Nature's open-access offering may sound death knell for subs model

Scientific Reports and success of PLoS ONE spell trouble for specialist journals. Paul Jump reports

The launch by Nature Publishing Group (NPG) of a high-volume open-access journal spanning the natural sciences is being tipped to accelerate the extinction of subscription fees in science publishing, and could also prompt the closure of many specialist journals.

Scientific Reports will launch this summer and will cover biology, chemistry, the earth sciences and physics.

Like the Public Library of Science's PLoS ONE journal, Scientific Reports will be entirely open access and will publish every submission deemed by a faster peer-review process to be technologically sound - including those reporting useful negative results.

The importance of articles will be left to readers to judge via comments and metrics such as how often papers are downloaded, emailed and blogged about.

At $1,350 (£890), Scientific Reports' article-processing charge will be the same as that levied by PLoS ONE - although it is set to rise next year to $1,700.

Mark Patterson, director of publishing at PLoS, said the recent launch of several PLoS ONE "lookalikes" reflected the journal's "phenomenal success".

In the four years since its launch, PLoS ONE has grown into what PLoS believes is the largest peer- reviewed journal in the world, with almost 7,000 articles published last year.

"We believe that these new journals have the potential to dramatically accelerate the transition from traditional subscription-based publishing towards comprehensive open access to all new research," Dr Patterson said.

Cameron Neylon, an academic editor at PLoS ONE and the author of the Science in the Open blog, agreed, describing the launch of Scientific Reports as a "very, very big deal".

"The dream of a universal database of freely accessible research outputs is now that much closer to our reach," he said. "Between them, PLoS ONE and Scientific Reports could mop up the vast majority of published papers in the sciences, leaving a small number of top-tier journals standing for the 'very best' science.

"I think this is the death knell for the majority of 'middling' journals and the large number of low-volume, low-profit, low-prestige journals."

Michael Jubb, director of the Research Information Network, agreed that publishers of small, niche journals should be "worried", noting that last year NPG also launched Nature Communications, a middle-ranking hybrid journal spanning the natural sciences. Forty per cent of its content is currently open access.

The launch of Scientific Reports reflects publishers' growing confidence in the business case for open access, according to Neil Jacobs, acting programme director for digital infrastructure at the Joint Information Systems Committee.

"Our hope is that more researchers will now choose to use open-access routes as a way of making their publicly funded papers more visible and providing best value to the taxpayer," he said.

But Jason Wilde, NPG's business development director, argued that a subscription-based model would continue to be the best option for highly read journals that publish a low number of high-quality articles. The journals' high rejection rates meant that article-processing charges would have to be set prohibitively high or subsidised by submission charges to cover peer-review costs.

Scientific Reports has begun accepting submissions ahead of its launch in June.

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