Soon joining the ranks of many subscription-access publishers, the prestigious BMJ Group will launch their full open access journal, aptly named, BMJ Open.
Yet, if you read the job ad for the new managing editor, the position is pitched as menial and low status — the kind of message that seems to announce that serious editors need not apply:
BMJ Open is a pure Open Access journal – which will publish a high volume of medical research articles which might be rejected from the BMJ or BMJJs or which might be otherwise submitted to a journal outside the BMJ Group.
Now, there is nothing incorrect about this job ad. BMJ clearly sees a market for their new open access journal. But that’s it — a market, a business opportunity. The ad is devoid of any lofty goals and aspirations for how this journal is going to improve medicine. BMJ Open represents a business decision to recapture manuscripts (and article processing fees) that would have been lost to other publishers. It is a bulk publishing model, not unlike PLoS ONE.
Focusing on reducing costs and improving efficiencies, many publishers have implemented services to redirect rejected manuscripts to related journals within their field. Apart from reducing the redundancy of having a paper shepherded through the peer-review process a second or third time, internal manuscript and peer-review referral services offers real value to the submitting author — i.e., faster publishing.
For many authors resigned to the fact that they have been rejected by a top-tier journal, a second-tier specialist journal will do just fine; and barring those, a general archival journal may be better than no publication at all.
According to Matt Cockerill, Managing Director of BioMed Central, the future of BMC involves a model of cascading peer-review, where manuscripts rejected by premium titles (like Genome Biology), are transferred to moderate rejection-rate journals (BMC Bioinformatics, BMC Evolutionary Biology, and BMC Genomics), who, in turn, redirect rejected manuscripts down to BMC Research Notes, a journal of the broadest scope possible, whose article processing fees (US $940) are “deliberately kept low” to encourage publication:
BMC Research Notes is an open access journal publishing scientifically sound research across all fields of biology and medicine, enabling authors to publish updates to previous research, software tools and databases, data sets, small-scale clinical studies, and reports of confirmatory or ‘negative’ results. Additionally the journal welcomes descriptions of incremental improvements to methods as well as short correspondence items and hypotheses.
PloS Biology describes how it treats rejected articles in more ecumenical terms, allowing editors to suggest another PLoS journal that may be “more suitable” for publication and providing a mechanism for transferring the manuscript and reviews.
The Nature Publishing Group has implemented a similar transfer service so that authors can simply redirect rejected manuscripts from one journal to another, with Nature Communications residing at the end of the chain.
General open access journals may be perceived as a recycling bins for manuscripts that would likely be published elsewhere — mere business opportunities for publishers with a suite of established titles to recoup expenses that are invested every time an article is received, reviewed and then summarily rejected. For publishers in the business of selling subscriptions, they can provide an additional revenue stream when authors, libraries, and funders are willing to pay the article processing charges and when there is no viable market for selling these articles to readers.
While a recycling bin may make economic sense for publisher interested in reducing transaction costs, it does risk damaging — or at least diluting — the brand of the publisher, as Kent Anderson described in his recent post on the costs of rejection.
Earlier this year, the American Society for Microbiology, a publisher of 11 subscription-access journals, launched mBio with a different model in mind. Unlike other publishers, the ASM does not view mBio as a trash bin for rejects. Rather, mBio‘s lofty goal is to publish “the best research in microbiology and allied fields” and will not accept submissions that were rejected by other ASM journals, although the converse is true — rejected mBio papers may be resubmitted to other ASM journals.
Taking pride at being at the bottom of the cascade, Rejecta Mathematica will only accept manuscripts that have been rejected by other math journals. As a full open access journal, its business model is quite creative. It does not charge article processing fees, but relies upon donations and the sales of t-shirts, coffee mugs and refrigerator magnets to cover expenses. To date, it has published one issue containing just six articles.