PLoS One envy

Jan 07 2011 Published by under Open Access

PLoS One has done well. Very well. Well enough that it is spawning imitators.

I was ready to write a Huge Bloggy Screed about the importance of Nature Publishing Group going in this direction with the launch of Scientific Reports, but Cameron Neylon scooped me in grand fashion. I endorse his analysis in its entirety—including, for once, its optimism! (For the record: I've done a tiny bit of unpaid consulting—really just referrals—for PLoS, and I think Peter Binfield bought me a drink while we were both in Edinburgh last year at UKSG. That's the extent of my possible bias.)

So who are these other would-be Ones, and what are their prospects?

In this corner we have AIP Advances. I have no strong opinion on this either way. It might fly, it might not. A lot depends on the prestige and energy of the editorial board, on which I have no inside information, or indeed any information whatever.

In that corner we have SAGE Open, which wants to be PLoS One for the social sciences and humanities. I know you can't see me right now, but what I am doing is holding the big thumb-and-forefinger L-for-loser in front of my forehead. This journal is not going to fly, not at this point in history.

It's a logical enough idea; I can well imagine what the thinking was. "PLoS and NPG have the hard sciences sewn up… so let's try all those other disciplines!" The logic fails, though, because all those other disciplines either aren't remotely ready, or they use the green road to open access. I defy SAGE to find enough humanities scholars who don't think open access is a commie plot (or worse, a veneer over pure vanity publishing) to fill an appreciable number of pages or pixels. I double-dog-defy them to find enough humanities scholars who don't think open access is a commie plot and have money to pay author-side charges. Don't talk to me about subventions; no humanities scholar worth his salt will use a subvention on anything but a book.

As for the social sciences, the quals seem to hang out over at SSRN these days. What's the value proposition of SAGE Open over SSRN plus an established (and free-to-publish-in) journal? You got me. That leaves the quants; I don't really know where they hang out online, or even if they do—but even if they're SAGE Open's dream crowd, will they be enough, and do they bring enough money to the table? I doubt it.

If they'd waited five years to launch this? Ten years? Maybe it could eke out an existence. Not now, though. Not yet. The only halfway-feasible business model I can imagine would be a partnership with SSRN to cherrypick and slap an imprimatur on good stuff that isn't otherwise claimed. Or maybe they could try to offer a home to the better shoestring open-access journals out there, though for a lot of those I would think "you'll now have to hold up your authors for cash" is a complete non-starter.

So what does this mean for libraries? Maybe some hope, if Cameron and I are right that a lot of lower-tier STM journals are about to be garroted and dumped in oubliettes! It may also mean increased demand on library and institutional author-fee funds. If we're really lucky and if libraries are paying attention, it might even breathe more life into the comatose COPE.

Good times. Good times, for once! As much as I've lambasted NPG here over their hamhanded treatment of California (and the rest of us libraries suffering badly from budget cuts), I'm pleased about this new venture of theirs, and wish it all the best.

10 responses so far

  • physioprof says:

    I have been a PLoS ONE academic editor since very early on, and while I started skeptical about the venture, now I am totally on board.

  • Re: Sage Open, I think that those humanities (+ anthropology) scholars who (already) really care about open access (read early adopters) are, above and beyond belief in (green and gold) OA per se, also (relatively more) ideologically motivated to oppose corporate publishing in any form, including commercial OA publishing. More than hard scientists, they tend to be most aligned with library-centered arguments regarding scholarly communication. Some will say I am (autobiographically) describing a community of one, but I am in dialogue with a larger network of folks who are aware of the relationship between IP/media consolidation/corporate enclosure questions in scholarly communications and the same questions in the wider human worlds that they study. I share your doubts about Sage Open, but think that it not only represents too much change for some of its audience (elite sociologists, for instance) and also too little change for others (young cultural anthropologists, for instance).

  • Christina Pikas says:

    I hadn't heard of AIP Advances. Hmm. Probably not needed in the HEP world, so maybe going after AMO and industrial physicists who aren't using ArXiv as much? I guess we'll see.

  • Graham Steel says:

    ".....and I think Peter Binfield bought me a drink while we were both in Edinburgh last year at UKSG".

    I think that is correct:-

  • jim says:

    This is sort of tangential, but Sabine Hossenfelder at Backreaction came out with the jaw-dropping line:

    I know more and more people - all tenured of course - who don't bother with journals

    OA is not the only threat to STM journal publishers.

  • (another) Former Academic says:

    I'm confused about the 'vanity publishing' concerns. In ecology, and I assumed natural sciences in general, authors are already paying to publish - via 'page charges' and fees for color figures.

    For example, the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences charges $70 per page and $250 per color figure. There is an additional fee of $1,275 to make the article open-access.

    Do you have any insights into patterns of author payments across disciplines?

    Also - 'subvention' and 'page charges' would be good additions to the glossary.

    • Dorothea says:

      It's mostly humanities scholars who get all huffy about vanity publishing, to some extent because they mostly publish books, where the vanity-publishing sharks roam. Humanities journals almost never charge author-side fees, unlike (as you note) many science journals. (May be an exception for color in some art/art-history journals.)

      Thanks for the glossary suggestions!