In the publishing industry, the topic of “Open Access publishing” is one that is fraught with plenty of discussion.

So why all the talk?  On the one hand, there’s concern that being published by an open access publisher won’t carry the same prestige as being published by a more established publisher which isn't open access.  Open Access publishing, however, might be seen as an easier way to get one’s research out into the world.

On the other hand, larger, more established publishers might see open access as a threat, as librarians might choose to forgo a journal subscription if material on a certain subject exists on an Open Access platform.  Then again, they might see open access publishers as no threat at all, as they might not see as much quality control on a site that allows anyone to publish.

In any case, Open Access publishers face the issue of economic sustainability – as does any company - since they are free to the public to read. A recent development appeared in the news recently and is generating a lot of buzz. PeerJ, one of the latest OA ventures, introduced a $99 “lifetime” membership, which also requires users to submit one review of a paper every 12 months.  However, if a member does not write a review in those 12 months, the membership will lapse, and the user will have to pay the $99 again.  While this business model is very unique, we can see the potential problems with a one-time fee set-up.  Take this theoretical scenario: PeerJ takes off as an incredibly popular open access publisher, researchers flock to join, and PeerJ is inundated with thousands of “lifetime” membership fees.  PeerJ would be doing really well in those first few months.  If there are only a few, scattered new members in the future, however, and no one allows their membership to lapse, PeerJ will face some difficult decisions.

Another potential problem also has to do with the lifetime membership, and Phil Davis of The Scholarly Kitchen addresses it in his article, “Is PeerJ Membership Publishing Sustainable?” If all a user has to do is review another’s paper once a year to keep their “lifetime” membership, the quality of those reviews might not be of the highest standard.

Open Access is definitely a very active model at the moment, and it will be interesting to see how initiatives such as PeerJ will affect the publishing industry.