Re: BioMed Central and new publishing models

From: Matthew Cockerill <matt_at_BIOMEDCENTRAL.COM>
Date: Wed, 9 Feb 2000 18:29:12 -0000

Steven Harnad wrote:
> Some very fundamental and explicit clarification is required before it
> can be decided whether BioMed Central should be embraced or avoided by
> authors:
> So if BioMed Central is not intended for authors to deposit
> either their
> unrefereed preprints or their refereed reprints, what IS it intended
> for?

To be clear about BioMed Central's mission:

We are setting out to build a *new publishing house*, that will accept
original research articles, coordinate peer review, and publish them without
delay through PubMed Central, with open access for all.

Yes, we fully intend to compete with existing journals. Our guiding
principle is that this new publishing house will offer a far better service
to authors than they receive from existing 'archival' journals (the 90+% of
journals with relatively low impact factors), and will be chosen by authors
in preference to those journals.

Certainly, BioMed Central will happily co-exist with top tier journals such
as Nature, Science and Cell, which help scientists to identify the very most
interesting research in their field. [Though we will also develop our own
services, including reviews, commentary, and other tools for filtering the
literature, to help scientists with the task of sifting the wheat from the

On the other hand, as stated, we certainly *do* intend to compete with the
excessively priced archival journals from traditional publishers. We simply
do not believe that attempting to superimpose a free self-archiving model on
top of a traditional publication framework is a sustainable model. Free
self-archiving is too much of a threat to subscription revenues to be widely
tolerated by conventional publishers, so you cannot rely on traditional
publishers to coordinate peer review.

> Could it be a rival new "megajournal," trying to compete for
> papers with
> the established journals? In that case, authors, in the interest of
> their careers and the certification of their research, are better
> advised to stuck with the refereed journals for now. Only if the
> established journals continue to oppose online public self-archiving
> does it make sense to consider transferring our research to
> new journals
> that do not. In and of itself, submitting one's work to a new journal
> rather than an established one is a risky strategy.
> Established journals
> have reputations, known quality-control standards, and established
> impact factors. New journals do not.

Essentially, yes. BioMed Central will compete with established journals.

The current system of judging a paper's merits by what journal it is
published in is:

(a) imperfect (some papers - e.g. Prusiner's prion research - turn out to
be far more important than was initially recognised by editors and referees)
(b) largely irrelevant for the majority of the 'archival' literature
(citation impact 1.0 or lower)

Far more important is to have good tools to track the importance of
individual articles (using various metrics, based on editorial judgment,
citation tracking, access statistics etc), and this is the strategy that
BioMed Central is taking.

> Until further notice, open archiving's objective is to free the
> current, established refereed journal literature from its publishers'
> S/L/P access tolls, not from its publishers.

If you believe you can square that particular circle, fine.

Our belief, however, is that without the revenues driven by restrictive
S/L/P access tolls, conventional commercial publishers (especially of
non-top tier journals, which are the most profitable) would have no reason
to continue in the business. To open up publishing, a completely new model
is needed. This is what BioMed Central is building.

Matthew Cockerill

Matthew Cockerill Ph.D. (
Technical Director
BioMed Central Limited (
34-42, Cleveland Street
London W1P 6LB
Tel. 0207 631 9127
Fax. 0207 580 1938
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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