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31 January 2013

Totally in Love with PeerJ

Yesterday I submitted my first article to the new open access journal PeerJ. Okay, big deal. But actually, it is. Not for me, but for all biologists (like me), and for the people that are affected by biological research (that is, everyone). I'm very excited about these new journals, and especially PeerJ. Let me tell you why.

The Face of Change... ©2013, PeerJ.
PeerJ is one of just a handful of journals that are bucking traditional publication methods. Right now, most "peer-reviewed" scientific journals are run by GIANT publishing firms, which make their money by a) charging people a fee to view articles, and b) charging authors for each page that they publish. Well, given that these journals are entirely powered by scientists (we provide the content AND the peer review that gives these journals credibility), doesn't it seem odd that authors should have to pay by the page? And odder still, that the public should have to pay to read about research that is probably being paid for by their tax dollars (via the National Institute of Health and the Department of Energy, to name a few)?

PeerJ, and other "open access" journals are making it free for the public to view the science that they publish (also check out PLoSOne/PLoS and eLife). However, they have needed to become clever about one particular skeleton in the closet...funding.

Love at First Citation. What makes PeerJ different, even from other open-access journals, is that they are based on a subscription. I like to call it a publishing club. Basically, you pay a one-time fee (from $99 to $299 depending on how often you want to publish), which buys you a LIFETIME membership in the club. This distinguishes it from PLoS, which charges by the article (about $1500 each!). After this fee is paid, you can publish all you want (with the more expensive plan), or just a few times a year (with the less expensive plans). That's it. Too easy

There are just two catches: 1) every author on the paper must be a member, and 2) as a member, you have to review at least one PeerJ submission per year. The first one is kind of a big catch, but if everyone joins the club, then the problem is solved! Open-access publishing for the rest of our lives. Woohoo!

Real People and Real Science. One of the reasons that I decided to use PeerJ was to make my work accessible to people. The article that I just submitted has to do with a group of plants that are very popular in horticulture. The work was even funded by a group of plant hobbyists. Wouldn't it be sad if I were to publish this in a journal that might charge as much as $50 for a member of the general public to download any more than the abstract? I think so. In fact, I think it's my responsibility to make sure that anyone can read this article for free.

Notes from the Trenches. One of the most amazing things about PeerJ is the ease of use. Becoming a member was as easy as ordering takeout. Submitting an article was as easy as posting this information to my blog. The PeerJ submission interface has the look and feel of a smart-phone app (unlike most BIG journals, some of which are still using the same author interface that they rolled out back in the early 2000s). That being said, there were a few snags. My article turns out to be number 253 (I wonder who got number 1?), so the interface is still buggy. I spent the morning helping one of the managing editors get it fixed. And of course, we still don't know what articles are going to look like, since none are out yet. But I expect that it will be slick, and very easy to use, especially for the public.

Take Home. Wow, like I said, I am in love with this journal. For $300 I became a life-time member, and added my co-authors as lifetime members, too. Compare that to about $1500 per article for PLoS One, or the unfortunate fate of articles that get into the clutches of Big Publishing Houses. All in all, this is a winning situation for scientists, and the people whose lives are affected by science. Long Live PeerJ!