The 3 dangers of publishing in “megajournals”–and how you can avoid them

You like the idea of “megajournals”–online-only, open access journals that cover many subjects and publish content based only on whether it is scientifically sound. You get that PLOS ONE, PeerJ and others offer a path to a more efficient, faster, more open scholarly publishing world.

But you’re not publishing there.

Because you’ve heard rumors that they’re not peer reviewed, or that they’re “peer-review lite” journals. You’re concerned they’re journals of last resort, article dumping grounds. You’re worried your co-authors will balk, that your work won’t be read, or that your CV will look bad.

Well, you’re not the only one. And it’s true: although they’ve got great potential for science as a whole, megajournals (which include PLOS ONE as well as BMJ Open, SAGE Open, Scientific Reports, Open Biology, PeerJ, and SpringerPlus) carry some potential career liabilities.

But they don’t have to. With a little savvy, publishing in megajournals can actually boost your career, at the same time as you support a great new trend in science communication. So here are the biggest dangers of megajournal publishing–and the tips that let you not have to worry about them:

1. My co-authors won’t want to publish in megajournals

Sometimes wanting to publish somewhere yourself isn’t enough–you’ve got to convince skeptical co-authors (or advisors!). Luckily, there’s a lot of data about megajournals’ advantages for you to share with the skeptics. And the easiest way to convince a group of scientists of anything is to show them the data.

Megajournals publish prestigious science

Megajournals aren’t for losers: top scientists, including Nobelists,  publish there. They also serve as their editors and advisory board members. So, let your co-authors know: you’ll be in great company if you publish in a megajournal.

Megajournals boost citation and readership impact

Megajournals can get you more readers because they’re Open Access. A 2008 BMJ study showed that “full text downloads were 89% higher, PDF downloads 42% higher, and unique visitors 23% higher for open access articles than for subscription access articles.” These findings have been confirmed for other disciplines, as well. Open Access journals can also get you more citations, as numerous studies have shown.

Megajournals promote real-world use

With more readers comes more applications in the real world–another important form of impact. The most famous example is of Jack Andraka, a teenager who devised a test for pancreatic cancer using information found in Open Access medical literature. Every day, articles about diet and public health in Malawi, how to more efficiently monitor animal species in the face of rapid climate change, and other life-changing applied science is shared in Open Access megajournals.

Megajournals publish fast

If the readership and citation numbers don’t appeal to your co-authors, what about super fast publication times? Megajournals often publish more quickly than other journals. PLOS ONE has a median time-to-publication of around six months; PeerJ’s median time to first decision is 24 days; time to final acceptance is a mere 51 days. Why? Rather than having to prove to your reviewers the significance of your findings, you just have to prove that the underlying science is sound. That leaves you with more time to do other research.

Megajournals save money

Megajournals also often cheaper to publish in, due to economies of scale. Which means that while the Journal of Physical Therapy requires you to pay $4030 for an article, PLOS ONE can get you 29x the article influence for a third of the price. PeerJ claims that their even cheaper prices–$299 flat rate for as many articles as you want to publish, ever–have saved academia over $1 million to date.

2. No one in my field will find out about it

You’ve convinced your co-authors–megajournals are faster, cheaper, and publish great research by renowned scientists. Now, how do you get others in your field to read an article in a journal they’ve never heard of?

Getting your colleagues to read your article is as easy as posting it in places where they go to read. You can start before you publish by posting a preprint to Figshare, or a disciplinary pre-print server like ArXiv or PeerJ Preprints, in order to whet your colleagues’ appetite. Make sure to use good keywords to make it findable–particularly since today, a growing percentage of articles are found via Google Scholar and PubMed searches instead of encountered in journals.

Once your paper has been more formally published in your megajournal of choice, you can leverage the social media interest you’ve already gained to share the final product. Twitter’s a great way to get attention, especially if you use hashtags your colleagues follow. So is posting to disciplinary listserves. A blog post sharing the “story behind the paper” and summarizing your findings can be powerful, too. Together, these can be all it takes to get your article noticed.

Microbiologist Jonathan Eisen is a great example. He promoted his article upon publication with great success, provoking over 80 tweets and 17 comments on a blog post describing his PLOS ONE paper, “Stalking the Fourth Domain in Metagenomic Data”. The article itself has received ~47,000 views, 300 Mendeley readers, 23 comments, 35 Google Scholar citations, and hundreds of social media mentions to date, thanks in part to Eisen’s savvy self-promotion.

3. My CV will look like I couldn’t publish in “good” journals

It’s a sad fact that reviewers for tenure and promotion often judge the quality of articles by the journal of publication when skimming CVs. Most megajournal titles won’t ring any bells (yet) for those sorts of reviewers.

So, it’s your job to demonstrate the impact of your article. Luckily, that’s easier than you might think. Today, we don’t have to rely on the journal brand name as an impact proxy–we can look at the impact of the article itself, using article-level metrics.

One of the most compelling article-level stats is good ol’-fashioned citations. You can find these via Google Scholar, Scopus, or Web of Science, all of which have their pros and cons. Another great one is article downloads, which many megajournals report: even if your article is too new to be cited yet, you can show it’s making an impact with readers.

