Clash of the business models

clash by Lenny Montana
PLoS stays afloat with bulk publishing : Nature News:
[Via Nature]
This is a very provocative article, especially since it starts this way:

Public Library of Science (PLoS), the poster child of the open-access publishing movement, is following an haute couture model of science publishing — relying on bulk, cheap publishing of lower quality papers to subsidize its handful of high-quality flagship journals.

It is a little unseemly for a for-profit publisher with a closed access approach to openly attack an open access competitor. Especially since many of the PLoS journals have very high impact factors and are widely read for their important articles.

The comments are a lot of fun to read and demonstrate where online conversations are taking us. An example:

Editor Clarke, Perhaps you could then elaborate on just what the intent with this piece? Clearly many of those reading it saw it as a naked and blatantly self-serving screed against open-access publishing. In short, an attempt to undercut the business of a competitor by the method of reputation-trashing. Can you confirm or deny that this was the intent? If you confirm that this was the intent, please let us know why it was ethically sound not to make a firm declaration of COI in the piece? If you deny this was the intent, by all means please let us know what the intent actually was…?
Posted by Drug Monkey

Drug Monkey has some more discussion at his own site, especially the lack of a conflict of interest statement (ironic since every scientist who publishes in every journal today, including Nature, must sign such a statement delineating all conflicts of interest.). Also he has some more links to other bloggers, including the Online Community Manager for the PLoS journals who is taking a “Don’t feed the trolls” approach.

Then there is this little bit of dead-on snark:

Apparently the “bulk, cheap … lower quality papers” published by PLoS aren’t beneath the notice of Nature. Three of the Research Highlights articles in this issue (p 5) report on articles published in PLoS journals (two from PLoS One! and one from PLoS Genetics). If it is not interesting enough to publish in Nature, at least it provides enough free copy to help round out an issue.
Posted by Scott Ramsey

So, Nature is perfectly happy to use the freely available information from the competitor it trashes, in order to make sure it has enough content for its own journal.

Finally, it is a little weird for a commercial company that makes a profit to criticize the business model for a non-profit organization. I mean, horrors, they get grant money. That is what a non-profit can do. Many do not set themselves up to be commercial in the sense of a company like Nature.

Here are the stated
mission and goals of PLoS:

The Public Library of Science (PLoS) is a nonprofit organization of scientists and physicians committed to making the world’s scientific and medical literature a public resource.

Our goals are to:

  • Open the doors to the world’s library of scientific knowledge by giving any scientist, physician, patient, or student – anywhere in the world – unlimited access to the latest scientific research.
  • Facilitate research, informed medical practice, and education by making it possible to freely search the full text of every published article to locate specific ideas, methods, experimental results, and observations.
  • Enable scientists, librarians, publishers, and entrepreneurs to develop innovative ways to explore and use the world’s treasury of scientific ideas and discoveries.

Here are Nature’s:

First, to serve scientists through prompt publication of significant advances in any branch of science, and to provide a forum for the reporting and discussion of news and issues concerning science. Second, to ensure that the results of science are rapidly disseminated to the public throughout the world, in a fashion that conveys their significance for knowledge, culture and daily life.

Nature does really well at the first section but does it really ensure that the results are rapidly disseminated to the public throughout the world? Or does charging for access fulfill the ‘fashion that conveys their significance’? if you pay for something does that enhance its significance?

Interestingly, Nature did not make a profit of more than 30 years.

Despite the boom in periodical publishing in Victorian Britain in the 1860s, the fledgling Nature did not make a profit for more than 30 years and only survived because of the commitment and belief of its first publisher, Alexander Macmillan, co-founder of Macmillan Publishers, and the hard work of the first editor, Norman Lockyer.

Sounds like charity to me. Yet it is critical of PLoS after 6 years!

I guess there is one thing positive for Nature. While it might be a little unseemly for such a hit piece to come from Nature, they deserve kudos for sticking around for the conversation. even one that takes them to task.

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