#scholpub, PeerJ and Tim O’Reilly

I’ve trailed this post over the last two days. Who / what will be the major revolution in for-profit (FP) #scholpub? (I’m not forgetting PLoS and eLIFE, but I think that there will be a place for responsible private sector participants. And competition in this area will be beneficial.)

I’m currently tipping PeerJ (about which I have all of 1-2 week’s knowledge) (http://peerj.com/ ). So why the rapid jumping on yet another bandwagon?

To be clear I know nothing about PeerJ other than what’s on the web (blog: http://blog.peerj.com/ ). I haven’t spoken to anyone or read insightful blogs. So here’s an introduction:

“If we can set a goal to sequence the human genome for $99,

…then why not $99 for scholarly publishing?


That single sentence says it all.

They get it.

In a way that no one else has publicly done. Publishing is a commodity market, and as such is wildly overpriced.

That will cause howls from the mainstream #scholpub. They howled against PLoS (“unfair!!”). They howled against PLoSOne (“unreviewed low quality rubbish”) and they probably howl foul against eLIFE.

But the reality is that scholarly pub has foundered on the conflation of providing a service (which costs 100 USD) and providing Glory. These can be separated. I imagine Nature will continue to prosper – they once hired James Randi the magician to oversee an experiment (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_memory -if you don’t know this it’s worth reading!).

So let’s assume that – say – 1 billion of #scholpub goes – somehow – to glamour science. We could have shows, gladiatorial contests, etc.

While PLoSOne and PeerJ (and Acta Cryst) develop commodity publishing.

PeerJ has a very challenging business model: 99USD to publish one paper (against 10,000 in Nature and about >=1500 USD elsewhere). And even more exciting, it’s 300 USD for unlimited papers in your lifetime. Note these charges are per-author. So if I write 2-author papers it costs 200 USD. If I write a 96-author paper(which I have) then it costs 100*(min(12, nauth)) = 1200 USD. But if they have paid their 300 USD that’s then nothing.

The real point is that in a commodity market lots of other avenues open up. The authoring for example. Or re-use of data. Conventional publishers cannot address these as they have hacked authors off with their awful dismissive attitude to authors – simply fodder. A clever publisher will give the author something back – something of value. Mendeley gives something back, for example. What have you got of lasting value after authoring an Elsevier paper? A decimal point.

But the real thing that swung me to PeerJ was a member of its Board, Tim O’Reilly.

If there was one person in the world that I would want to reform #scholpub (and pace Robert Kiley et al) it would be Tim. I’ve met Tim several times – he’s invited me to Foo Camp (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foo_Camp ) on three occasions. Foo Camp is one of many ways he is transforming the world.

Tim’s a real revolutionary. He wants to create an open world where the key commodity is innovation. If he puts his energy into PeerJ it will transform the landscape. His commitment to Open means he won’t sell out to Springer or anyone else. He knows more about the dynamics of the information world than anyone else I know.

I also know Peter Binfield and Jason Hoyt. They have come up from innovative backgrounds – PloS and Mendeley.

But I hope they won’t mind me saying that it’s Tim’s involvement that is critical.

It won’t be easy for PeerJ. It never is in a stagnant self-congratulatory lawyer-run bloated market. But if they stick to commodities in and beyond #scholpub and foreswear the Glory trail they have a good chance. I reckon that the #scholdata market is even bigger than #scholpub. I doubt that’s news to them.

And, because I hate monopolies, I hope others challenge them.

On fair value, not on reselling someone else’s content.