The indefatigable Peter Binfield, formerly of PLoS, has launched a new venture: PeerJ. There’s a very good interview up with Binfield and co-founder Jason Hoyt at John Dupuis’s blog that helps the curious gain a sense of the venture.
There has been some chaff here and there about it from the usual suspects. The Loon is not impressed. She’s learned to take attacks from certain quarters as fear that the venture under discussion just might work. If it weren’t viable, they wouldn’t bother expending pixels on it. Enough of that, then.
The revenue model here is quite novel. Rather than charging per paper, PeerJ charges per author: a one-time fee (presumably adjusted for inflation over time) gains perpetual right to submit papers for review (though not to have papers accepted and published; PeerJ’s one-page elevator pitch would do well to make this clearer).
The Loon must assume that Binfield and Hoyt have done some analysis of PLoS’s author field (especially articles-per-author and authors-per-article), such that they believe this viable. Supplemented by the usual smorgasbord of institutional memberships, grants, and (perhaps) other freemium services or advertising, it might well work, if the author fee has been correctly set. It’s a model not unlike the profitable service Pinboard, whose founder had sharp, smart things to say about ventures that don’t charge service beneficiaries for service.
It could come a cropper, financially. The biggest unknown in the Loon’s mind is the cost of production. PeerJ is promising the entire format suite—XML, HTML, PDF—which means a complex and expensive typesetting system for articles that make it through the gauntlet. This must be outsourced (the Loon can’t imagine Hoyt and Binfield doing it all by themselves!), which puts the costs somewhat out of PeerJ’s control. While typesetting to PDF and image management are at rock-bottom commodity prices, the Loon believes markup-based workflows aren’t.
Cleverly, though, PeerJ has mitigated one potentially serious business risk: a rush of poor-quality submissions from developing nations seeing an alternative cheaper even than the likes of predators like InTech. Because PeerJ is honest, it will accept such authors’ membership fees and then reject their submissions as many times as needed, avoiding the expensive editorial work needed to bring such submissions to adequacy.
This does, of course, mean that PeerJ won’t put the likes of InTech out of business. This is a sincere pity; someone should. Nor will PeerJ solve the problem of developing nations’ cargo-cult high-impact-factor worship.
If it sticks, however—and as the Loon said previously, she wouldn’t bet against Binfield, who’s the smartest in the business—it could do yeoman’s work cutting author-side fees at other publishers, particularly the cynical big-pigs’ “hybrid” programs. The Loon would very much like to see that. She wishes PeerJ all the best; the BAE is likely to buy a membership just to support the venture.
PeerJ launches by Library Loon, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.