Somewhere along the way, the business of academic journals got stupidly misaligned with their raison d’être.
If they exist to spread credible, peer-reviewed research, it seems counterintuitive that access to that information be restricted to the universities and libraries that can afford to subscribe to them. (Harvard spends almost $4 million a year on them, to give you an idea on price.) Meanwhile, doctors debate whether to pay $45 to access a study that may be helpful to them. Important, tax-funded research gets thrown behind a paywall.
“People are literally dying without this information,” says Jason Hoyt, co-founder of PeerJ.
PeerJ is a new publisher of Open Access peer-reviewed journals, focused first on biomedical research, and then expanding to other categories of academic research. The company launches today with a seed round worth $950,000 from O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures (OATV) and O’Reilly Media. Tim O’Reilly will join the company’s board and play a crucial role in helping PeerJ obtain quality research to publish in its first edition.
PeerJ, based in San Francisco and London, chose O’Reilly for obvious reasons: He’s a vocal advocate of data for the public good, and he’s got connections in publishing.
The biggest problem PeerJ faces is that researchers don’t want to publish in Open Access journals, because they don’t carry the cache of expensive scientific journals published by Elsevier. PeerJ hopes to change that. “More than 90 percent of all academic research is inaccessible to everybody and costs libraries and universities millions of dollars every year,” Hoyt says.
It’s important that PeerJ’s first edition attract top scientists who are not afraid to publish in an Open Access forum. Hoyt’s co-founder Peter Binfield started one of the world’s largest Open Access academic journals, PLoS ONE. That, along with O’Reilly’s involvement, will help attract them, Hoyt says. PeerJ will first publish in December, charging authors $99 for a basic membership. After the author pays, the vetted, peer-reviewed research is free to download.
The idea of the free spreading of information is catching on — companies like Boundless in Boston are tapping free sources of information like Wikipedia, government sources, and creative commons-licensed material to make free textbook equivalents for college students. Skillshare is allowing anyone to become a teacher and, well, share their skills.
Hoyt cites Peter Thiel’s notion of solving real problems over making another social media app (We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.) as inspiration.
Even though PeerJ is based in London, the company targeted the US for its first round of investment. Hoyt says early stage funding in London is increasing — a relatively new trend — but the perception of funding from a Silicon Valley firm gives any company an edge. That perception and the regulatory hurdles for funding in the UK are beginning to change, Hoyt says, and finding engineering talent in London is much easier without having to compete against Google and Facebook.