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All you can publish

Graham's paper in PeerJ

Graham’s paper in PeerJ

Professor Graham Collingridge, an MRC-funded researcher at the University of Bristol, recently published a research paper in the first batch of publications from the innovative new open access journal PeerJ. Here he explains what attracted him to this mode of publishing, and why he’d rather see precious resources spent on research. 

Like many researchers, I like the concept of open access publishing. I’ve been publishing my work on an open access basis, in line with the MRC’s guidance on open access, for years. But I’ve become increasingly frustrated with the costs associated with abiding by the guidance in today’s publishing world.

I recently published a paper in an Elsevier journal, which I believe would have been made fully open access after one year. However, the MRC policy requires that all MRC-funded work is openly accessible after six months, so to make up the shortfall, I needed to pay a fee of €5,000 to the journal. What is frustrating is that I’m sure that most of the people who want to access my paper can do so via their institutional subscriptions to Elsevier journals, so I paid €5,000 for just a small number of people to be able to access my paper for this six-month time window.

It’s dawning on me just how expensive open access publishing is. I’m coming to the end of a five-year MRC programme grant, which was applied for back before the open access movement had gained momentum, so I hadn’t budgeted for fees like this — meaning I’ve had to take the money out of my lab budget. Last year I published 15 papers, several of which required open access fees to be paid. This has hit my operating budget hard and resulted in less money to pay for salaries and consumables.

So when I became aware of Peer J, it seemed to be a cost-effective way of making publications accessible. I was approached to be on the Editorial Board of Academic Editors, a group of hundreds of active researchers who handle the journal’s peer review process.

Rather than paying an article processing fee — like those charged by other purely open access journals such as PLOS ONE and BMJ Open — you can choose between three levels of lifetime membership. These are $99 to publish once a year, $199 to publish twice a year and $299 for the ‘all you can publish’ option.

But it wasn’t just about the money for me; I also like the ethos — the idea of creating a community of reviewers. Members are encouraged to review one paper a year, either by being involved in formal peer review, commenting on a pre-print, or commenting on a paper after it has been published.

The paper I submitted was handled in the same way as it would have been at any other journal. I knew who the handling editor was, plus you can make the review history public so that readers can see the referees’ comments and even earlier versions of the manuscript. Scientists are also encouraged to discuss the paper after publication.

In the past, some people have been a bit sniffy about purely open access journals. But the success of, for example, the PLOS and BMC journals is changing people’s philosophy and it’s becoming less and less of an issue. I’m sure that PeerJ will be a high-quality journal; for one thing, Peter Binfield, who is largely responsible for the success of PLOS ONE, is behind it, and I get the impression that the scientific community is feeling very positive about PeerJ.

Some of the problems that drove me to seek out options like PeerJ will be solved by the pot of money that Research Councils UK will be providing to universities and other research institutions from April.

But the bottom line is that PeerJ is both a quality product and cost effective. The more money that’s spent on open access fees, the less money there is available for research. Approaches like PeerJ will be cheaper for the research councils too. That’s why I think this is a really important model — it exposes the huge profits that are being made elsewhere. Having sampled PeerJ, I certainly intend to submit more papers to this innovative journal.

Graham Collingridge

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