Gas station without pumps

2012 November 29

PeerJ, open-access done reasonably

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 10:28
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There is a new open-access journal—what could be less newsworthy than that?  I get dozens of spam messages a week from open-access vanity journals eager to take my money.  Most of them get discarded quickly, as being not worth the time it takes to figure out what the scam is for this one.  As an unfunded researcher who has gotten tired of chasing after grants, I can’t afford the $2000–3000 an article cost of publishing in open-access journals like PLoS Computational Biology.

So why am I writing about yet another open-access journal? One with a crummy name like PeerJ, at that?

Well, it seems that the creators of PeerJ have recognized that publishing an online academic journal need not be expensive, and that the lower costs of production can be turned into lower costs for the authors (rather than into high profits for the nameless owners of the journal).  Their model is a subscription model, but it is a subscription for authors, not for readers. For a one-time fee of $99 you can publish one paper a year; for $199, two papers a year; and for $299 an unlimited number of papers per year.  (They charge a little more if you wait until your first paper is accepted before publishing.)

There are a few gotchas: every author must pay (well, only a dozen for papers with more than 12 authors), and every author must do a review each year in order to retain their membership (they can restart a membership for $99 if it lapses for lack of reviews).  There are institutional discounts, which might be useful for a company or university, if they are reasonably priced (institutional pricing is not on their web page, just an email address to discuss it with them).

This looks to me like a reasonable model for open-access publishing, if they can make it work.  Note that unlike high-fee open-access journals, there is little incentive for them to become a bottom-fishing vanity press. They have the same sort of incentive that a subscription journal has to keep the number of papers down, as they don’t make a lot more money by publishing a lot of papers.  This leads me to hope that their editorial policies will concentrate on publishing quality papers.  They do have substantial incentive to seek out new authors, though, so they won’t fall into the trap of only publishing papers from an old-boy network, the way some traditional journals do (I’m looking at you, PNAS).

I’m even considering finishing up one of my long-neglected drafts, just so I have something to try submitting to them.

Thanks to Iddo Friedberg, whose blog post on PeerJ alerted me to its existence.


  1. Thanks for the credit :) One thing which seems a concern, is the mandatory review requirement. I am not sure everyone who is a co-author on a scientific paper can also be a competent reviewer. This is expecially true for undergraduate students, start-level graduate students, and even some postdocs/technicians. I would like to see some mechanism ensuring reviewer quality. Otherwise, it may very will be that people will submit sub-par reviews to simply maintain their subscription status. Maybe this concern is addressed somewhere, but I could not find that.

    Comment by Iddo Friedberg — 2012 November 29 @ 10:36 | Reply

    • The review requirement is less than it seems:

      We aim to make PeerJ a community, and no one is forced to provide a review if they choose not to do so. To help the community though, we are incentivizing participation by asking members to submit a review at least once per year (and we consider a ‘review’ to be an informal comment on a submission to PeerJ PrePrints; a formally requested peer-review of a paper submitted to PeerJ; or an informal comment on a published paper). If you choose not to perform at least one review every 12 months, then at our discretion your membership will lapse and you will need to pay $99 to reactivate your membership the next time you want to publish with PeerJ. We think this give-and-take is fair to the community as it incentivizes participation in the ongoing task of peer review and will collectively reduce everyone’s burden.

      Certainly there is some risk of low-quality reviews, but I think that any journal editor could tell you that this is already a problem. I’d be happier reviewing for PeerJ than for one of the high-profit publishers that is bleeding our library dry.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2012 November 29 @ 10:44 | Reply

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