By Chris Wickham
LONDON (Reuters) - The genteel but lucrative world of academic publishing is being stirred up by a dispute over who pays for and who profits from scientific research funded largely by taxpayers.
Scientists' careers are made, and broken, by the quality and volume of articles describing new discoveries that they publish in top journals like Nature, Science and Cell.
And it's big business, with the market in academic journals worth about $8 billion a year globally, according to analyst estimates.
A new low-cost scientific journal unveiled on Tuesday with an unusual business model will add to the pressure on publishers like Reed Elsevier and Axel Springer and stoke the debate over free access to research.
The founders of the new journal, called PeerJ, come with a pedigree. Peter Binfield previously worked for PLoS One, the most successful part of the not-for-profit Public Library of Science, which has pioneered open access to scientific papers, and Jason Hoyt comes from the research database group Mendeley.
It is backed by venture capitalist Tim O'Reilly and will publish research in biological and medical sciences using a revenue model based on a one-off payment ranging from $99 to $259 for lifetime membership per researcher, rather than payment per paper or subscription by readers.
DEBATE AND BOYCOTT
Supporters of so-called 'open access' publishing, including about 12,000 researchers who have joined a boycott of the world's biggest academic publisher Elsevier, argue the subscription publishers are profiteering.
Open access players charge the researcher but access is free and unrestricted upon publication.
Research published in top journals sits behind a pay wall. But their content is provided largely for free by scientists and peer-reviewed by unpaid academics, with the journals then sold to those same academics via their university libraries for thousands of dollars per year.