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Contemporary Concepts in Publishing

Does Bigger Mean Better? A Brief Look at Megajournals


Nathan Boutin, Associate Editor

May 2022

There have always been barriers in scholarly publishing. The primary one is exclusivity—traditional publishing models, which historically printed physical copies and operated on subscriptions, only have so much space within their pages. Much research, then, cannot be published. However, in the last several decades, open access publishing and the near-infinite storage of the Internet have opened up a premium publishing space to a much wider audience. In turn, this has broadened the scope of publishable material.

Enter the so-called “megajournals,” which aim to publish an extensive amount of research by going online only and fully open access. The first widely known journal to adopt the megajournal philosophy was PLOS ONE in 2006, with another large journal called Scientific Reports launching in 2011. Other reputable mega journals include IEEE Access and BMJ Open. Today, scholarly articles from all fields are frequently accepted and published by megajournals.

What is a megajournal?

Megajournals have the following characteristics:

1) A large publishing volume
2) Broad subject scope
3) Open access articles
4) Publish based on scientific soundness

The first on this list is relatively self-explanatory, putting the “mega” in megajournals. The statistics do not lie, either. PLOS ONE recently released its numbers for its 15th anniversary, and it is easy to see that these types of journals earn their title with over 250,000 articles (nearly 1400 per month!) published in under two decades.

The second point also comes with the territory. In order for more papers to be accepted, including niche research interests and less-cited works, the journal has to expand its scope. For example, a traditional journal might focus on only cardiovascular health or biological macromolecules. Megajournals go much bigger. PeerJ, for instance, covers all research in the biological and medical sciences. The PeerJ megajournal has also launched splinter journals for computer science and chemistry. Indeed, these scopes are much more ambitious, but such is expected from a megajournal.

The other two characteristics come with a little baggage. Open access, while allowing authors to show their work without a paywall, draws some ire for its article processing charges. Instead of charging the reader, the publisher charges the authors (or the institution submitting the work) to keep the paper available to all. While there are ways to minimize publishing costs for open access articles, the costs can mount for scientists without the necessary financial backing. The last on the list means that megajournals tend to review articles for their scientific merit only. That is, the reviewers disregard if the topic is of exclusive interest to a wide readership and how important the results of the study may be considered. This is beneficial because it gives scientists in relatively unknown fields, or those with less novel results, a chance to get their work out there. Additionally, it opens the avenue for a wider variety of work such as protocol papers and literature reviews.

While megajournals are making waves in the industry, there can be a stigma around publishing in them. Their general nature and higher-than-average acceptance rates can make them seem less prestigious or academic, even if they are solid impact factor journals with robust reputations. Getting published in a traditional journal is less common, and rarity increases perceived value. Megajournals, too, have given some ideas to predatory journals, publishers that feature exorbitant prices with the promise of open access publishing but do little on the editorial side to weed out junk science. These journals have existed since before the heyday of the megajournal, but this model has the potential to be exploited.

Should I publish in a megajournal?

Today, a great deal of research is published in megajournals. There is nothing right or wrong about choosing this option. When it comes to open access, check out some factors to consider for your next research paper—this will make it much easier to decide which type of journal is right for you.

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