Illusion Chasers

Illusion Chasers

Illusions, Delusions, and Everyday Deceptions

The Evolution of Scientific Dissemination: PeerJ Rises


In case you didn’t know, academic publishing is undergoing a major upheaval. Again. It used to be that original discoveries could only be disseminated on paper, published in books and journals, which were mostly found in university libraries because their cost was so high. Then the internet was invented and things began to change, but surprisingly slowly. The big journals still ruled the roost—and even now they still really do, though future of this is uncertain—but paper and libraries eventually started to become less popular among readers. Readers wanted their science to be indexed on the Web and they wanted instant PDF downloads. Journals obliged and competed to add these features at no extra cost. But you still needed a subscription to the journal—or your university library did—to get access to the article for less than $30/article at the major journals. This is still the typical state of affairs with most journals that predate the internet.

But then something new started happening: first online journals (never on paper) and then so-called open-access journals (online journals that were accessible to readers for free) started to pop up. You may be surprised to learn that these journals are not much cheaper to produce than hardcopy magazines and books—despite the lack of paper—because most of the cost producing a journal is in the editorial services (copy editing, peer review, formatting, layout, marketing, etc). Whereas online journals having the traditional subscription-for-access model charged the reader, open access models charged the authors. Either way, a huge portion of the governmental science budget went towards paying for science publication, though funding agencies tended to prefer open access because the public could access the materials for free.

PeerJ is the next evolution of the journal. It’s open access, but instead of charging the authors an arm and a leg, it’s relatively cheap to publish: a one-time payment $99 gets you one paper published per year for life, and $299 gets you unlimited publications for life. They can do this because they will have advertisements (as do the other journals), and they expect everybody to subscribe in the first few years, giving them a large pile of cash to invest, which will then pay for staffing, peer review, and editorial services from investment interest in the future. So Wall Street pays for it. I like it!

I’m guessing funding agencies will like it too. Why should they pay out thousands of dollars to cover the publication of each paper when they can be assured of peer review and open access for a fraction of the cost?

Since it launched a few months ago, PeerJ had continued to innovate and they’ve recently announced some new initiatives.

PeerJ is now being indexed by PubMed, PubMed Central, Scopus and Google Scholar. This means that scholars will have an easier time finding the research they need.

PeerJ is now free for undergraduate authors. When publishing with at least one paying senior author, undergraduates publish for free.

Only time will tell if this new discount model of publishing catches on, but as an academic editor and author of PeerJ myself, I see no reason it shouldn’t one day become the dominant model in academic publishing.


The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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