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Nature Communications Q&A

16 November 2009 One Comment

A few weeks ago I wrote a post looking at the announcement of Nature Communications, a new journal from Nature Publishing Group that will be online only and have an open access option. Grace Baynes, fromthe  NPG communications team kindly offered to get some of the questions raised in that piece answered and I am presenting my questions and the answers from NPG here in their complete form. I will leave any thoughts and comments on the answers for another post. There has also been more information from NPG available at the journal website since my original post, some of which is also dealt with below. Below this point, aside from formatting I have left the response in its original form.

Q: What is the motivation behind Nature Communications? Where did the impetus to develop this new journal come from?

NPG has always looked to ensure it is serving the scientific community and providing services which address researchers changing needs. The motivation behind Nature Communications is to provide authors with more choice; both in terms of where they publish, and what access model they want for their papers.At present NPG does not provide a rapid publishing opportunity for authors with high-quality specialist work within the Nature branded titles. The launch of Nature Communications aims to address that editorial need. Further, Nature Communications provides authors with a publication choice for high quality work, which may not have the reach or breadth of work published in Nature and the Nature research journals, or which may not have a home within the existing suite of Nature branded journals. At the same time authors and readers have begun to embrace online only titles – hence we decided to launch Nature Communications as a digital-first journal in order to provide a rapid publication forum which embraces the use of keyword searching and personalisation. Developments in publishing technology, including keyword archiving and personalization options for readers, make a broad scope, online-only journal like Nature Communications truly useful for researchers.

Over the past few years there has also been increasing support by funders for open access, including commitments to cover the costs of open access publication. Therefore, we decided to provide an open access option within Nature Communications for authors who wish to make their articles open access.

Q: What opportunities does NPG see from Open Access? What are the most important threats?

Opportunities: Funder policies shifting towards supporting gold open access, and making funds available to cover the costs of open access APCs. These developments are creating a market for journals that offer an open access option.Threats: That the level of APCs that funders will be prepared to pay will be too low to be sustainable for journals with high quality editorial and high rejection rates.

Q: Would you characterise the Open Access aspects of NC as a central part of the journal strategy

Yes. We see the launch of Nature Communications as a strategic development.Nature Communications will provide a rapid publication venue for authors with high quality work which will be of interest to specialists in their fields. The title will also allow authors to adhere to funding agency requirements by making their papers freely available at point of publication if they wish to do so.

or as an experiment that is made possible by choosing to develop a Nature branded online only journal?

NPG doesn’t view Nature Communications as experimental. We’ve been offering open access options on a number of NPG journals in recent years, and monitoring take-up on these journals. We’ve also been watching developments in the wider industry.

Q: What would you give as the definition of Open Access within NPG?

It’s not really NPG’s focus to define open access. We’re just trying to offer choice to authors and their funders.

Q: NPG has a number of “Open Access” offerings that provide articles free to the user as well as specific articles within Nature itself under a Creative Commons Non-commercial Share-alike licence with the option to authors to add a “no derivative works” clause. Can you explain the rationale behind this choice of licence?

Again, it’s about providing authors with choice within a framework of commercial viability.On all our journals with an open access option, authors can choose between the Creative Commons Attribu­tion Noncommercial Share Alike 3.0 Unported Licence and the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-commer­cial-No Derivs 3.0 Unported Licence.The only instance where authors are not given a choice at present are genome sequences articles published in Nature and other Nature branded titles, which are published under Creative Commons Attribu­tion Noncommercial Share Alike 3.0 Unported Licence. No APC is charged for these articles, as NPG considers making these freely available an important service to the research community.

Q: Does NPG recover significant income by charging for access or use of these articles for commercial purposes? What are the costs (if any) of enforcing the non-commercial terms of licences? Does NPG actively seek to enforce those terms?

We’re not trying to prevent derivative works or reuse for academic research purposes (as evidenced by our recent announcement that NPG author manuscripts would be included in UK PMC’s open access subset).What we are trying to keep a cap on is illegal e-prints and reprints where companies may be using our brands or our content to their benefit. Yes we do enforce these terms, and we have commercial licensing and reprints services available.

