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

A key project within the Digital Societies research group.


Open-access ‘mega-journals’ are an emerging publishing trend which has the potential to reshape the way researchers share their findings, remoulding the academic publishing market and radically changing the nature and reach of scholarship.

Some people have claimed that they represent the future of scholarly communication. This project, which ran from November 2015 to December 2017, investigated the role of mega-journals in the academic community and beyond is a collaboration between University of Sheffield and Loughborough University.

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 Nature Scientific Reports, two major 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 discussed using both quantitative and qualitative methods working with publishers, academics, librarians, policymakers and other key stakeholders.

Research team:

  • Professor Stephen Pinfield, Information School, University of Sheffield (Principal Investigator)

  • Claire Creaser, School of Business and Economics and Director of LISU, Loughborough University (Co-Investigator)

  • Dr Jenny Fry, School of English and Drama, Loughborough University (Co-Investigator)

  • Professor Peter Willett, Information School, University of Sheffield (Co-Investigator)

  • Valerie Spezi, School of Business and Economics, Loughborough University (Research Associate)

  • Dr Simon Wakeling, Information School, University of Sheffield (Research Associate)

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

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