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Open-access megajournals – find out more in Estonia

At the COASP meeting this September in Estonia there promises to be a fascinating series of talks on an approach to scholarly publishing that seriously challenges the traditional notion of a journal, and has the potential to dramatically accelerate the transition to open access.

Arguably, it was PLoS ONE that began this trend when it was launched in December, 2006, to provide a venue for all rigorous science regardless of potential impact.  The peer review process focuses on a set of criteria to assess whether the submissions are methodologically sound and properly reported.  What the peer review process does not evaluate is how ‘important’ the work might be.  Instead, the idea is that the post-publication phase can be used to filter, assess and organize content using approaches such as article-level metrics, expert assessment and so on.  One of the goals of this approach is to provide an alternative to the cycles of submission, rejection and resubmission that are prevalent in some fields, and which delay the communication of new findings by months or even years.

In this way, PLoS ONE effectively seeks to publish all publishable work and imposes no artificial limits on what it will publish, unlike a traditional journal which might attempt to select only the most ‘impactful’ papers. In addition, because the journal uses a publication fee business model in which the revenue from each article covers its costs, it is economically viable to publish a very large number of articles. The combination of these two factors also means that the journal is able to grow very rapidly.

Remarkably, PLoS ONE became the largest peer-reviewed journal in existence inside four years (and will publish as much as 1.5% of the articles indexed in PubMed in 2011), and over the past 12 months has been emulated by many other established publishers in various disciplines.  The tantalizing prospect is that these new ‘open-access megajournals’ might grow at a pace that is similar to PLoS ONE, and could therefore potentially account for a substantial proportion of the research literature in a matter of a few years.

At COASP this year, participants will hear from representatives of several of the publishers that have launched or are planning the launch of open-access megajournals, including: Pete Binfield, PLoS (PLoS ONE); Richard Sands, British Medical Journal Group (BMJ Open); Dave Ross, SAGE (SAGE Open), Sara Grimme, Nature Publishing Group (Scientific Reports); Phil Hurst, Royal Society (Open Biology), and Tracy DePellegrin Connelly, Genetics Society of America (G3).  We’ll hear about the progress, successes and challenges.

There will also be a related session on other approaches to scalable OA publishing.  Peter Strickland will present Acta Crystallographica Section E, a megajournal published by the International Union of Crystallography, which blurs the distinction between a database and a journal.   Matt Cockerill, BioMed Central (BMC Series) and Paul Peters, Hindawi (ISRN Series) will complete the presentations with talks on scalable and innovative open-access publishing platforms and journals series.

The combined approaches that will be presented at COASP this year could have a transformative impact on research communication.  The primacy of the journal as the mechanism for the organization of published research articles is being challenged, and now is the time for all publishers to consider how these developments might affect their own operations.  We look forward to seeing you there.

Competing interests: Mark Patterson (Director of Publishing at PLoS) is on the Board of OASPA, and helped to organize the upcoming ‘megajournal’ session at this year’s COASP.

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