Richard Akerman
Faculty of 1000: Interview with Richard Grant -
I clicked on some friendfeed link yesterday which was a F1000 review and was surprised that I couldn't access the commentary (no subscription). Then I thought, "why do I care?" Something about a subscription-based service providing expert reviews of other closed-access articles just seems so untenable to me. It may have sounded like a good idea 10 years ago? Sort of like bundling sub-prime mortgages did. - Steve Koch
Liking for Steve's comment. - Mr. Gunn
@steve I think BMC deserves a lot of credit for F1000. For all the talk in this room of post publication review they're the only people actually doing it on a large scale with vetted and accountable experts. As they're producing something of value I don't see a problem with paying for it though that's not to say somebody couldn't / shouldn't come along and produce a better system for free... - Euan
@Euan -- I completely agree they or anyone has the right to try to have a subscription-based service like that. I was just so surprised when I found out it was so. And I'll be much more surprised if it works. I would think Open Access with advertising would be much more profitable. BTW: Is it permitted to have advertising on OA articles? - Steve Koch
Steve, it depends on the license. A NC license like CC-BY-NC will sometimes prevent downstream addition of ads to aggregations, for instance -- but there's nothing in any license I know of to prevent the copyright holder themselves from putting ads on their stuff. - Bill Hooker
I actually think the F1000 model is the one "for subscription" model of value. Let's assume all publication is free, but some folks, say F1000 provide commentary or select papers, essentially acting as a filter. You don't have to read it, but that has value and I might pay for that expert filter. - Deepak Singh
As Euan says, I think F1000 is the only solid post-pub review in existence, which is potentially very valuable. If they only had RSS feeds (they may be visible to subscribers, but I haven't seen any) I'd even think the service worth paying for -- although probably not 150 quid for a personal sub, which requires special arrangements even to get it. I can't find any public details of the price of institutional subs. - Bill Hooker
Bill agreed. Some form of feed and extract would be good. And a different pricing scheme would be ideal especially since they could subsidize with advertising - Deepak Singh
That's a good point - more compliance with the Open Access policy would dramatically increase the value of the F1000 offering. - Mr. Gunn
I think that F1000 is providing a valuable service, and something that costs money to produce. And I see a good case for a business model where the basic info is free but you pay for the recommendations. But there could be different ways you pay for the service (e.g institutional subscription, personal subscription, advertising). I would be interested to see if pay per recommendation (obviously for a very small fee) would work. - Martin Fenner
I think the problem with the concept is that you have to trust the selection of experts. It is still a big improvement over faceless pre-publication referees in my view, but there will still be blind spots, based on both the selection process and the people involved (e.g. "small angle scattering" picks up two important papers in the area but misses many crucial and more recent ones in the area). I think rpg has some interesting ideas on how to fill the gaps though so I am keen to see how it evolves. - Cameron Neylon
Cameron- post publication review is completely different from pre-publication review, in that the Post PR articles already have been peer reviewed and filtered. See Biology Direct for a model of the kind of review you are advocating. It's a brave experiment (also BMC). I think it confounds two issues to compare them directly. - Maxine
Another comment: both here and in many other online forums, I so often see this blithe assumption that advertising (or sponsorship) is a viable business model - anyone got any hard examples of that working? :-) Facebook anyone? Where are all these coffer-rich companies wanting to take out ads on online sites with a lot less traffic than FB (and other large-traffic sites). - Maxine
Maxine - I take your point, but I've just trawled through F1000 and haven't actually found an explicit statement that it is restricted to peer reviewed papers (it probably is in there somewhere I'll accept and I couldn't immediately find any references to preprint papers). But the point I wanted to make was that F1000 is more transparent about who is doing reviewing but not about how they are selected necessarily. There's an assumption that we recognise the names and are therefore happy. - Cameron Neylon
Thanks, Cameron - my comment was not about f1000 in particular - I had thought it was a service assessing published (peer-reviewed) articles but have not looked at it for some time so could be wrong - and because I haven't looked at it for ages I wouldn't want to join in a discussion about its particular features/principles. I do not know how many members of this group are aware of the distinction between post- and pre-publication peer review, so wanted to clarify, independently of the F1000 discussion. - Maxine
