I am adding The Public Library of Science (PLoS) to the Fifty Content Companies that Matter. PLoS is a not-for-profit, open source publishing company whose aim is to make scientific and medical literature available to the public.
For those without a background in the STM market, there have long been competing interests in this space. Journal publishers Elsevier, Wolters Kluwer and others, along with content aggregators including Ovid, Dialog and ProQuest, have built substantial businesses in the aggregation and dissemination of scientific literature. At the same time, consumers of this content (those in the medical, life science and health research fields) can only access that content in the costly journals to which they subscribe. Add to the mix the fact that much of the scientific research is funded with grants based upon taxpayer dollars, and you have an ongoing conflict between content authors, publishers, aggregators and end-users.
Enter the Public Library of Science. Launched in 2003, the PLoS has begun publishing journals (PLoS Biology, PLoS Medicine, PLoS Computational Biology and PLoS Genetics), which have received critical acclaim throughout their industry, while making all such content freely available for use by anyone with web access. The PLoS model was based upon a similar initiative begun a few years earlier by UK publisher BioMed Central.
Funding for the Public Library of Science comes from the authors in a pay-to-submit model, but that has been offset by grant programs from a few key institutions, such as the Howard Hughes Medical Center and the National Institutes of Health, which cover publication costs in their research grants.
While I am not convinced that the author pays model will succeed (after all, most submissions are not accepted, so I question how long people will pay to submit something that is ultimately rejected), the open source publishing model makes some sense in the scientific markets.
Unlike the business market where users can make intelligent decisions based upon a small sampling of the data (for example, a fundamental analyst can subscribe to a single earnings forecast database), the scientific community is much more effective when they can access all relevant content. A researcher studying protein pathways wants to know whether anyone has done research on the relationships between given proteins, regardless of which journal the information may have been published in. During my time in the text mining market, there was tremendous interest from life sciences companies in “mining Medline”. Unfortunately, the Medline database only provides abstracts, which do not provide the level of detail needed to uncover truly valuable information. In order to mine full text, the user would need access to all of the underlying content, spanning millions of documents from hundreds or thousands of journals from dozens of publishers.
Whether the Public Library of Science succeeds in the long run I cannot forecast. But in the short time since their launch, the PLoS have forced many STM publishers and aggregators to rethink their model and embrace concepts which they would not have considered a few years earlier. For that, the Public Library of Science is clearly one of the 50 Content Companies that Matter.