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A new open access journal, PeerJ, offers medical researchers and life scientists a publishing platform where they pay only once for what is effectively a lifetime publishing pass.

The pass comes in the form of a journal membership, so you can access others’ articles. The most basic plan, for one article a year, is $99 if you pay before you’re published. The article still undergoes peer review before it can be accepted. Members also have to commit to doing at least one peer review per year (which could be an informal comment on an already published paper.) The first 12 authors of an article need to be members, yet this means that the price of publishing just one article—$1,548 for 12 authors if membership is done after submission—is substantially cheaper than the several thousand dollars it would cost under a conventional open-access publishing model such as PLoS ONE. (In fact, co-founder and publisher Peter Binfield ran PLoS ONE before starting PeerJ).

Unlike most literary contributions, scientific publishing is often a “pay to play” system where authors are expected to (ostensibly) help offset publishing costs. This has led to a series of controversies over the past several years, as profit margins of academic journals can be an almost 40 percent margin, much higher than in other content distribution platforms (Amazon is less than 1 percent, for example), yet large journal publishers like Elsevier have been increasing the cost of subscribing for academic institutions.

Some online-only journals like PLoS ONE have gone against this model by offering articles free-for-all, but as a result the authors need to shoulder more of the production costs.

PeerJ is yet another way that the academic publishing model, like its scientific content, is experimenting with new ways of funding the distribution of academic content on the Internet.

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