An Open Letter to the Community from PLOS CEO, Alison Mudditt
As the new PLOS CEO, I’ve spent my first months assessing the organization and planning for a thriving future. We are in the midst of shaping our next innovative steps in pursuit of maximal openness and transparency in research communication, and assessing what changes we need to make as an organization. Some of these changes will likely go unnoticed outside of PLOS. Others may cause speculation. For clarity and transparency’s sake, I’ve chosen to write an open letter to the communities PLOS serves, so we can encourage open dialogue and so that you can share in our continuing evolution.
Since the very beginning PLOS has been a publisher, advocacy organization and innovator. Our roots in innovation run deep; from mobilizing scientists’ desire for free and Open Access to the literature and building PLOS ONE to the journal it is today, to pioneering Article-Level Metrics as an alternative to journal impact factors and launching our forward-thinking data policy to positively influence credit, recognition and reproducibility.
One of our top priorities this coming year is to improve the author experience since our authors are at the center of everything we do. Among their top concerns are ‘time to first decision’ and ‘time to publication’. We share their concerns and are committed to reducing this time as much as possible across all our journals. We are embarking on an ambitious plan to reinvigorate PLOS ONE’s editorial board, increase the efficiency of reviewer assignment, and develop and deploy new analytical capabilities to ensure no manuscript is unnecessarily stalled.
Part of this initiative will involve changes around the workflow system – Aperta™ – we set out to develop several years ago with the goal to streamline manuscript submission and handling. At the time we began, there was very little available that would create the end-to-end workflow we envisioned as the key to opening research on multiple fronts. But the development process has proved more challenging than expected and as a result, we’ve made the difficult decision to halt development of Aperta. This will enable us to more sharply focus on internal processes that can have more immediate benefit for the communities we serve and the authors who choose to publish with us. The progress made with Aperta will not be wasted effort: we are currently exploring how to best leverage its unique strengths and capabilities to support core PLOS priorities like preprints and innovation in peer review. This will be part of our planning for 2018.
Innovation is not unlike science itself; there are hurdles to success, determination is integral to advance in one’s work, and knowing when to set aside any particular project to move forward is key. What I, and hopefully others, appreciate is that PLOS continues to be an organization willing to take risks in order to best serve scientific communities across the full spectrum of topics and interests.
Moreover, it’s our goal to optimize the openness and integrity of the publication process by ensuring that research outcomes are discoverable, freely available and reusable and that science communication is constructive, transparent and verifiable. You will be hearing more from me on our core initiatives in early 2018.
PLOS is steadfast in our commitment to our mission and communities and I look forward to sharing our milestones with the scientific and publishing community in 2018 and beyond.
Thanks for this open letter.
It seems to me that lowering the APCs would have been a better investment than developing “Aperta”… When you asked what to do with your large revenue surplus, some of us had suggested that lowering APCs would be the best PLOS could do. Lowering them would have put pressure to other publishers to lower their APCs too. Unfortunately your APCs are a benchmark and keeping them high is only helping publishers make large profits from the academic community.
Alison, a great introduction, and it is good to see you building on the sterling work that has already been done at PLOS. I think the lesson drawn from “Aperta” is that it is sometimes better to work with your partners in the industry to achieve optimal processes and systems rather than going it alone and developing something yourselves. I appreciate that in an organization as innovative as PLOS relying on in-house development is always a temptation, but the dangers of finding yourselves “re-inventing the wheel” are still lurking in the background.
Pedro’s reference to APCs is a good case in point – many researchers are put off OA by high APCs. However, in order to continue to innovate and thrive, a publisher the size of PLOS has to cover its costs…it can’t rely on the benevolence of its investors. The answer is to have the flexibility to offer higher APCs to those with the ability to pay while offering discounts to the less fortunate, and having a system such as that offered by CCC to set up the business intelligence to distinguish between them.
There is a wealth of opportunity to incentivize authors to use pre-submussion services such as those offered by Peerage of Science https://www.peerageofscience.org/ by discounting the APC too, saving time for authors, reviewers *and* authors, and achieving your objectives of reducing ‘time to first decision’ and ‘time to publication’ in the process.
I’m delighted to hear PLOS is looking to explore alternative business models. I would urge you to try an optional discounted APC, offset by a submission fee. This was suggested by Mark Ware (1). Publishers seem to assume that authors will reject submission fees, but as Ware notes, there is no risk if it’s optional – if there’s no takeup, nothing is lost. But if there is substantial takeup, the benefits are potentially great, especially for your more selective journals. I’ve given more extensive arguments for submission fees in a comment elsewhere (2).
2. https://dash.harvard.edu/handle/1/27803834, pp. 82-84.
Thanks very much for the discussion! Certainly, this would face resistance. I think the key selling point would be a much lower price for accepted authors, offset by a small price for rejected ones. A good illustration of this is the (paywalled) “Journal of Financial Economics”, which I estimate makes around $7,000 per accepted paper in submission fees, far more than any APC, despite being free to accepted authors. They receive among the most submissions of any economics journal.
Another thing that could sweeten the idea would be to provide rejected authors with a private, shareable link to the reviews and the editor’s decision. So if PLOS Biology found a paper to be technically excellent but not important or novel enough, the authors could share the reviews with another journal via a verifiable source. That journal might accept it without commissioning more reviews, saving everyone time.
Good people to help overcome people’s skepticism about this might include:
*Jan Velterop, who pioneered the APC but now advocates submission fees.
*Gunther Eysenbach, who has charged submission fees for years at the (OA) Journal of Medical Internet Research.
*and especially G. William Schwert, editor of the “Journal of Financial Economics”.
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