About the project

‘Mega-journals’ represent a radical and (potentially disruptive) departure from traditional journal publishing. Understanding their significance and the role they play in the publishing market and research community is therefore important. This project aimed to analyse the characteristics of open-access mega-journals and evaluate their significance both within and beyond the academic research community.

What distinguishes mega-journals from other open-access journals is their innovative approach to scope and quality. Their scope is unprecedentedly wide: PLOS ONE and Scientific Reports, the two largest mega-journals, publish articles across the entire fields of science and medicine. Their approach to quality is based on an assessment of ‘technical soundness’, ignoring traditionally-valued criteria such as ‘importance’ and ‘interest’. Crucially, these are addressed after publication through sophisticated machine-generated metrics on article use and citation. Thus mega-journals completely reverse the trend of increasing specialisation in scholarly publishing over the last 40 years by creating massive openly-available databases of multi-disciplinary research content.

The potential influence of mega-journals on scholarship itself is also significant. They ostensibly deemphasise the role of ‘gatekeepers’ such as academic editors, editorial board members and peer reviewers who traditionally act as arbiters of disciplinary ‘importance’ and community ‘interest’. Mega-journals also, it has been claimed, have the potential to enhance the ability of scholarly publications to move across boundaries – disciplinary boundaries and also those between academia and the rest of society. Finally, they seem to contribute to an increasing trend of metrics-driven assessment of research.

These issues were investogated using both quantitative and qualitative methods working with publishers, academics, librarians, policymakers and other key stakeholders.

The project ran from November 2015 to December 2017 and was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Open-access mega-journals and the future of scholarly communication