Q: What will the licence be for NC?

Authors who wish to take for the open access option can choose either the Creative Commons Attribu­tion Noncommercial Share Alike 3.0 Unported Licence or the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-commer­cial-No Derivs 3.0 Unported Licence.Subscription access articles will be published under NPG’s standard License to Publish.

Q: Would you accept that a CC-BY-NC(ND) licence does not qualify as Open Access under the terms of the Budapest and Bethesda Declarations because it limits the fields and types of re-use?

Yes, we do accept that. But we believe that we are offering authors and their funders the choices they require.Our licensing terms enable authors to comply with, or exceed, the public access mandates of all major funders.

Q: The title “Nature Communications” implies rapid publication. The figure of 28 days from submission to publication has been mentioned as a minimum. Do you have a target maximum or indicative average time in mind?

We are aiming to publish manuscripts within 28 days of acceptance, contrary to an earlier report which was in error. In addition, Nature Communications will have a streamlined peer review system which limits presubmission enquiries, appeals and the number of rounds of review – all of which will speed up the decision making process on submitted manuscripts.

Q: In the press release an external editorial board is described. This is unusual for a Nature branded journal. Can you describe the makeup and selection of this editorial board in more detail?

In deciding whether to peer review manuscripts, editors may, on occasion, seek advice from a member of the Editorial Advisory Panel. However, the final decision rests entirely with the in-house editorial team. This is unusual for a Nature-branded journal, but in fact, Nature Communications is simply formalising a well-established system in place at other Nature journals.The Editorial Advisory Panel will be announced shortly and will consist of recognized experts from all areas of science. Their collective expertise will support the editorial team in ensuring that every field is represented in the journal.

Q: Peer review is central to the Nature brand, but rapid publication will require streamlining somewhere in the production pipeline. Can you describe the peer review process that will be used at NC?

The peer review process will be as rigorous as any Nature branded title – Nature Communications will only publish papers that represent a convincing piece of work. Instead, the journal will achieve efficiencies by discouraging presubmission enquiries, capping the number of rounds of review, and limiting appeals on decisions. This will enable the editors to make fast decisions at every step in the process.

Q: What changes to your normal process will you implement to speed up production?

The production process will involve a streamlined manuscript tracking system and maximise the use of metadata to ensure manuscripts move swiftly through the production process. All manuscripts will undergo rigorous editorial checks before acceptance in order to identify, and eliminate, hurdles for the production process. Alongside using both internal and external production staff we will work to ensure all manuscripts are published within 28days of acceptance – however some manuscripts may well take longer due to unforeseen circumstances. We also hope the majority of papers will take less!

Q: What volume of papers do you aim to publish each year in NC?

As Nature Communications is an online only title the journal is not limited by page-budget. As long as we are seeing good quality manuscripts suitable for publication following peer review we will continue to expand. We aim to launch publishing 10 manuscripts per month and would be happy remaining with 10-20 published manuscripts per month but would equally be pleased to see the title expand as long as manuscripts were of suitable quality.

Q: The Scientist article says there would be an 11 page limit. Can you explain the reasoning behind a page limit on an online only journal?

Articles submitted to Nature Communications can be up to 10 pages in length. Any journal, online or not, will consider setting limits to the ‘printed paper’ size (in PDF format) primarily for the benefit of the reader. Setting a limit encourages authors to edit their text accurately and succinctly to maximise impact and readability.

Q: The press release description of pap
ers for NC sounds very similar to papers found in the other “Nature Baby” journals, such as Nature Physics, Chemistry, Biotechnology, Methods etc. Can you describe what would be distinctive about a paper to make it appropriate for NC? Is there a concern that it will compete with other Nature titles?

Nature Communications will publish research of very high quality, but where the scientific reach and public interest is perhaps not that required for publication in Nature and the Nature research journals. We expect the articles published in Nature Communications to be of interest and importance to specialists in their fields. This scope of Nature Communications also includes areas like high-energy physics, astronomy, palaeontology and developmental biology, that aren’t represented by a dedicated Nature research journal.

