UCL is to launch an open-access megajournal to contend with the likes of Plos One and Scientific Reports as the landscape of scholarly publishing moves increasingly online.
The as-yet-unnamed journal platform from UCL Press will be a first for a UK university: Plos One is run by the Public Library of Science, while Scientific Reports is produced by the publisher of Nature. However, it has a forerunner in the US, with the University of California Press having operated a successful megajournal, Collabra, since 2015.
Apart from making their content freely available, megajournals are distinguished from traditional periodicals by the wide range of disciplines that they typically cover.
They also stand out for the huge number of articles that they publish: at its peak in 2013, Plos One published 31,509 articles. This is the result of a peer-review process that typically assesses only the scientific soundness of a paper, not its novelty, importance or interest to a subject community.
Paul Ayris, pro vice-provost for library services at UCL and chief executive of UCL Press, said that the decision to launch a megajournal came from seeing open access “as an opportunity, not a threat”, and one that would “open up new possibilities for scholarly publishing”.
“Publication times will be reduced, published materials will be available to anyone with an internet connection, and new modes of peer review will make evaluation and assessment more transparent,” Dr Ayris said. “All this is good for the researcher and good for research.”
UCL Press already publishes open-access research monographs, totalling 50 titles so far, which have been downloaded more than 650,000 times as of November 2017.
Its move into article publishing also follows the launch of open-access platforms by several research funders, including the Wellcome Trust’s Wellcome Open Research, launched in October 2016, and more recently the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which launched a free-to-access site, Gates Open Research, in autumn last year.
Martin Paul Eve, professor of literature, technology and publishing at Birkbeck, University of London, and the co-founder of an open-access platform, the Open Library of Humanities, welcomed UCL’s move.
“The breakdown of disciplinary borders and the intellectual excitement that can be fostered in that space is something that holds great promise and towards which we’ve been working at the Open Library of Humanities,” Professor Eve said.
“That said, there are still challenges. To successfully pull off a megajournal, the space has to feel safe and right to members of disciplinary communities, because journals are actually communities around which scholars cluster. Whether or not UCL’s effort will take off remains to be seen, but it’s clear that ever more players are interested in the megajournal approach, for a variety of reasons.”
After peaking at 31,509 research papers in 2013, Plos One’s output has declined steadily since, decreasing by 35 per cent between 2013 and 2017. Scientific Reports overtook the platform to become the world’s largest in September 2016, providing further evidence to observers that megajournals are competing with each other for a limited number of manuscripts.