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Public library set to turn publisher as boycott looms

Declan Butler
European correspondent, Nature
Access all areas: Michael Eisen says he wants a 'positive option' for online science publishing.


The Public Library of Science (PLS), a grass-roots initiative that has called for a boycott of scientific publishers, says that it is considering publishing journals itself.

Announced only three weeks before the boycott is due to begin, this is the next step in the library's campaign to promote free access to literature.

More than 25,000 scientists signed the PLS open letter, in which they pledged to stop buying, publishing in, or reviewing for any journal that refuses to place its research papers in free online archives six months after publication.

Michael Eisen, a geneticist at the University of California, Berkeley, and one of the leaders of the PLS initiative, says that one of the main goals of the campaign was to stimulate publishers into experimenting with business models other than the traditional 'reader pays' arrangement.

But most publishers seem uninterested, says Eisen, and the PLS has therefore "somewhat reluctantly" concluded that it will probably need to create its own publishing system, to show the economic viability of alternatives and to provide the scientists who have supported its campaign with a place to publish that provides free access.

For the moment, the PLS has few detailed plans about how it would put such a scheme into practice, but says that it has discussed the idea with many of the signatories of the open letter with a view to soliciting reviewers. Under its initial proposals for the scheme, all journals would be published online only, with page charges and institutional charges covering the estimated cost of US$200–500 per manuscript.

With the September boycott deadline looming, the PLS is under pressure to maintain the movement's momentum. "A boycott is a negative thing. People have careers and need to publish; we want those who have supported the initiative to have a positive option supporting a new publishing venture," Eisen says.

The PLS does not expect that signatories will adhere to the boycott pledge to the letter. "People didn't sign to be dogmatic, but they share a goal and will back these up with reasonable action," says Eisen.

Although running close to its deadline, the PLS is open to discussing ways of moving forwards, Eisen adds. "A slight delay of a month or two in the boycott would be okay; any longer and we will lose the momentum."