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Science Journal Produces a Different Kind of Viral Video

The world’s first peer-reviewed video journal gives scientists a better way to show others how to replicate experiments.

If a photo is worth a thousand words, imagine the understanding that can be captured from 10 minutes at 30 frames per second. A scientific journal dedicated to video—a medium seldom seen in peer-reviewed publications—is finding out.

JoVE’s beginnings: Moshe Pritsker, CEO and cofounder of JoVE.

Increasingly, scientists include short video clips when they submit their manuscripts to a journal. But the Journal of Visualized Experiments—JoVE for short—is an online journal where video is the main medium rather than a supplement.

Each JoVE article consists of a short video segment that visually documents the required steps for performing an experiment. The video is supplemented by several paragraphs of peer-reviewed text. JoVE has developed a following in the life sciences, where being able to reproduce the results of an experiment in a timely fashion is a critical component to becoming a successful researcher.

This process can takes months and cost thousands of dollars. The experiments are exacting and must be done sequentially. A researcher who makes a mistake at one stage has to start all over again. As a result, researchers find it extremely helpful to see an experiment’s details in a video rather than reading about them in text form.

The written supplements to the videos still pass through conventional peer and editorial review. Then an in-house JoVE video production team collaborates with the scientists to create a script that details the necessary steps to re-create the researchers’ laboratory techniques. A global network of freelance videographers then films the researchers in their labs.

The resulting footage combines a physical demonstration with scripted commentary on mistakes to avoid and the experiment’s potential applications. The raw footage is trimmed to about 10 minutes. Sometimes it includes animation and graphics that show the angle at which a certain instrument should be held, for example. Despite the added complexity and logistics of dealing with video, the publishing process takes only several months, which is relatively short for academia.

Some videos are free without a subscription, but due to the high cost of video production, JoVE relies on the traditional business model of academic journals—institutional subscriptions and author publication fees—to generate revenue. JoVE cofounder and CEO Moshe Pritsker is quick to point out that unlike many video sites, including YouTube, JoVE is profitable.

JoVE is arguably as popular in the scientific community as YouTube is to the Internet masses. Three hundred academic institutions currently hold subscriptions. The top-viewed video, “Generating iPS Cells from MEFS through Forced Expression of Sox-2, Oct-4, c-Myc, and Klf4,” has over 100,000 views. JoVE has published over 1,700 video articles, and according to Pritsker, it receives over 250,000 unique monthly visitors.

The idea for JoVE originated when Pritsker was a Princeton graduate student in molecular biology and needed to replicate a procedure to culture embryonic stem cells. He tried following the text-based description in a peer-reviewed paper, but was unsuccessful despite repeated attempts. “It’s a big source of frustration and waste of money and time, because instead of doing your science, you spend your time trying to reproduce something which was done already.”

The alternatives at the time were scant: get someone else to show you, or keep trying on your own and hope for a breakthrough. In Pritsker’s case, his lab at Princeton paid for him to take a two-week trip to the lab where the original work was performed, in Edinburgh, Scotland—an option many labs don’t have, he says. “How many laboratories in the world went through the same trouble, but they could not travel, they did not have this opportunity to go there?”

The point of publishing an experimental procedure in a peer-reviewed journal, says Pritsker, is so that other scientists can re-create it for their own purposes. But the conventional way of transferring what Pritsker calls the “how-to” components of experiments is so inefficient that the experiments are often irreproducible.

JoVE, which bills itself as “the first scientific video journal,” was his solution. In five and a half years, JoVE has grown from three to over 40 employees at its headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Its revenues have grown from $3 million in 2010 to $5 million in 2011. JoVE publishes 50 videos per month, and is on track to increase to 60 by the end of 2012. The site now has six categories; its latest, applied physics, marks JoVE’s entrance into engineering.

In an era when it is increasingly hard to make money through media, JoVE’s profitability is notable. After $1.7 million in angel funding, JoVE has not raised money from outside investors. The company broke even in 2009.

Despite the threat of competition—the New England Journal of Medicine’s clinical medicine videos being one example—Pritsker says he hopes the scientific video movement keeps growing. Eventually, he suggests, video may displace text for methods-based articles in journals such as Nature Protocols, Current Protocols, or Biotechnique, which specialize in experimental techniques.

The original version of this story incorrectly reported that JoVE receives over 10,000 unique monthly visitors. JoVe currently has over 250,000 unique visits per month.

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