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Knowledgespeak Exclusive - An interview with Ms Deborah Kahn, Publishing Director, BioMed Central - 30 Jul 2009

Q

BioMed Central was acquired by Springer in October 2008. Briefly talk about this partnership and the resultant synergies? Has there been any change in the journal publishing costs as a result of this acquisition? With Springer initiating the move, do you think other publishing giants will also look for OA acquisitions?

A

The acquisition has gone very smoothly. Whilst we remain an autonomous operating unit, Springerís global market presence is providing us with some exciting opportunities to expand our activities. We now have the potential for some interesting partnerships with Springer units on a number of fronts, most notably in Asian markets through collaborations with other Springer units on book publishing and other projects. BioMed Central can also now benefit from Springerís global operational infrastructure and we have relocated to join the other Springer UK companies in lovely new offices near Kingís Cross in London.

BioMed Central will continue to provide open access to all research - this was a key condition of the sale and there have been no changes, nor are there plans to change, BioMed Centralís Article Processing Charges as a result of the acquisition.

Although I can only speculate on what the strategies of the other publishing giants are with regards to Open Access acquisitions, I would say that open access is certainly a growing part of the STM market and an exciting business to be in at the moment.


Q

How does BioMed Central ensure long-term sustainability of its open access journals while staying profitable? Can you briefly discuss your business model?

A

In BioMed Central's business model, the costs of publishing are covered by an 'Article Processing Charge' or APC, payable for every article accepted for publication. Long term sustainability is therefore achieved by continuing to attract more and better papers, and by processing them efficiently. So we continue to concentrate on providing an excellent service to authors, editors and referees and to continue to enhance the technical editorial tools which support them.


Q

Peer review is considered essential to preserving scientific credibility and weeding out bad science. Can you briefly describe BioMed Centralís policy with regard to peer review? How do you review the soundness of the papers received for publication in BioMed Central journals? What is the percentage of papers that get accepted for publication based on this review.

A

Our peer review processes are similar to most other high quality scientific journals. All of our journals are members of COPE (the Committee for Publication Ethics) and all of our journals have an Editor-in-Chief and an Editorial Board who oversee the peer review. Papers are reviewed by at least two referees and the majority of published papers are revised by authors before acceptance. Overall about 50% of the 2500 papers we receive per month are eventually published in one of our 200 journals, although the percentage accepted obviously varies between journals. Our highest impact journals, for example Journal of Biology and Genome Biology, have extremely high thresholds for acceptance.

If articles submitted to these journals do not fall within their thresholds, we are able to offer the authors the option to transfer to another of our journals in the same field, without necessarily having to go through the whole process of resubmission and rereview again. This saves the authors time and inconvenience, and puts less pressure on already pushed referees. One of the major challenges that face scientific publishers across the board is the growth in the number of articles published, and therefore the load on the already pushed academics who perform the peer review. Various efforts such as the Neuroscience Peer Review Consortium, some medical journals granting Continuing Medical Education credits for peer review, and experiments such as those within our own journals Journal of Biology and Biology Direct which have experimented with different models of peer review whilst maintaining stringent levels of quality, are looking at ways of dealing with the problem. However, I believe that this is something that the scientific community and STM publishers will need to address in the near future.


Q

Thomson Reuters recently released the 2008 Journal Citation Report. Please comment on BioMed Centralís journal performances. Do you take any specific steps to ensure that BioMed Central's titles score high on impact factors?

A

We concentrate on high quality peer review to ensure that the articles we publish are high quality and scientifically sound. This is the main factor which influences impact factors. We were delighted with the performance of our journals in the recent JCR. 59 of BioMed Centralís journals now have Impact Factors, and most of them are in the upper half of the rankings for their category. We are particularly pleased that the top two ranked journals in the Tropical Medicine category are now open access journals, including our own Malaria Journal. We were also delighted with the first impact factors for Neural Development (3.45) and for BMC Systems Biology (3.71), both of which launched less than three years ago, and by the performance of our cancer journals Breast Cancer Research and Molecular Cancer both of which now have Impact Factors of over 5. Additionally, the fact that the Impact Factor of the society journal Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica has increased threefold since it has been publishing in partnership with us is a great example of how we can add value for our society partners.


Q

Your company recently teamed up with Laurier University to launch an institutional repository. Briefly talk about Laurier IR and BioMed Centralís ĎOpen Repositoryí systemí on which the repository is built? Any new products or services that you plan to launch in the near term?

A

As a pioneer of open access publishing, BioMed Central encourages authors to deposit their articles in institutional repositories. Despite the software costs involved in building a repository being relatively low there are many additional issues, such as staffing and upgrade costs, that make running an in-house repository solution both a costly and time consuming activity. We recognised this, and launched a hosted repository solution - Open Repository - in 2004. This is an OAI compliant service based on the latest DSpace software.

Open Repository and Wilfrid Laurier University worked together to launch Laurier IR, an institutional repository that provides a visible point of open access archiving of intellectual output for all members of the University's community. Laurier IR will significantly increase access to the Universityís scholarly information and also highlight the talent of the University's researchers and students.

BioMed Central is currently organising its first conference - Frontiers of Retrovirology - to be held in Montpellier, France, 21-23 September 2009 (www.frontiersofretrovirology.com). We're really excited about this event, and judging by the number of registrants it will be a huge success!


Q

A recent study by James Evans of the University of Chicago found that having research published in open access journals and other free sources may not lead to more exposure and citations. Your comments please. Do you believe that having a research paper available free of charge can increase the number of times it will be used by other researchers?

A

I think that for an article to be cited it needs to be relevant, high quality and accessible. Citations are only one measure of visibility. Our authors can also see how often their article has been accessed or downloaded and the top viewed articles on our site have been accessed many thousands of times. There is an ongoing debate about whether the fact that a research article is published under an open access model increases citations or not, with papers published ďprovingĒ both sides. There are many factors which lead to the citation of an article, so a study to prove whether one factor improves citations without controlling for other factors is problematic. My view is that it certainly cannot do any harm to a paperís citations to be openly available for all who need it, or to put it another way, if scientists cannot access an article, they will not cite it, so it does seem logical that more people are likely to access an open access article than one behind a subscription barrier.


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