Have we reached Peak Megajournal?
May 29, 2015
[I am using the term “megajournal” here to mean “journal that practices PLOS ONE-style peer-review for correctness only, ignoring guesses at possible impact”. It’s not a great term for this class of journals, but it seems to be becoming established as the default.]
Bo-Christer Björk’s (2015) new paper in PeerJ asks the question “Have the “mega-journals” reached the limits to growth?”, and suggests that the answer may be yes. (Although, frustratingly, you can’t tell from the abstract that this is the conclusion.)
I was a bit disappointed that the paper didn’t include a graph showing its conclusion, and asked about this (thanks to PeerJ’s lightweight commenting system). Björk’s response acknowledged that a graph would have been helpful, and invited me to go ahead and make one, since the underlying data is freely available. So using OpenOffice’s cumbersome but adequate graphing facilities, I plotted the numbers from Björk’s table 3.
As we can see, the result for total megajournal publications upholds the conclusion that megajournals have peaked and started to decline. But PLOS ONE (the dark blue line) enormously dominates all the other megajournals, with Nature’s Scientific Reports the only other publication to even be meaningfully visible on the graph. Since Scientific Reports seems to be still in the exponential phase of its growth and everything else is too low-volume to register, what we’re really seeing here is just a decline in PLOS ONE volume.
It’s interesting to think about what the fall-off in PLOS ONE volume means, but it’s certainly not the same thing as megajournals having topped out.
What do we see when we expand the lower part of the graph by taking out PLOS ONE and Scientific Reports?
Here, the picture is more confused. The numbers are dominated by BMJ Open, which is still growing, but its growth has levelled off. Springer Plus grew quickly, but seems to be falling away — perhaps reflecting an initial push, followed by author apathy for a megajournal run by a legacy publisher. AIP Advances (which I admit I’d not heard of) and SAGE Open both seem to have modest but healthy year-on-year growth. And of course PeerJ is growing fast, but it’s too young for us to have a meaningful sense of the trend.
What does it all mean?
The STM Report for 2015 (Ware and Mabe 2015) estimates that 2.5 million scholarly articles were published in English-language journals in 2014 (page 6). Björk’s data tells us that only 38 thousand of those were in megajournals — that’s less than 1/65th of all the articles. I find it very hard to believe that 1.5% of the total scholarly article market represents saturation for megajournals.
I suspect that what this study really shows us — and I’m sure the PLOS people would be the first to agree with this — is that we need a lot more megajournals out there than just PLOS ONE. Specifically:
- It’s well established that pure-OA journals offer better value for their APCs than hybrid ones.
- It’s at least strongly suspected (has there been a study?) that OA megajournals offer better value than selective OA journals.
- We want to get the APCs of OA megajournals down.
- PLOS ONE needs competition on price, to force down its increasingly unjustifiable APC of $1350.
- It’s a real shame that the eLIFE people have fallen into the impact-chasing trap and show no interest in running an eLIFE megajournals.
- I think the usually reliable Zen Faulks is dead wrong when he writes off what he calls “Zune journals“.
So the establishment of new megajournals is very much a good thing, and their growth is to be encouraged. Many of the newer megajournals may well find (and I hate to admit this) that their submission rates increase when they’re handed their first impact factor, as happened with PLOS ONE.
- Björk Bo-Christer. 2015. Have the “mega-journals” reached the limits to growth? PeerJ 3:e981. doi:10.7717/peerj.981
- Ware, Mark, and Michael Mabe. 2015. The STM Report: an overview of scientific and scholarly journal publishing. Fourth Edition, March 2015. International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers, The Hague, Netherlands. 180 pages.