“Initially PLOS ONE was a “club” of radicals who could afford to experiment with a new publishing model. This resulted in a higher than expected initial JIF and a massive influx of new authors, who were attracted to this (now) “proven” publishing model. Consequently, article processing times expanded (congestion), the initial sense of community became harder to maintain and the influx of articles ultimately reduced the JIF, leading to the flight of authors that were just seeking access to the prestige of the journal. The journal then shifted from a community (if not properly a knowledge club, as the disciplines were too disparate) to a social network market, which it could not sustain.
Scientific Reports follows a similar trajectory, but for different reasons. Initial submissions were not driven by a desire to be radical or progressive, as the concept of a mega-journal was already proven. Rather, Scientific Reports launched as a social network market, providing access to the prestige of the Nature brand. This model in turn became unsustainable, as the journal developed its own reputation and niche, which had been carefully planned through the naming (which does not include the name “Nature”) to avoid any dilution of the existing Nature brand.
What does this mean for Open Access and for initiatives like PlanS? Note that the club-theoretic model is ambivalent about how payments are made. We see similar patterns of growth and decline for subscription and APC journals alike. However the model is arguably better configured to understand how to create knowledge-value efficiently, because it asks how a community can be created and sustained, and how open access to membership can both stimulate and dilute knowledge-making itself. In our next post, we will discuss the implications of our model for planning a transition to full open access.”