Re: PLoS Biology

From: Peter Suber <>
Date: Sat, 4 Jan 2003 17:39:12 +0000

At 10:25 AM 1/4/2003 -0500, Jim Till wrote:
>One of the two new peer-reviewed open-access journals that the Public
>Library of Science (PLoS) plans to launch has the working title "PLoS
>Biology"; see <>.
>This journal "will compete head-to-head with the leading existing
>publications in biology..."
>It's also noted, at:
>"Since 1999, the London-based publisher BioMed Central has published a
>diverse group of peer-reviewed, open-access biomedical research
>journals, and offered publication services to scientific groups and
>societies who wish to launch new open-access publications. They are a
>strong ally of PLoS".
>But, one of BMC's top-level new journals is the Journal of Biology, edited
>by Martin Raff <>: "Journal of Biology, an
>international journal publishing biological research articles of
>exceptional interest and importance, published by BioMed Central".
>Can anyone explain to me why the Journal of Biology and PLoS Biology
>won't be in "head-to-head competition"?

I don't speak for PLoS or BMC. But both support the principles of open
access, which is the primary reason why they support one another. This
fact should not prevent them from launching open-access journals that cover
the same scientific fields. If it did, then all open-access initiatives
would have to coordinate carefully in order to prevent overlap, and in this
way constrain their own freedom of inquiry and publication.

We know that scientific journals are not fungible. If they were, then
libraries would immediately retain the free ones and drop the priced
ones. But if they are not fungible, then that qualifies the sense in which
two open-access journals in the same scientific field are in "head-to-head
competition". They might compete for submissions, but once they publish
the submissions they receive and accept, then they complement one another.

Moreover, within limits journal overlap and competition are good for
science and research. Unless their common niche is so small that all the
worthy work could fit into a smaller number of journals, then they permit
more good science to see the light of day. They enable individual journals
to fail, or to shift their focus, their methodological orientation, their
size, period, or editorial standards, their copyright and embargo policies,
without leaving voids uncovered by other journals. Competition can also
stimulate journal innovations that eventually spread to other
journals. (Open-access is itself one of these innovations.)

Biology is a very large field that can surely support (at least) two
open-access journals. But if it can't, then PLoS and BMC will soon
discover that. Even in that case, the loss will only affect PLoS or BMC,
not the open-access movement.

Overlap and competition haven't endangered the subscription-fee business
model, and I don't see why it should endanger the open-access business model.

Peter Suber, Professor of Philosophy
Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, 47374

Editor, Free Online Scholarship Newsletter
Editor, FOS News blog
Received on Sat Jan 04 2003 - 17:39:12 GMT

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