Thursday, June 21, 2012

The PeerJ Disruption


The Open Access movement is not ambitious enough. That is the implicit message of the PeerJ announcement.

PeerJ distills a journal to what it really is: a social network. For a relatively small lifetime membership fee ($99 to $249 depending on the level an author chooses), authors get access to the social network, whose mission it is to disseminate and archive scholarly work. The concept is brilliant. It cuts through the clutter. Anyone who has ever published a paper understands it immediately. It makes sense.

The idea seems valid, but how can they execute it with membership fees that are so  low? When I see this level of price discrepancy between a new and an old product, I recall the words of the Victorian-era critic John Ruskin:

“It is unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money — that’s all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought is incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do.”
“There is hardly anything in the world which someone can’t make a little worse and sell a little cheaper — and people who consider price alone are this man’s lawful prey.”

On the other hand, we lived through fifty years of one disruptive idea after another proving John Ruskin wrong. Does the PeerJ team have a disruptive idea up their sleeve to make a quality product possible at the price level they propose?

In one announcement, the PeerJ founders state that “publication fees of zero were the thing we should ultimately aim for”. They hint at how they plan to publish the scholarly literature at virtually no cost:

“As a result, PeerJ plans to introduce additional products and services down the line, all of which will be aligned with the goals of the community that we serve. We will be introducing new and innovative B2B revenue streams as well as exploring the possibility of optional author or reader services working in conjunction with the community.”

In the age of Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Google Plus etc., we all know there is value in the social network and in services built on top of content. The question is whether PeerJ has found the key to unlocking that value in the case of the persnickety academic social network.

For now, all we have to go on is the PeerJ team's credibility, which they have in abundance. For an introduction to the team and insight on how it might all work, read Bora Zivkovic's blog. Clearly, this team understands scholarly publishing and have successfully executed business plans. The benefit of the doubt goes to them. I can't wait to see the results.

I wish them great success.

PS: Peter Murray-Rust just posted a blog enthusiastically supporting the PeerJ concept.