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Threats and Opportunities of Mega Journals

Threats and Opportunities of Mega Journals

  • Reading time:4 mins read

What is the impact of large journals that regularly publish thousands of articles per year? Does it have any impact on the overall quality of research being published? Does it help advance the availability and publication of research?

Journals that regularly publish thousands of articles are termed mega journals. Mega journals can be characterised by the following features:
  • peer-reviewed open access journals that charge article processing fees
  • broad interdisciplinary scope
  • selection of scientific soundness, rather than prioritising novelty/originality
  • publish more than 2,000 full articles in a calendar year

Two large, well-known examples that you are very likely to have read articles from are PLoS One and Scientific Reports.

Mega journals have a unique role in the academic publishing landscape. They have high acceptance rates and don’t rely on solely publishing novel results like some of the more renowned, traditional journals. This is particularly important for the publishing of negative results which is a critical element of the scientific process. PLOS has a blog post that highlights their reasoning for encouraging researchers to publish their negative and null results.

Mega journals also fill an important role in being open-access with relatively low publishing fees. It is now a common requirement for funders to specify that the research be published in free to read publications. Last year the White House announced that, by the end of 2025, tax-payer funded work must be made freely available to the public once the final peer-review manuscript is published.

However, there are concerns that mega journals may lead to the demise of prestigious journals. This can be attributed to their advertised rapid peer review, and ability to publish more articles. Mega journals utilise a large number of reviewers, which places a strain on the already limited number of reviewers available for other journals. An increase in publications also results in more income for these mega journals, potentially reducing profit margins for traditional journals.

Even before the rise of mega journals, the publishing stability for medical journals can change markedly over time, with only 23% of journals retaining the same name since their publication in 1959. This highlights the already transient nature of the publishing landscape. It could be argued that the demise of these traditional journals is only an issue if it leads to an increase in poorly conducted research. To date, there are no studies decisively stating that the peer-review process of mega-journals is any different to that of traditional journals. Anecdotally, more recently two of the largest traditional journals had to retract high profile COVID-19 studies. Demonstrating that sub-par studies also affect large, traditional journals as well as mega journals.

Mega journals are also characterised by their broad scope, which can offer both negative and drawbacks to the research scientist. Publishing in a journal with a broad scope can result in your research being hidden as it will not be targeted to those in your field. They will likely be looking at journals that are specific to your field to keep up with the latest developments as it is quite time consuming to search all the relevant literature. Conversely, if your research is interdisciplinary it may be rejected from specialised journals that are quite niche. This may mean a journal with a broad scope would be more appropriate to submit to.

Mega journals are an established part of the current-day publishing landscape. It is likely that they will continue to have an important role. They offer opportunities that help improve the speed of discovery through rapid-peer review and immediate open-access on publication. Any decision to publish in a mega journal will need to weigh the positive and negative aspects to make sure it is the right fit for your publication and organisation.

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