That's fair enough. On advertising the obvious examples are big hitting sites (Google, BoingBoing, a few others) but I think there is some profit in turning the question around. Why haven't advertising sellers been able to translate from print to online? More flexibility, more eyes, more ability to measure what people actually do as a result. I still believe there is huge potential for targeted advertising to research consumers but no-one has cracked how to present it and how to sell it. High value products, highly specific target audience, and an audience that actually wants the information...this should be a no brainer surely? - Cameron Neylon
I like the idea of 'expert member ranking' and 'summary reports', but it looks just like a typical editorial process with little social support, e.g. allowing users to comment on reports or articles for enriching information. - joergkurtwegner
@Maxine: I must be missing something, what have BMC to do with "brave experiments"? Or did you just mean what they are doing with Biology Direct? - Bill Hooker
Yes, I wrote that Biology Direct is a brave experiment, Bill. Here is the quote from my comment: "See Biology Direct for a model of the kind of review you are advocating. It's a brave experiment (also BMC)." - Maxine
Cameron - I am sure that plenty of organisations have been trying to fund their products/business via online advertising. But do we know of any that are actually achieving it (in the scientific sphere)? It is simple to write "advertising will pay for it" but is that the reality? No I would suggest - and again, no for the kind of sustained advertising that would be needed to support a business model. - Maxine
No need to be snotty, Maxine. I can read, and I can scan back up a comment thread. It's not in the least clear from what you wrote whether your "brave experiment" remark was aimed *only* at Biology Direct, hence my question. - Bill Hooker
@cameron back of the envelope calculations: $25 CPM (v. generous, assuming ads would be highly targeted: usual CPM is < $5). 250k pageviews per month (being generous), selling 2/3rds of banner slot inventory (again, v. generous ;)) = $3,750 a month = ~ $45k a year before tax, server costs, sales commission to agents for finding people willing to pay $25 CPM, etc. not to mention salaries for staff to find the reviewers and keep the site running. Works for Boing Boing because their traffic is immense. - Euan
This is why newspapers are going bust. ;) Everybody hates paywalls but ads don't cover the cost of generating the content, forget making a profit. Where you've got the potential to target niche audiences switching to a cost per click would help but science ad buyers lag behind everybody else.... so CPM is still the norm in science publishing. - Euan
Maxine - I'm not aware of anyone in science making significant money from online advertising. Chatting with some of the better-known bloggers, all complain that the quality of the ads they do get from the major platforms (e.g., AdSense) is terrible - they end up with ads for "Quantum healing" crystals, rather than diode lasers. This suggests that there's a business opportunity to build a much better advertising platform for the sciences. As regards whether online ads work, well, Google had IIRC 16 billion in revenue in 2007, nearly all from ads. - Michael Nielsen
... put another way, until there's a high-quality advertising platform for science, it's unlikely that many businesses will support themselves this way. Of course, it's possible that even with such a platform, it just won't pay. Incidentally, I don't think Facebook is a very good example of ads failing. They made over 100 million in 2007, and an estimate I heard for 2008 was that they'd make well over $200 million. It's not Google level, but it's not insignificant either :-) - Michael Nielsen
Euan - Something I've often wondered is why the newspapers are going bust, but sites like TPM, Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Perez Hilton, Seed, Gawker, etc are going great guns. (Before anyone says it, several of those sites do lots of original reporting in their particular verticals). The product being provided is quite similar in many ways, albeit more targetted in the case of the new media firms. I'm pretty sure it's the 80 / 20 rule: sites like TechCrunch have simply eliminated a lot of irrelevant costs incurred by, e.g., the San Jose Mercury News in their tech coverage. So TechCrunch is profitable where SJMN wasn't. - Michael Nielsen
I'd like to start a new thread about advertising in online journals - gathered some questions here: http://christinaslibraryrant.b... - should show up in ff any minute - Christina Pikas