Q: To be a commercial net gain NC must publish papers that would otherwise have not appeared in other Nature journals. Clearly NPG receives many such papers that are not published but is it not that case that these papers are, at least as NPG measures them, by definition not of the highest quality? How can you publish more while retaining the bar at its present level?

Nature journals have very high rejection rates, in many cases well over 90% of what is submitted. A proportion of these articles are very high quality research and of importance for a specialist audience, but lack the scientific reach and public interest associated with high impact journals like Nature and the Nature research journals. The best of these manuscripts could find a home in Nature Communications. In addition, we expect to attract new authors to Nature Communications, who perhaps have never submitted to the Nature family of journals, but are looking for a high quality journal with rapid publication, a wide readership and an open access option.

Q: What do you expect the headline subscription fee for NC to be? Can you give an approximate idea of what an average academic library might pay to subscribe over and above their current NPG subscription?

We haven’t set prices for subscription access for Nature Communications yet, because we want them to base them on the number of manuscripts the journal may potentially publish and the proportion of open access content. This will ensure the site licence price is based on absolute numbers of manuscripts available through subscription access. We’ll announce these in 2010, well before readers or librarians will be asked to pay for content.

Q: Do personal subscriptions figure significantly in your financial plan for the journal?

No, there will be no personal subscriptions for Nature Communications. Nature Communications will publish no news or other ‘front half content’, and we expect many of the articles to be available to individuals via the open access option or an institutional site license. If researchers require access to a subscribed-access article that is not available through their institution or via the open-access option, they have the option of buying the article through traditional pay-per-view and docu­ment-delivery options. For a journal with such a broad scope, we expect individuals will want to pick and choose the articles they pay for.

Q: What do you expect author charges to be for articles licensed for free re-use?

$5,000 (The Americas)€3,570 (Europe)¥637,350 (Japan)£3,035 (UK and Rest of World)Manuscripts accepted before April 2010 will receive a 20% discount off the quoted APC.

Q: Does this figure cover the expected costs of article production?

This is a flat fee with no additional production charges (such as page or colour figure charges). The article processing charges have been set to cover our costs, including article production.

Q: The press release states that subscription costs will be adjusted to reflect the take up of the author-pays option. Can you commit to a mechanistic adjustment to subscription charges based on the percentage of author-pays articles?

We are working towards a clear pricing principle for Nature Communications, using input from NESLi and others. Because the amount of subscription content may vary substantially from year to year, an entirely mechanistic approach may not give libraries the ability to they need to forecast with confidence.

Q: Does the strategic plan for the journal include targets for take-up of the author-pays option? If so can you disclose what those are?

We have modelled Nature Communications as an entirely subscription access journal, a totally open access journal, and continuing the hybrid model on an ongoing basis. The business model works at all these levels.

Q: If the author-pays option is a success at NC will NPG consider opening up such options on other journals?

We already have open access options on more than 10 journals, and we have recently announced the launch in 2010 of a completely open access journal, Cell Death & Disease. In addition, we publish the successful open access journal Molecular Systems Biology, in association with the European Molecular Biology OrganizationWe’re open to new and evolving business models where it is sustainable.The rejection rates on Nature and the Nature research journals are so high that we expect the APC for these journals would be substantially higher than that for Nature Communications.

Q: Do you expect NC to make a profit? If so over what timeframe?

As with all new launches we would expect Nature Communications to be financially viable during a reasonable timeframe following launch.

Q: In five years time what are the possible outcomes that would be seen at NPG as the journal being a success? What might a failure look like?

We would like to see Nature Communications publish high quality manuscripts covering all of the natural sciences and work to serve the research community. The rationale for launching this title is to ensure NPG continues to serve the community with new publishing opportunities.A successful outcome would be a journal with an excellent reputation for quality and service, a good impact factor, a substantial archive of published papers that span the entire editorial scope and significant market share.