Among startup academic publishers, there are few more innovative than PeerJ, an upstart open access journal for biomedical and life sciences literature. PeerJ runs on an author membership model instead of using a more traditional "author pays" (APC) approach, and its attempt to re-engineer scholarly publishing could dramatically lowers costs for producing and distributing academic articles. PeerJ authors become lifetime members with a single payment ranging from $99.00 to $299.00, receiving the right to submit a varying number of articles to PeerJ. In contrast, pioneering open access PLoS One charges authors $1,350.00 per accepted manuscript, although fees are waived for those who cannot afford to pay.
I've written about PeerJ previously, but with the launch of their first issue imminent, I was fortunate to ask Pete Binfield and Jason Hoyt, the founders of PeerJ, a few broader questions about their journal, its features, and how they are thinking about the future.
Congratulations on your imminent publication. With the OA journal market becoming more crowded and successful, what do you think makes PeerJ an attractive publishing target for scholars?
PeerJ: I think there are several aspects that will make us stand out: First of all, we intend to make rapid first decisions, and publish articles as promptly and effectively as possible. For many authors this is a vitally important consideration. Secondly, we will be integrating a pre-print server into our offering (PeerJ PrePrints which will launch sometime after the journal launches). This means that an author can have a seamless experience with us from development of a draft and submission of a preprint, with the associated feedback and revision that allows, through to the transfer of that submission into the 'formal' journal, and final publication as a Version of Record. Thirdly, we believe that the act of submitting a paper should be as pain-free as possible. We have already received 'rave reviews' from users who have found the submission process to be extremely user friendly. Fourthly, we are encouraging reviewers to provide their names when reviewing, and we are encouraging authors to publicly reproduce their peer review history on the published paper, and already over half of the people concerned are taking up these options and we believe that authors will value this added transparency. Fifthly we are significantly cheaper than a 'typical' OA journal that uses an APC fee per publication and our individual membership model means that once an author has paid us once, they never need to worry about another fee for publication.
You've said before that PeerJ is ultimately a platform that could eventually see the launch of other journals, potentially presenting a hostable option for the creation of third-party journals. Do you think that scholarly societies might find the tools and services being built by PeerJ robust enough to utilize them for their own OA publishing efforts?
Although we don't plan on publishing journals on behalf of third parties, the tools that we are building will all be 'open sourced' back to the community. Of course, there are other options for societies to use open source publication tools (for example OJS) but it certainly wont hurt to have more options available to anyone who is looking to go this route. Certainly our tools will be robust enough, but clearly they will be optimized to the kind of journal that PeerJ is (broad based, and using an individual membership model) so they may not be for everyone.
You've approached the engineering of PeerJ from the start as an online journal. As PeerJ becomes more successful, the attraction of secondary analyses of PeerJ articles will increase. Particularly given co-founder Jason Hoyt's background with the Mendeley project, to what extent will your articles facilitate data addressability, extraction and meta-analysis via microdata or linked data APIs?
At the moment we make all full-text XML and meta-tags openly available to friendly crawlers for archiving and indexing. In addition, we have the basic citation metadata in JSON format available for download. As it stands, it is fairly easy for anyone with a bit of programming knowledge to write a simple cURL script to grab that JSON or XML. We'll be implementing API endpoints once our corpus becomes significantly large in order to provide easier access points to developers and researchers.
To what extent are you explicitly endorsing or recommending external services that might be of benefit to PeerJ submitters, such as FigShare, visualization tools, and simulation libraries? Do you believe that PeerJ should directly provide as many of these functions as possible, or involve the growing network of more specialized services?
We don't have any partnerships with the kinds of groups you mention, however we do know many of them quite well. In particular, we recommend FigShare in our author guidelines as a potential place to store datasets (as well as Dryad, or discipline specific data repositories). As a general rule, we don't want to re-invent the wheel, and we intend to partner with, or recommend, third parties who can specialize in aspects of the publication lifecycle that would benefit our authors or readers. A good example of this is our partnership with Impact Story, who are specialists at providing Article Level Metrics, and whose embeddable ALM widget we will be using.
OA business models are rapidly evolving. You've captured a great deal of attention through your membership model. If you imagine PeerJ five years from today, do you think that you would still using this model? As the market provides feedback on OA economic sustainability, have you given any thought to how the PeerJ model might pivot without disrupting the investments that its community has already invested in it?
Actually, we don't necessarily feel that the business model we have today is one which will last forever. As you point out the industry is in the throes of significant change and disruption and so who knows what business models will be successful as we move through this period. We have said our ultimate goal is to push any author charges down as low as possible towards zero.