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    • CommentRowNumber1.
    • CommentAuthorPeter Krautzberger
    • CommentTimeMay 8th 2012
    • (edited May 8th 2012)

    I thought this would be of interest:

    The current publisher of PLoS ONE, Peter Binfield, leaves PLoS to start a new company, PeerJ, http://peerj.com/.

    According to its website, PeerJ will be an open access, peer-reviewed journal where publishing costs are to be covered by a $99 lifetime membership.

    • CommentRowNumber2.
    • CommentAuthorHenry Cohn
    • CommentTimeMay 8th 2012

    That’s bizarre. I assume this must be an ultra-low-cost, arXiv-style model (i.e., no copyediting, no formatting, no PDF/A’s or other archival formats, no administrative assistance for editors, etc.), but I still wonder about the economics of it. I would worry about adverse selection, where the people who expect to submit a lot of papers are exactly the people who find the $99 lifetime membership attractive. I also wonder how carefully they have the pricing worked out. For example, if they intend to scale then they’ll have some nontrivial costs, and I wonder what they’ll do if this turns out to be less popular than they expect. If they can’t raise money from anyone who already has a membership, then they’ll either have to seek donations or investigate less appealing options (lots of advertising, or increased prices for new members that may anger younger researchers). It’ll be interesting to see whether they can pull this off.

    • CommentRowNumber3.
    • CommentAuthorMark C. Wilson
    • CommentTimeMay 8th 2012
    • (edited May 8th 2012)

    We have been through this before in other threads. I think it is very likely that at least a nontrivial fraction of scientists would be happy with very light copy editing and believe that something like JMLR or EJC can actually work. I don’t know whether $99 is the right amount, but it doesn’t seem ridiculous offhand. Perhaps we are being too cavalier about archiving, but that shouldn’t be the dominant cost, should it?

    Of course, mathematics may just be different from the sciences. We think that we write for the ages, and may want better archiving, peer review and copyediting. Still, the idea of a lifetime membership fee sounds very appealing. If there is a way of adding some value to readers for paying this fee (e.g. discussion forums for papers) not available to the general (free) reader, so much the better. I very much like the idea of PeerJ that “research should be resusable” http://blog.peerj.com/post/15615232620/making-scholarly-content-reusable. Again, this sharing of primary data is not relevant for many papers in mathematics.

    • CommentRowNumber4.
    • CommentAuthorHenry Cohn
    • CommentTimeMay 9th 2012

    I think the big difficulty with lifetime membership fees is calibrating what they should be. It seems pretty difficult to model this in a principled way, and you’ll have to make a lot of assumptions.

    For example, suppose 100,000 people pay the $99 fee up front, and it gets invested with profits of 5% per year in constant dollars (that’s a pretty good return after inflation). That would amount to $495,000 per year, which is somewhat less than it costs to run the arXiv (see http://arxiv.org/help/support/2011_budget). Now maybe PeerJ will be cheaper than the arXiv, because for example they wouldn’t need to maintain an elaborate TeX installation (they can just publish author-provided PDF files), but could they operate substantially more cheaply?

    And 100,000 people is an enormous number. PLoS published 17,160 articles last year, and they are incredibly successful (and have been operating for nine years with basically exponential growth). Maybe this new model will be so appealing that it will catch on like wildfire, but that will take a lot of luck.

    Of course, that 100,000 figure is to create a buffer or endowment that would continue to fund PeerJ on an ongoing basis. More realistically, they are going to end up funding their operations from the current fees, and they will constantly need to recruit more people to continue to operate. This is a lot more feasible, but also riskier: if they lose popularity or saturate the market, then they will run out of money.

    In the short term, for each thousand people they recruit, they can spend $99,000 (if they are not even trying to build up reserves). A few hundred thousand dollars will not support very many people, when you cover salaries, benefits, office space, etc.

    It’s not impossible that this could work in the long run: they would just need around 5,000 new authors to sign up every year. That’s substantially less than the number of new PhDs worldwide (34,000 science PhDs in OECD countries in 2008), but it would require signing up a nontrivial fraction of the world’s scientists, and it would lead to by far the largest journal the world has ever seen.

    My guess is that they are aiming to make a bunch of money from advertising. For example, PLoS made $281,000 that way (in 2010, the latest year for which data is available - note for comparison that PLoS spent $12.21 million in 2010, so PeerJ is aiming to be vastly cheaper than PLoS). If they incorporate advertising in much more aggressive ways, maybe they could make even more in the long run.

    What puzzles me is where they are getting the money to start up at all. Maybe they have some sort of grant? (I haven’t seen any acknowledgement of one on their web pages.) I assume it’s not coming from investors, since I don’t see how they could expect to earn much of a profit.

    Overall, I imagine the $99 lifetime membership is basically an advertising gimmick, and they will eventually shift to other revenue sources, but I could be wrong.

    • CommentRowNumber5.
    • CommentAuthorPeter Krautzberger
    • CommentTimeMay 9th 2012
    • (edited May 9th 2012)

    @Mark not sure if I just got confused by your phrasing but to clarify: the $99 fee is for authors, not readers. On second reading, it does say “starting at $99” on the bottom of the front page.

    Other than that, I think: this is an established specialist, somebody who’s led PLoS ONE to what it is today. I’m sure there’s a good bit of PR going on here, but I also think this is one of the more likely projects to succeed. In short, something to be optimistic about.

    • CommentRowNumber6.
    • CommentAuthorMark C. Wilson
    • CommentTimeMay 12th 2013

    Does anyone have any idea how this journal is going, and whether it will expand to cover mathematics?

  1. @Mark C. Wilson: PeerJ seems to be doing well so far. It has been discussed at SW-POV recently.

    My guess is that it will not expand to cover mathematics, because its business model of “lifetime fee” needs a large flow of users that end up publishing only a few paper. As far as I can tell, the flow of grad students is very high in life sciences, and make this model more likely to be sustainable. Moreover, as all author of a published paper must pay the fee, the high mean number of authors per paper in life sciences is also an advantage which would vanish in mathematics.