@Maxine -- I didn't mean to indicate that I blithely assume that advertising is a viable business model for F1000. My point more was that I was surprised to see them taking the subscription approach. To use the same terminology, I think some are blithely assuming that we don't currently have post-publication review, when in fact that's what is going on every day with our formal and informal discussions of science, grant writing, journal clubs, citeulike posting, etc. So, that's what F1000 is competing against. I think it's a better idea and more likely to succeed to try to make the existing network more effective (e.g. citeulike, Mendeley, FriendFeed, PLoS, ...). As a faculty member that's where I want my post-publication reviews to reside. - Steve Koch
@Michael Yeah, I think you're right - they're cheaper to run e.g. TechCrunch (until recently) and Perez H don't have offices, Perez is a one man band, Huffington crowdsources content. I'd be surprised if was particularly profitable though (which doesn't make it a bad service). Gawker has been pruning blogs and authors for months, too. - Euan
In all our discussions about great Science 2.0 tools we shouldn't forget that these tools cost money. Somebody has to pay for them, and not all of them will have public funding. F1000 is just one example, JoVE is another one (see our recent discussion at, and Mendeley has stated that they will offer paid premium services at some point. For me the question is rather of how to best generate enough revenue to pay for the service, and I think most of the time online advertising is not the answer. - Martin Fenner
Martin, Michael and co have reflected my viewpoint quite well. Open Access for published papers (something I favor) and access to post publication editorial are different things. The first disseminates sciences and needs to be equally available to all and transparent. The latter has value beyond that and is rightfully worth a fee. If the F1000 articles are not chosen well, or there is a perceived lack of value, then the model will break down. IMO given the cost of online publication and other aspects that make things --> free, there is a hybrid model to follow with F1000 etc, combining subscription fees with advertising - Deepak Singh
I didn't intend to get those who responded to me quite so excited, sorry for any inadvertent blood-pressure rises;-). Bill, I had thought my comment clearly referred to Biology Direct. Michael, Cameron, Steve, et al. - if I have read a blog post or comment online somewhere that "online advertising" or "sponsors" will support a product once, I've read it more than 100 times in the past year or two. I would like to see where that optimism comes from. - Maxine
Cont here because of FF post word limit. Big traffic sites like Huff Post may do OK, but Huff Post famously does not pay its blogger-journalist contributors (that's part of its business model). From what I can see, online advertising is unlikely to provide a sustainable business model for an online scientific journal or other tool - f1000 or other. - Maxine
Maxine, at some point advertisers will have to figure out how to spend their money. The insane amounts they waste on print, which is soon going to disappear, need to be directed somewhere else where they get better metrics. They just haven't figured out the value of an eyeball yet. It will take a few years, but it needs to happen otherwise advertising is going to be in trouble. - Deepak Singh
"insane amounts they spend on print" (or TV) - definitely shrinking fast cf a few years ago. Agreed Deepak that they have not figured out online translation into revenue for them yet. Hence premature for people to suggest (not only here, in lots of blogs and comments) that advertising will pay for, eg JOVE to stay free to all (I've seen that remark made several times, as an example). - Maxine
Maxine, JoVE is just a bad example and understandably undermines the argument. Even if advertisers figure it out, JoVE will never get enough ad $. Hari and I had a long discussion on that subject on c2cbio 18 I think. JoVE has value as a paid feature (an add on) for a journal like Nature Protocols, but as a stand alone entity, given that any particular JoVE article is costly to produce and of interest to just a few, you'll never get the CPMs required to make advertising sutainable - Deepak Singh
I don't think we disagree, Deepak - re JOVE I am mentioning what people have written, on FF and elsewhere. - Maxine
Maxine - I didn't disagree with you; I'm surprised you read my comments that way. Nor have I said anywhere that advertising is a viable business model for journals as they currently run, and with the existing advertising platforms. I don't think it is. - Michael Nielsen
I know, Michael - sorry for the misunderstanding. I was writing to you and some others above that I've read a lot of people writing that *they* think online ad is a publishing model. I didn't mean to imply that I thought *you* had written that. All I was trying to do here, unsuccessfully it seems and apologies for any lack of clarity, was to point out that for F1000-type services, "open access with advertising" (quote Steve) seems to me unlikely as things currently stand. - Maxine
Thanks for clarifying, Maxine. - Michael Nielsen
