“PeerJ can’t possibly last because the numbers don’t add up.”
March 27, 2015
I had an email out of the blue this morning, from someone I’d not previously corresponded with, asking me an important question about PeerJ. I thought it was worth sharing the question, and its answer, more generally. So here it is.
Do you have any insight into the PeerJ business model? When I try to persuade people to publish in PeerJ, a very common response is that the journal can’t possibly last because the numbers don’t add up.
And indeed PeerJ’s financial model does seem too good to be true: rather than charging an APC of $1350 (as PLOS ONE does) or $3000 (as the legacy publishers do for their not-really-open hybrid articles), PeerJ charges just $99 per author — which buys not just the right to publish one article, but one per year for life. (Or you can pay $300 for the right to publish any number of papers forever.)
PeerJ is a privately owned company and does not disclose its internal financial details. Since I have no connection with PeerJ (other than being a very satisfied customer), I know nothing of the financials.
But here is what we do know.
1. PeerJ is run by Pete Binfield, who has more experience of running open-access megajournals than anyone alive, and he’s confident enough in the financial model to have staked his own livelihood on it.
2. The principal outside investor in PeerJ is Tim O’Reilly, who has more experience of making money from free-to-read content than anyone alive, and he’s confident enough in the financial model to have staked a seven-figure sum on it.
3. Most importantly, the content in PeerJ is safe forever, because it’s fully, properly, BOAI-compliant open access, licenced using CC By, and archived at PubMed Central. So even if the worst happened, if PeerJ went bankrupt, everything published in it would live on.
4. Since CC-By documents cannot be re-enclosed if their publisher is acquired, even if PeerJ were acquired by a predatory barrier-based publisher such as Elsevier, the articles would remain safe.
5. We have got into the habit of paying far too much for publishing. On average paywalled papers cost the world more than $5000 each. Legacy publishers typically charge APCs of $3000 or so. Yet born-digital publishers such as Ubiquity Press need charge only $500, and show the breakdown of that cost. (And note that $80 of that is set aside to cover waivered articles for which no fee is paid.) Against that analysis, PeerJ’s fees don’t look crazy. The truth is that, as well as their 35% profit-margins, legacy publishers’ costs are sky-high because they are dragging around the carcass of print-based publishing.
6. Numerous universities are confident enough of the PeerJ model that they have signed up for institutional plans. You know, little universities like Cambridge, UCL and Bristol (UK), and Harvard, MIT and Cornell (USA).
Putting it all together, we see that the PeerJ financial model is roughly in alignment with other new-model publishers, that the details are persuasive enough to convince the world-leading experts who know about them, that the open-access papers published in PeerJ will be freely available to the world forever, whatever happens — which is more than we can say for articles “published” behind paywalls, and that the world’s leading universities are on board.
In short, there is no rational reason not to publish in PeerJ (unless you’re statistically illiterate enough to think that its lack of an impact factor is of any scientific significance).