Since 2013, PLOS One, the first of the open access mega-journals, has published roughly 30,000 articles per year. However, in September its monthly publication tally was overtaken for the first time by that of a younger rival, Nature’s Scientific Reports. Writing in the Times Higher Education, Stephen Pinfield discusses the rapid growth of the mega-journals, and why they continue to divide opinion.
Mega-journals challenge the traditional publishing model on multiple fronts. They are broad in scope, publishing across all scientific disciplines, and rely on article processing charges and open access rather than subscription fees and paywalls. They also have relatively low rejection rates. Mega-journals publish all articles judged by peer review to be scientifically sound, and will not reject an article because of a lack of novelty or an ‘unfashionable’ research topic. Some argue that this less subjective approach is an improvement on the traditional model, and that mega-journals make it easier to publish negative results and study replications. Others believe that one of the key roles of a journal should be to filter articles, and worry that the direct relationship between revenue and number of articles published creates an incentive to compromise quality control.
Most mega-journals are not direct competitors of selective journals but instead co-exist alongside them. Both PLOS One and Scientific Reports benefit from association with more selective journals in their respective publishing houses. In return, the revenue from the mega-journals can help subsidise their higher-rejection-rate counterparts. It remains to be seen whether the number and size of mega-journals will continue to increase, or whether they will be a stepping stone to more innovative forms of scholarly communication that will further reshape research publishing.