Similar in scope to Nature Communications, Scientific Reports will accept papers covering all of the natural sciences — the biomedical and physical sciences. The latter have not been well-represented in the open access journal market.
But the similarities stop there. Nature Communication is based on a subscription model that allows authors an open access option. Scientific Reports is a full open access title that depends upon article processing charges for each paper published.
Scientific Reports is clearly in direct competition to PLoS ONE, the largest and most successful multidisciplinary open access journal.
Like PLoS ONE, Scientific Reports will provide fast review, base acceptance solely on sound methodology, provide article-level statistics, and will deposit articles in PubMed Central. In addition to matching services with PLoS ONE, Scientific Reports will match on price and charge an article processing fee of $1,350.
Scientific Reports will publish all papers that are judged to be technically valid and original. To enable the community to evaluate the importance of papers post-peer review, the Scientific Reports website will include most-downloaded, most-emailed, and most-blogged lists. All research papers will benefit from rapid peer review and publication, and will be deposited in PubMed Central.
In the last week, there have been several cheers from the blosophere (see here, here and here), most arguing that Nature’s new venture signals that open access publishing has gained a stronghold within mainstream science publishing and that imitation of a successful model should be viewed as a form of flattery, not as an economic threat.
I will take a unique position and argue that Nature’s Scientific Reports represents a huge threat, not only to PLoS but to non-profit publishing in general. In order to do this, I need to restate three facts:
- The article processing fees for PLoS ONE are set expressly to generate profits that go to support PLoS’s flagship titles, PLoS Biology and PLoS Medicine, two highly-selective, high-cost journals that would be unable to continue in their current state without financial subvention.
- PLoS does not consider ability to pay as a determinant of publication and will grant full or discounted waivers without question. In contrast, Scientific Reports does not offer to waive publication fees.
- Both PLoS ONE and Scientific Reports are designed to be boundlessly expandable.
Now, if Scientific Reports is in direct competition with PLoS ONE — and by competition, I mean for authors — those with access to funds have two publication options, while authors without funds have just one. As I argued in an earlier post, taking on more discounted authors would start diminishing PLoS ONE‘s profits and thus its ability to support PLoS’s flagship titles.
Removing the waiver option (or curtailing its use, as practiced by BioMed Central) would cause a public relations maelstrom of discontent among many PLoS supporters. And driving up article processing fees for those who are willing to pay may cause more authors with funds to select cheaper alternatives. This is what price sensitivity is supposed to do — and what many structural proponents of the pay-to-publish model want it to do — but unfortunately it won’t work in PLoS’s favor.
PLoS could look for more charitable sources of funds and increase pressure on libraries to increase their membership fees, but this option is risky as well. Libraries are under intense pressure to reduce costs, and at least one research university decided to cancel its open access membership when it realized it wasn’t saving them any money. Unlike Macmillan (the owners of Nature Publishing Group), PLoS doesn’t have deep pockets, and like other non-profit publishers, it cannot hold on to large reserves as it fights with competing publishing houses. Macmillan could easily undercut PLoS ONE‘s article processing charges in order to gain future market share.
In sum, PLoS has its hands tied while Nature has entered the ring fighting with both fists. And if Nature fails to deliver a knockout, BMJ Open is standing right behind them with gloves ready.
If PLoS has developed brand loyalty among authors, both journals could theoretically c0exist, expand, and continue to be profitable, but they will both need to attract more manuscripts, and more importantly, the publication fees that come with them. Unless funding agencies begin increasing the size and number of grants they provide scientists, there are few other untapped sources remaining.
This additional source of manuscripts and money may come from authors who have traditionally published with non-profit society journals that levy page fees.
If Scientific Reports attracts quality manuscripts, and, like PLoS ONE, a decent impact factor, these two journals may ultimately do their most damage to the non-profit society publishers who established their brand in the age of paper to provide limited scope and select on quality and novelty. They, I fear, may suffer the most from the match between PLoS and Nature.