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The environmental community will embrace open access

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The New Journal of Physics was an early example of a traditional publisher launching an open-access journal. Tim Smith of Institute of Physics Publishing (IOPP) is the journal's publisher.

How has the journal developed?

TS: New Journal of Physics (NJP) was started in 1998 by IOPP and Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft, the German physical society. Its prime aim was to offer the widest possible dissemination of peer-reviewed research for the benefit of the whole physics community.

NJP had an initially slow start. However in 2001 the co-owning societies increased their investments and the journal began to see rapid growth in both article submissions and readership. We expect to publish more than 300 papers in 2006.

What attracts authors to the journal?

TS: There is increasing pressure for researchers to publish in journals with prestige. We believe that the quality assurance offered by NJP as a result of the journal's article requirements and refereeing procedure (around 70 per cent of regular submissions are rejected) is proving attractive to authors.

Another aspect is that the journal is visible to the whole planet. Over 40,000 articles are downloaded each month and on average an NJP paper will be fully downloaded more than 700 times within one year of publication. This level of visibility is very high when compared to other subscription journals published by IOPP.

This visibility has also translated to citations, indicated by NJP's latest Impact Factor (2004) of 3.095 (9th highest in the ISI-defined category of 'physics, multidisciplinary' journals). The fact that this figure has increased every year to date has been particularly encouraging in view of the rapid growth in the journal size over the last four years.

Does it make money?

TS: The financial picture is improving year on year but the co-owning societies are still subsidising it (albeit to a diminishing degree each year). Improved financial performance has come as a result of annual increases to the article publication charge (currently £600 per articles) coupled with growth in both the number of published articles and the proportion of articles that are paid for (currently 85 per cent).

NJP's co-owners are able to subsidise a limited number of articles for which authors can genuinely not afford the publication fee. Clearly however, for the journal to become self-sustainable, journal operating costs must be recovered in full by the publishing model. Maximising the number of articles for which payment is received is therefore a particular challenge for NJP and open-access titles in general.

Centralised funding agreements are one way forward. For the last three years NJP has benefited from a JISC grant that has enabled all UK-university affiliated researchers to publish in the journal without charge. The Max Planck Society has also agreed to pay the charge for all articles that its researchers submit to NJP before the end of 2008. We hope that the journal can be self-sustaining within the next five years.

Is IOPP doing anything else under an open-access model?

TS: In 2004 we launched Journal of Physics: Conference Series, an open-access physics conference proceedings journal. Unlike NJP, there is no individual article publication charge. Instead, conference organisers pay an agreed fee to the journal for their proceedings to be open-access. At the end of this year we will also launch Environmental Research Letters, a title aimed at serving the whole environmental science community, which will operate an article publication charge model.

Take-up of open access is very subject-specific. We think that the public interest element will mean that the environmental community will embrace the open-access model as the medical community has done.

Other IOPP initiatives aimed at opening access to our journals content include IOPSelect, a selected collection of particularly novel papers from across all our journals that remain free to read for 12 months; and This Month's Papers where articles from most of our subscription journals are made free for 30 days. The defining feature for our three open-access titles is that their entire content is permanently free to read from the moment of publication.

The question as to whether open access is a sustainable model across the journals publishing industry is still open. IOPP's stance is that while the debate goes on it is important to offer authors the choice of publishing with an open-access journal in addition to our traditional subscription titles.