Annual Meeting Reports

Open Access—What’s New, What’s Worked, What Hasn’t

Open access (OA) is one of the biggest issues facing scholarly publishing. Funding agencies are beginning to require that research be published in OA journals, and publishers are scrambling to assess current business models to find where OA is appropriate. Editors want the best research and articles, so they don’t want any barriers to publication for authors; and authors want their research to reach the most people and get the biggest bang for their buck. When funding agencies began talking about requiring OA, it was thought that publishers would jump right into the Gold OA model: An author pays a fee and an article appears in a journal in which all articles are OA. Not surprisingly, many publishers have been leery of suddenly converting all their titles to Gold OA without some idea of how it will affect their revenue. Some are using a hybrid OA model, in which an author can buy OA for an article in a subscription journal.

Deborah Kahn, of BioMed Central, publisher of more than 260 OA journals, led a lively and informative panel that comprised five OA viewpoints: those of the author, the editor of an established OA journal, the editor of a new OA journal, the journal director of a society, and the publisher. The author viewpoint provided by Kay Robbins focused on four aspects that affect an author’s decision of where to submit an article: impact, cost, review process, and big picture. Impact factors are important, but exposure is equally important, and most OA journals track views. Authors want the “right” audience to see their articles, and it helps if an article is easily accessible. Cost matters, and OA journal costs are paid by authors rather than by subscribers, so the cost needs to be manageable. The review process must be fair and include helpful comments and fast turnaround. Finally, the author’s big picture is that institutions have limited budgets for publishing, and all researchers are vying for the funds. OA costs need to be reasonable, but the quality of a journal needs to be high.

Laurie Goodman, editor-in-chief of the relatively new OA journal GigaScience, presented the advantages that new OA journals have over established journals trying to move to OA. A newly formed journal does not have an established business model or established practices, so new ideas can be tried and incorporated if they work or jettisoned if they don’t. GigaScience has no embargo period, except at an author’s request; it requires that all data and software be freely available and that reviews be signed.

The Journal of Neuroinflammation has been OA from its beginnings in 2004 because the editors-in-chief believed that OA was the wave of the future. Current Editor-in-Chief Sue T Griffin presented the viewpoint of this established OA journal. Like GigaScience, the Journal of Neuroinflammation has no embargo period, so all articles are made available on publication. However, authors are charged a processing fee, whereas GigaScience has no fees for authors. Another difference between these OA journals is in their style of peer review. The Journal of Neuroinflammation uses the traditional form in which reviewer comments are anonymous, and GigaScience reveals reviewers’ identities unless specifically asked not to.

The final viewpoint, that of the society publisher, was presented by Barbara Goldman, journals director of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), which publishes nine hybrid OA research journals and in 2010 launched mBio, its highly selective, online-only gold OA journal. Submissions to mBio have increased steadily, and the journal has been successful in attracting high-quality science. According to the 2012 Journal Citation Reports, mBio has an impact factor of 5.621, ranking it 15th of 116 journals in the microbiology category. In 2013, ASM launched a second OA journal, Genome Announcements. Goldman emphasized the importance of leveraging the society’s assets, such as a strong brand, reputation in the field for publishing good science, large society membership, and high-profile leadership. In ASM’s experience, it is important to appoint an editor-in-chief who is well known and well respected in the field, has a vision for the journal, is fully committed to its success, and understands the importance of engaging the next generation of authors and readers.