10 years of Malaria Journal: how did Open Access change publication patterns?
© Hommel; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2010
Received: 11 October 2010
Accepted: 14 October 2010
Published: 14 October 2010
Fifteen years ago, most publications were paper-based, accessible only by subscription - be it a personal or a library subscription. By the late 1990s, this 'traditional' mode of access to scientific literature was about to change dramatically, as the result of a combination of events: the improvement of personal computer hardware (with computers becoming faster and cheaper every year), public access to internet and the world-wide web, online publishing and, most of all, the will of the scientific community to make research more easily available. This has led to the development of Open Access (OA). This revolution in publishing has given developing countries an opportunity to have access to the latest scientific literature, by-passing the need for libraries, which they could not afford.
Once 'traditional' publishers had started to produce their journals in an online format, it became possible to consider making them available free-of-charge or at low-cost to readers outside the industrialized world: this was first achieved in 2000, through the HINARI Initiative, a partnership between the World Health Organization and a number of publishers. It was a step in the right direction, but was far from providing the desired unlimited access.
In 1997, the U.S. National Library of Medicine made MEDLINE, the most comprehensive index to medical literature, freely available online in the form of PubMed: as a result, the usage of this database increased 100-fold overnight. Since access to research abstracts alone is insufficient, this quickly led to the recognition of the need for an open online repository of full articles, which was realized as PubMedCentral. Once this was in place, Vitek Tracz, the chairman of a UK-based publishing company, was able to launch BioMed Central in 2000. BioMed Central which is now part of the Springer Group, publishes 206 peer-reviewed Open Access journals, including Malaria Journal, started in 2002, and Parasite & Vectors, started in 2008. The fact that articles in BioMed Central journals are immediately backed-up in the PubMed Central repository provides them with a long-term security other online journals may not provide.
The Open Access concept really gained momentum when funding agencies in many countries, including the Wellcome Trust, the Department of Health and the Medical Research Council in the UK, made it a requirement in 2006 for the research they had financed to become freely available in open access, not later than six months after its publication. This has forced many 'traditional' non-OA journals to make articles available in limited open access, after an embargo period of 6-12 months or longer. The alternative to publishing in a journal that provides immediate OA to all of its articles on the publisher's website (such as BioMed Central's journals), is for the author to 'self-archive' in a repository (for example, in an institutional repository or in PubMed Central).
The creation of the Public Library of Science (PLoS) in 2001, initially as an organization to advocate Open Access publication, led to the creation of a number of PLoS journals initially aimed firmly at the 'high quality end' of the scientific spectrum. The launch of these new journals, together with the wide range of OA journals started a few years earlier by BioMed Central, has changed the scientific publication scene forever.
How did Open Access affect the publication of malaria research ?
The success of the open access movement has led to the launch of many more specialist journals over the past three years, including PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, Parasites & Vectors, Journal of Infection in Developing Countries, all in disciplines of interest to the scientific community working on malaria. Furthermore, Hindawi has announced the forthcoming launch of Malaria Research & Treatment, whilst the MalariaWorld Newsletter has announced the project of a MalariaWorld Journal. In terms of improving the dissemination of information to the widest possible audience, this diversity of journals can only be a good thing. It also provides authors with a choice to best fit their needs.
Why do authors choose to publish in one journal rather than another ? An author's ideal choice would deliver fast publication, in a journal that has a broad coverage and a good exposure to colleagues in their discipline, whilst also conveying 'prestige' (often taken as synonymous with having as high an impact factor as possible), and in a journal that is free-of-charge. No journal does, of course, have all these features, but on the whole, open access journals are doing better than traditional journals on most of these although availability of sufficient funding to cover open access publication fees (article processing charges, APC) remains a concern for many authors. It is notable that the 'big 10' - the journals usually considered to convey the most 'prestige' (see Figure 2) - published only 4.4% of the total number of malaria papers in 2009.
Impact of Open Access on Developing Countries
BioMed Central in general, and Malaria Journal in particular, are making a special effort to attract articles from authors in the developing world. It is often said of Open Access journals that their APCs are very high and would make it impossible for authors from the developing world to publish in them. In reality, BioMed Central is waiving APCs for authors from the poorest countries (based on a World Bank list), if they request it. In 2009, of the 315 articles published in Malaria Journal, 81 had an African scientist as first author and a further 47 had African scientists as one of the authors.
The main thrust of the journal is the publication of peer-reviewed Research papers (87% of papers in 2009), but it also contains Case reports, Methodology papers, Reviews, Opinion and Commentaries. The journal produced a series of supplements, including one on 'The research agenda for global malaria elimination', one on the drug 'Coartem' and one on 'Development of the sterile insect technique for African malaria vectors'; a supplement on 'Natural products for anti-malarial drug development' is in preparation. The journal also offers the possibility of thematic series, which bring together in one section of the journal a number of papers on the same topic; one such series on 'Malaria elimination', guest-edited by M. Tanner, was started early in 2010.
This year, the Malaria Journal and BioMed Central are organizing a three-day Conference on 'Parasite to Prevention', with the abstracts of the presentations and posters presented at the conference to be published in Malaria Journal. This is an appropriate way of marking the coming of age of the journal and be able to give some thoughts for its future.
An Editorial to mark to 10th year of Malaria Journal could not have been written without acknowledging the work of so many colleagues who have so generously given of their time to peer-review the manuscripts submitted to the journal: their comments have helped to transforms manuscripts into quality papers, and the journal could not have worked without them.
This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.