Friday 19 July 2013

PeerJ: an open access business model based around individual memberships

PeerJ has been shortlisted for the ALPSP Award for Publishing Innovation 2013. Here, co-founder Pete Binfield explains what drove them to set up the company and their business model.

"PeerJ is the open access publisher of PeerJ (a peer reviewed journal) and PeerJ PrePrints (an un peer-reviewed preprint server), both serving the biological and medical sciences. The company was co-founded by Jason Hoyt (previously of Mendeley) and Peter Binfield (previously of PLOS ONE) in 2012.

Jason has a background as a research scientist (with a PhD from Stanford) and it was this, combined with his involvement in Mendeley, that meant he possessed a first-hand experience of many of the pain points in the current publishing system, as well as the skills and knowledge to do something about it. As Jason says,

“When I started grad school I was shocked at the “sticker price” of existing subscription journals - not just their subscription price, but also the page and color charges that many of them use. When Open Access and PLoS arrived, I thought it was great, but that we could still do it better and cheaper. I eventually realized that everyone seemed to be waiting around for either the government or the publishers to drop costs, so I thought why not just do it and see what happens?”

Co-founders: Pete Binfield (left) and Jason Hoyt
Jason came up with the concept for PeerJ and brought Pete onboard in early 2012. We announced the company in June 2012 and since that time, we have recruited an Editorial Board of over 800 (including 5 Nobel Laureates); built submission, peer-review and publication software entirely from scratch; established our publications in the academic publishing world; and published over 150 articles (in both PeerJ and PeerJ PrePrints).

As part of our submission to the ALPSP Award for Innovation, we made the case that we innovate in 4 key areas: in our business model; our product suite; our functionality; and our editorial practices. For this blog post we wanted to particularly highlight our business model which is probably the innovation which generated the most interest in the publishing world.

PeerJ has created a new and innovative open access business model based around individual memberships. Authors pay a single low price for a lifetime Membership to PeerJ, giving them the rights to freely publish a certain number of articles with us per year. Each co-author on a paper must be a paying Member with the correct membership level (however if an article has more than 12 authors then only the first 12 need become paying Members).

The Membership levels are described online but to summarize:

  • Free Members can publish one PrePrint per year for free 
  • Basic Members can publish unlimited PrePrints and 1 PeerJ article per year, for free (for a one-off lifetime fee of $99) 
  • Enhanced Members can publish unlimited PrePrints and 2 PeerJ articles per year, for free ($199 for life) 
  • Investigator Members can publish unlimited PrePrints and unlimited PeerJ articles per year, for free ($299 for life) 

PeerJ homepage

By building a business model based around individual memberships rather than APC payments per publication much of our functionality and thinking has, by a natural consequence, become very ‘individual centric’ and you will see this as you surf around our site.

For example, you will see this effect in our user profiles, in our academic contributions, in our search functionality and so on. As a result, our business model is not only a very visible innovation, it is also a significant driver of innovation in itself.

The core principles behind PeerJ are to constantly innovate; to stay close to our market (i.e. academia); and to constantly work to reduce the overall costs to the system. By doing so, we believe that we can create a new publishing environment which will benefit from both the cost efficiencies inherent in modern software solutions, and the latest thinking behind new publication models, to help put high quality open access publishing within reach of all authors."

Jason Hoyt holds a PhD in Genetics from Stanford University where he worked under Michele Calos researching human gene therapy. Before founding PeerJ, he worked at Mendeley as Chief Scientist/Vice President of Research & Development and pioneered the data mining group that scaled Mendeley's growth to crowd source more than 150 million academic documents in just over two years.

Pete Binfield has worked in the academic publishing world for almost 20 years. Since gaining a PhD in Optical Physics, he has held positions at the Institute of Physics, Kluwer Academic, Springer, SAGE and most recently the Public Library of Science (where he grew PLoS ONE to become the largest journal in the world).

The ALPSP Awards finalists will be given the opportunity to showcase their journal or innovation in a rapid fire session at the ALPSP International Conference on Wednesday 11 September.

The winners will be announced at the Conference Awards Dinner on 12 September. Book now to secure your place.


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