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Members only: PeerJ promises new approach to open-access

New open-access journals aplenty, usually nothing to get too excited about. Just a few minutes ago, I received an invitation to submit a paper for a special issue of the open-access International Journal of Advanced Robotic Systems. For just E850 I would have the honour of contributing to this 0.33 impact factor journal (somewhat surprisingly it has an impact factor)—A clear case of straight-to-spam.

Yet today I read an article on the Nature website about a new open-access initiative that seems very promising. It is called PeerJ, and is founded by Peter Binfield and Jason Hoyt. These are credible names, previously linked to PLoS ONE, the most successfull open-access journal, and Mendeley, a free reference management service.

Essentially, PeerJ is a members-only peer-reviewed open-access journal. Members-only, because in order to submit you have to become a member of the journal. Peer-reviewed, because papers are refereed by experts. And open-access, because all papers are freely released under a Creative Commons license.

So far nothing remarkable (aside perhaps from the membership), but there are two things that set PeerJ apart from the competition. The first is the pricing. Authors pay for a lifetime membership that allows you to publish one, two, or unlimited papers a year. For respectively, $99 (US), $169, and $259 per lifetime! There are no additional fees, so once you are a member, publishing a paper is free. Compare this to the $3,000 per paper that Elsevier charges for sponsored articles, and even the $1,350 publication fee for PLoS ONE. If this were not backed by solid names, I would be sure it was a scam.

The second novel (for the biological/ social sciences) aspect of PeerJ is the preprint service, PeerJ PrePrints. This is apparently similar to the ArXiv used by our more exact colleagues (real scientists, like physicists, mathematicians, etc.). You can upload your papers to the preprint server before they have been refereed, thus allowing you to showcase you work at an early stage, and receive feedback on the earlier drafts of your manuscript. Psychologists are generally very hesitant to show their work before it has been reviewed and officially published (whatever that may mean these days). But the ArXiv has been immensely successful in other branches of research. Physicists routinely upload their coolest stuff to the ArXiv, which functions as a type of open peer-review system. My bet is that this system could work for the biological/ social sciences as well.

PeerJ states that it will be opening for submissions "late summer 2012". Stay tuned.