Research Article: Why PLoS Became a Publisher

Date Published: October 13, 2003

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Patrick O Brown, Michael B Eisen, Harold E Varmus

Abstract: Public Library of Science has grown from a grassroots movement to a nonprofit publisher, in order to catalyze change towards open-access publishing of the scientific literature.

Partial Text: Communication among scientists has undergone a revolution in the last decade, with the movement of scientific publication to a digital medium and the emergence of the Internet as the primary means for distributing information. Millions of articles are, in principle, just a mouse click away from our computers. For many of us, PDFs have replaced printed journals as the primary form in which we read about the work of our colleagues.

PLoS Biology, and every PLoS journal to follow, will be an open-access publication–everything we publish will immediately be freely available to anyone, anywhere, to download, print, distribute, read, and use without charge or other restrictions, as long as proper attribution of authorship is maintained. Our open-access journals will retain all of the qualities we value in scientific journals—high standards of quality and integrity, rigorous and fair peer-review, expert editorial oversight, high production standards, a distinctive identity, and independence. Although most readers will be satisfied with the free and unrestricted use of the online edition (including the right to print their own copies), a printed edition of PLoS Biology will be made available, for the cost of printing and distribution, to readers who prefer the convenience and browseability of the traditional paper format. And the full contents of every issue will immediately be placed in the National Library of Medicine’s public online archive, PubMed Central, guaranteeing their permanent preservation and free accessibility.

The benefits of open access are incontestable. The questions and concerns that remain focus on finances. As everyone acknowledges, publishing a scientific journal costs money—the more rigorous the peer review, the more efficient and expert the editorial oversight, the more added features and the higher the production standards, the greater the cost to publishers. Most journals today depend on subscriptions and site-licensing fees for most of their revenue. Since these access tolls are incompatible with open access, how will newly formed open-access journals pay their bills, and how will the traditional journals that have served the scientific community for many years survive in an open-access world?

In recent months, we have witnessed a remarkable surge of awareness and support for open-access publication, both within the scientific community and in the public at large, exemplified by recent newspaper articles and editorials supporting PLoS and open access; by the recent introduction of the Public Access to Science Act in the United States Congress; by the Bethesda Workshop on Open Access; and by public statements of support from organizations as diverse as the NIH Council of Public Representatives, the Association of Research Libraries, and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Achieving universal open access will require action from funding agencies and institutions.



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