field.

The company’s co-founders are Jason Hoyt, formerly the chief scientist and vice president for research and development at Mendeley, and Peter Binfield, until recently the publisher of PLoS One. The duo said they are poised to exploit a looming “wholesale move” toward open access in academic publishing, and they “expect to be at the forefront of a revolution in how academic content is published and distributed.”

“It was incredibly satisfying to run PLoS ONE, and I believe that PLoS ONE has been one of the major forces for change in the industry,” Binfield said. “However, I wanted to break out and see how much further I could push the envelope towards new, and innovative, modes of open access publication, while all the time maintaining the highest standards of professional publication.”

PeerJ will do without the widely employed and often expensive article-processing charge (commonly called author fees) of other OA journals, which average about $900 per published paper, according to a recent study.

Instead, PeerJ will use a “pay once, publish for life” model, which will offer individual membership plans starting at $99. Authors who join are granted lifetime rights to publish for free in the company’s peer-reviewed journal, also called PeerJ. Each author on a paper must be a member.

“When I decided to leave Mendeley to start something new I said to myself that everyone seems to be waiting around for either the government or publishers to drop costs, so why not just do it and see what happens?” said Hoyt, who had the idea for the business model. “The world shouldn’t have to wait any longer than is necessary.”

A partnership between O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures and O’Reilly Media provided the money to get the project going, and Tim O’Reilly, the founder of O’Reilly Media, will sit on PeerJ’s governing board.

O’Reilly said that PeerJ has figured out the social dynamics of research publishing, which will result in its rapid spread.

“The timing is absolutely right. In the face of declining library budgets, there is a backlash against extortionate pricing by old-school journals,” O’Reilly said. “Open access—and particularly the membership model of PeerJ—provides a more rational market that will reduce costs while improving the dissemination of knowledge.  It’s a game changer.”

PeerJ’s approach to science publishing will provide needed innovation, O’Reilly said.

“While it may appear that we are surrounded by innovation, much of it is trivial, and there are critical areas where we need the boost that open access will provide,” he said.

The pricing model has three tiers — $99, $169, and $259 — which allow, respectively, a member to publish once per year for life, twice per year, or an unlimited number of times. The BMJ Case Reports journal, which won the ALPSP Award for Best New Journal 2010, also has a membership model, but it is based on an annual $205 fee and only its Fellows can read the articles.

“It wasn’t so much the price point that drove out thinking, as the opportunity to flip the model from a ‘payment per publication’ to a ‘payment per lifetime membership’ and to then explore the implications of that fundamentally different way to build the business,” Binfield said. But he said the model would “dramatically lower the financial barriers to open access publication.”

Peter Suber, the director of the Harvard Open Access Project and a senior research at SPARC, found promise in the involvement of Binfield and Hoyt, but he also was cautious since details about the project are only just emerging.

“What we do know is that Peter Binfield and Jason Hoyt bring experience from PLoS ONE and Mendeley, two notable and fast-growing OA success stories, one more gold than green, the other more green than gold, and each a category-buster,” Suber said.

The advantages of the business model, however, could vary, Suber said.

“To pay $99-259 for a lifetime of published papers dramatically lowers the costs for authors or their sponsors. Or at least it lowers the price compared to fee-based OA journals,” Suber said. “On the other hand, most OA journals –a full 70 percent– charge no author-side fees at all. From that point of view, even $99-259 would be a price increase,” he said, referring to a 2009 study by Stuart Shieber as well as his own research into publication data from scholarly societies.

Nevertheless, Suber said that even though “few authors will want to publish in the same journal for the rest of their lives,” there was the potential for economies.

“For authors who would normally publish in fee-based OA journals, even occasional publishing in PeerJ could save them money,” Suber said. “The same is true for authors who would normally publish in subscription-based or non-OA journals, where about 75 percent of titles levy page charges, color charges, or other author-side fees.”

Paper in PeerJ can be of unlimited extent, contain unlimited color images, and can include supplementary materials.

Binfield said that many of the journals that levy no article-processing charge (APC), are smaller, ad hoc operations that have only published a handful of articles or issues. By contrast, “professionally” run OA journals —such as PLoS, BioMedCentral, SpringerOpen, Hindawi— all charge APC fees much higher than $99.

“So probably the better way to look at that [70 percent] statistic would be to ask ‘what percentage of published OA articles were published in a journal which was free versus with APC fees,’ ” Binfield said. “I haven’t done this study, but I would imagine it would show that the vast majority of OA publishing is actually happening under an APC model.”

PeerJ will begin accepting submissions dealing with biological and medical sciences in the summer and the plan is to begin publishing in December. The articles will be indexed in all major abstract and indexing databases, including PubMed Central. Additionally, the articles will be archived with CLOCKSS and the Royal Dutch Library. Everything will be published using a Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY 3.0).

Binefield said PeerJ “will be built on a culture of innovation, and it provides a holistic product suite which allows authors to develop and present their work in the most effective manner,”

The product suite includes a pre-print server called PeerJ PrePrints. Similar to, the pre-print server will provide versioning and feedback mechanisms.

PeerJ will be a formally peer-reviewed journal (akin to PLoS ONE), with all articles assigned to a qualified external academic editor who evaluates the submission based only on scientific and methodological rigor, not perceived impact. PeerJ will encourage reviewers to identify themselves to authors, and authors will have the option of publishing their full peer review history alongside their published article (similar to The EMBO Journal).

“We want to contribute towards moving all published research into an open access license as fast as possible,” Binefield said. “The published output of scientific research is some of the most valuable content that our society produces, and it deserves the best possible treatment as it moves from the lab and into society.”

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Michael Kelley About Michael Kelley

Michael Kelley is the former Editor-in-Chief, Library Journal.


  1. David Solomon says:

    Interesting article but everyone seems to forget that publishing in subscription journals is free and most of them these days also allow green OA archiving yet thousands upon thousands of authors are choosing each year to publish in OA journals with substantial article processing charges. Providing inexpensive OA isn’t going to make that much difference.

    A number of studies have suggested authors weigh a whole variety of factors in choosing which journal to publish their work. Cost, OA (for some) fit with the scope, likelihood of acceptance, impact, speed of publication are all important factors. PeerJ may have a noticeable impact like PLoS One but it is nuts to think it is going to radically change scholarly publishing as we know it with a sizable fraction of authors flocking to publish most of their work in PeerJ. It may be cheap but so what?

    Yes, there are lots of OA journals that do not charge article processing charges (APCs) but they are NOT free. If they are doing a decent job someone is providing the resources. The founders of PeerJ clearly know what they are doing but I can’t believe they can publish articles for less than 100 USD and do a decent job. You can automate a lot of stuff but not copy editing or good editorial work. Even if they use volunteer editors, someone has to organize the process and do some level of quality control if PeerJ is going to have decent peer review. I just can’t imagine how they they can pull it off with that pricing level.

    It will be real interesting to see how this works but I have my doubts.

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