Megajournals and how to spot them in the wild

The first megajournal, PLOS One, launched in 2006.  Since then, the presence of megajournals in the Open Access (OA) landscape is growing, and it’s increasingly important to know how megajournals differ from traditional journals:

  • when considering a paper for publication, peer-reviewers consider only whether it is technically sound, whereas traditional peer-review also has requirements for novelty, importance, or interest to a particular community
  • megajournals accept papers from a broad range of subjects (look out for “full spectrum”, “all areas”, “multidisciplinary”)
  • many megajournals’ funding model is to charge fees for publication – article processing charges (APCs) – and they typically charge lower APCs than traditional (hybrid) journals (average APC for full OA journal £1,354 compared with £1,882 for hybrid – Jisc data from 2014-15)

These factors lower the bar for publication and may make these journals more attractive places for researchers to publish.  You can imagine the types of arguments that ensue about whether this sets the bar too low, or helps researchers with less funding to get published; and whether the different requirements at the peer review stage allow megajournals to be flooded with poorer-quality/lower-value articles or whether it breaks the stranglehold of academic hierarchies on what counts as valid research…

If megajournals don’t limit the number of articles in each issue, there is also the potential conflict of interest arising from money to be made from every article accepted for publication.  Traditional journals usually have a limit, which (hopefully) means their APC income generated from each issue published is constant, and papers submitted are judged purely on their own merits (but what happens if the supply of high-quality papers is greater than the journal can publish?).

Some things to consider:

  • The platform (or publisher’s name) has long been considered a proxy for the quality of the research it publishes.  To what extent is this still the case?
  • How are new publications to prove their worth?  To what extent are predatory publishing practices found?
  • How are we to assess the trustworthiness of a journal?  The reputation of the peer reviewers is often the best guide, and this requires good knowledge of the field and the people involved.  This is where discussions with academics in each department are essential in establishing the value of a megajournal to a given subject area.

Think.Check.Submit. is a campaign to help researchers identify trusted journals for their research – it’s a checklist researchers can use to assess the credentials of a journal or publisher.  It has some useful questions to use as a starting point for discussions with academics about judging journal quality.

Further reading

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