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AAAS Launches Open-Access Journal

Joining a herd of other scientific societies, today AAAS (publisher of ScienceInsider) announced that it will launch the organization’s first online, fully open-access journal early next year. The new journal, called Science Advances, will give authors another outlet for papers that they are willing to pay to make immediately free to the public.

The move marks a shift for AAAS, which has long been a target of complaints from some advocates of open-access publishing. They argue that the nonprofit organization, best known as the publisher of the high-profile subscription journal Science, has been slow to embrace open access, and over the past decade opposed certain proposals to require journals to make government-funded research papers immediately available for free. AAAS and other publishers have generally argued that such policies would imperil a business model that has served the scientific community well for more than a century.

In recent years, however, the conflict has reached something of a resolution. Science and many other subscription journals have adopted a policy of making research papers freely available after 12 months; at the same time, many publishers have launched scores of new open-access journals, which charge authors a fee. For instance, the publishers of Nature, another high-profile subscription title that is considered Science’s main competition, in 2011 launched Scientific Reports, an open-access title.

Given that backdrop, AAAS’s entry into open access is not a surprise, says Martin Frank, executive director of the American Physiological Society in Bethesda, Maryland. “Many publishers are coming to the realization that there is a movement towards open access. You either have to join them or fight them,” he says. “People are saying, ‘OK, you want an open-access journal, we’ll give you an open-access journal.’ ”

Even if AAAS is late to the party, one open-access advocate calls the new journal “great news. We want to see the publishing industry transformed. … [AAAS] taking this step really does underscore to people who have doubts that open access is the way the community wants to proceed,” says Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition.

Harvard University open-access leader Peter Suber says that the journal will benefit open access “by bringing one more highly regarded publisher to the set of publishers invested in making [open access] succeed, and benefit research by removing access barriers to a large body of high-quality research.”

One question Joseph and Suber have, however, is what the new journal’s licensing policy will be—whether authors will retain full copyright to their papers. AAAS spokeswoman Ginger Pinholster says the journal plans to use a version of the so-called Creative Commons license, which generally allows for free use, but hasn’t decided whether to allow commercial reuse (as open-access advocates prefer).

Like Science, the new journal will span all scientific disciplines, from social sciences to biology to engineering. To cover publishing costs, Science Advances will charge a per-paper fee expected to be within the range of what other open-access journals charge, typically about $1200 to $5000. Within 5 years, the journal aims to ramp up to publishing a few thousand papers annually, and be breaking even on the balance sheet.

Papers submitted to Science or its sister journals, Science Translational Medicine and Science Signaling, that are rejected can be automatically considered for Science Advances without more reviews. (Science each year publishes just 800 to 900, or about 6%, of some 14,000 submissions.) Science Advances will also accept new submissions.

In an editorial, Science Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt and AAAS Chief Executive Officer Alan Leshner wrote that Science and AAAS’s other journals have been forced to turn away many high-quality papers, without providing an alternative publication venue. The new journal will “help meet this need,” they wrote.

Open access can be a successful business model, Frank notes. He points to the Public Library of Science’s PLOS ONE, which publishes papers that pass a quality check regardless of their significance. With more than 30,000 papers per year and author’s fee of $1350 per paper, the journal now brings in $40 million a year.