To demonstrate broader and more immediate impacts, also highlight your diverse audiences and the ways they engage with your research. Social media platforms leave footprints on the web. These ”altmetrics” can be captured and aggregated at the article level:

scholarly audience

public audience


faculty of 1000 recommendation

popular press mentions


traditional  citation

wikipedia citations


scholarly blog coverage

blogs, twitter mentions


mendeley and citeulike bookmarks

delicious bookmarks


pdf views

html views

There are many places to collect this information; rounding it all up can be a pain. Luckily, many megajournals will compile these metrics for you: PLOS has developed its own article level metrics suite (seen below); Nature Scientific Reports and many other publishers use’s informative article-level metrics reports.

Article-level metrics for PLOS ONE

Article-level metrics on Eisen’s 2011 PLOS ONE article

If your megajournal doesn’t offer metrics, or you would like to compile metrics for all your megajournal articles in one place, you can pull everything together with an Impactstory profile instead.

And just like that, you’re turning megajournals into valuable assets for both science and your career:  you’ve convinced your co-authors, done some savvy social media promotion to get your discipline’s attention, and turned your megajournal article from a CV liability to a CV victory through the smart use of article-level metrics.  Congratulations!

Have you found success by publishing in megajournals? Got other megajournal publishing tips to offer? Share your story in the comments section below!


13 thoughts on “The 3 dangers of publishing in “megajournals”–and how you can avoid them

  1. I do absolutely agree with this summary of advantages for “megajournals”. Having been working for more than a decade at some major international journal publishers I felt that the traditional system does no longer represent the demand of many researchers for more transparency and open access to their work. Transparency means: open access to reviewers’ comments, becoming part of a academic debate with peers, receiving immediately feedback from colleagues, and of course an open access to your work without any restrictions or obscure copyright statements or paywalls. This is the reason why I founded ScienceOpen.

  2. Open access publications in mega journals are also signicantly more likely to be read (beyond abstract) in our research aggregator ‘Read by QxMD’.

    While many of our users are able to access full text of paywalled content via institutional subscriptions, we recognize paywalls as a significant barrier to knowledge dissemination on a global scale.

    Daniel Schwartz, MD
    Medical Director, QxMD

  3. Your list is good, but overlooks the most common objection I hear to publishing in these journals:

    Publication fee.

    I’ve heard many, many faculty who balk as soon as they see a publication fee: e.g.,

    They don’t know about PeerJ at all, let alone its pricing scheme. They don’t know that PLOS ONE will grant fee waivers.

    My sample is skewed, because I’m at a place where few faculty have research grants, and there isn’t a pool of money to pay publication fees. But I’ve heard this from a lot of other colleagues at different universities of all stripes at conferences and so on.

    • Of course a lot of subscription journals also charge “page charges” or publication fees, so it’s not just Open Access journals.

      F1000Research uses a tiered system for APCs based on length of paper and amount of data included, so some are only $250. There are also discounts for low-income countries, for people who have been a reviewer in the past year (50% off!), or for articles that are part of a larger Article Collection. I usually explain the prices as “never more than $1000″*, and even that is still less than some journals’ publication fees!

      *Although that assumes the paper does not have more than 1GB of associated data. Like I said, lots of variables in cost.

  4. I agree about publication fee being an issue: it feels quite high for what you get (though I do still publish in OA journals, as they do have significant value; I don’t want what’s below to be taken as an indictment of OA as a model, just an explanation of why many faculty do a double take when they hear the fees).

    Based on PLOS’ 2012 Form 990 (, it got $32.6M in author fees (waiving an additional $3.8M) and had $27.4M in expenses; when combined with investment returns, advertising, and such (less than $1.7M in additional revenue), its assets went from $8.7M at the end of 2011 to $15.9M at the end of 2012. Good for them, but this means that for a $2900 article, about 16% ($466) pays for the net revenue growth in that year not already achieved with investments and ads. The CEO gets compensation of $470K/year, 1.7% of PLOS expenses, so every $2900 article includes $49.79 for his services; the total compensation of the top eight people (CEO, CFO, director of marketing, etc.; I exclude the medicine editorial director, as she doesn’t relate to all articles) is 6.3% of expenses, so $184.69 per article for their services. Reviewers donate their time, I imagine associate editors do as well, so this expertise is free, and the cost of hosting a single page per article and its associated PDF can’t be that high (arXiv does it for ~$7 per article).

    It’s important to properly compensate people for their work and skills, so I’m not saying that salaries should be lower, but I do balk at, say, paying $466 for a single article to increase PLOS’ cash reserves, especially when so much of the provided expertise is free (reviewers) or cheap and scalable (hosting). I could instead publish in an OA Green society journal, have an article go fully open a year after publication (often with immediate self-archiving), and put that $466 towards a grad student (not to mention the remaining $2434). And note that these charges are for a well-run, transparent, nonprofit organization like PLOS: for-profit, opaque OA journals can have even higher fees, though they often launch journals with low introductory fees (hopefully PeerJ rates will stay low, for example, but there’s no guarantee that this will happen).

    For science and society as a whole, OA is definitely an improvement: just think of relatives trying to learn about a disease but finding the relevant articles are paywalled. The public pays for science and deserves to see it. However, when a grad student is very lucky to get a $13K DDIG, paying around a quarter of that for a single publication seems like quite a hit for the benefit. It’s just hard to get past the sticker shock (though I do note that PLOS reduces author charges on average 12% (3.8/32.6)). I still do publish in OA journals (more readership, fast publication, etc. are all real benefits), but I completely understand why the fee is an issue.

    There seems to be an open niche for something with the cost efficient structure of arXiv but with a layer of free (but organized) peer review on top.

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