All this real-time! Not used to it. By the way, Michael, I really liked your article in Nature Physics last month. - Maxine
Thankyou, Maxine :-) - Michael Nielsen
I think it's a bit early to state that advertising doesn't work, especially when there's so much turmoil in publishing right now. I'd like to separate the two situations: right now, when it isn't working and later, when the advertising money shifts from print to online. Yes, we're in a recession right now and advertising is slumping along with everything else, but it's still a reasonable assumption that more money is shifting online as print slows down, right? If you buy that that's reasonable, then might I interest you in the theory that advertising will become increasingly more viable as time goes on and the economy recovers? - Mr. Gunn
My original agreement with Steve was regarding the idea that I wouldn't want my reviews to be hidden behind a paywall. Yes, if you're going to hire a stable of experts and pay them and provide trusted reviews, you're going to have to charge, and maybe advertising won't work as a business model right now, but that's a different thing than what F1000 does. If instead there's some way to capture all the post-PR that goes on during journal clubs and meetings and discussions and attach that stuff to papers, then you're not incurring huge costs and maybe advertising will work for your modest needs. It's not a business model, note, but a way to finance something you're doing anyways. - Mr. Gunn
"I've read it more than 100 times in the past year or two" -- since we're all about the hard evidence in this thread ("anyone got any hard examples"), links please. - Bill Hooker
Hi Maxine, Yeah, I'll retract my statement, "I would think Open Access with advertising would be much more profitable." What I meant was it would be less unprofitable. I think both models would fail at this point in time, but that at least opening the comments to the globe would have a better shot at succeeding. My main point was not stated very well, but at least I poured some gasoline on an apparently smoldering thread. Maybe someone else can more eloquently state my main point. I feel like F1000 is sort of the opposite of friendfeed+citeulike+Mendeley+PLoS One+etc. As a faculty member, I choose the latter group as a much better way of maximizing the impact of my contributions to post-publication review. Not that I'm invited to F1000, of course. A year ago I probably would have thought it a good idea to accept that kind of invitation. But now that I've seen a hint of what can be done with citeulike+friendfeed, I just think the effort of organizing something centralized like F1000 is not at all worth it. I think the power of (Faculty N-1000) + (millions of other non-faculty science consumers) will win. If there's subscription involved it will be in people paying subscription to generate / share their post-publication review, not people paying to read other people's post-publication reviews. - Steve Koch
After writing that, I now see Mr. Gunn's most recent comment. That's in line with what I'm trying to say. Capturing the stuff that exists is the way to go and the cost per unit of information should be a lot cheaper and more easily placed onto the information generators. - Steve Koch
@Steve, good point about FF+CiteULike+etc having far more members than F1000, but whereas F1000 is providing postpub review, I don't really get that from FFetc. I get lots and lots of value from FFetc, just not in the form of postpub review. It's not the sort of thing that happens casually, perhaps mainly because it's so specialized. If I FF'd my response to the latest Myc paper, who would care? Postpub review seems to me to need the kind of centralization that F1000 provides. It will be a long, long time before enough people from the Myc research community use FF so that I can get postpub review by following their CiteULike collections! - Bill Hooker
Steve: Have you seen It's an aggregator for blogging about peer-reviewed research. It's an interesting model, an attempt to (as you say) "try to make the existing network more effective". I don't personally use it, but I think something inspired by it might serve a similar function to F1000, on the open network. In some ways, the list of blogs I read already does that, for me. - Michael Nielsen
Neil - One way publications can be social is that stuff which has been bookmarked more times etc is likely to show up higher in Google searches. I've noticed a few times that papers which have been blogged about tend to show up much higher in Google. - Michael Nielsen
@Michael (three posts up): No, somehow I didn't know about As I understand it, if I choose to, I can write a blog about a peer-reviewed publication, and then include some code from them on the blog. Then, my entry will be cached by and others will be able to find it via searching That definitely sounds like a way I'd like to contribute to "post-publication review." Not perfect but a start. I feel like giving it a shot, maybe in a couple weeks when I'm done teaching... - Steve Koch
Steve - Yup, that seems to be the way it works. - Michael Nielsen
Hi all. Fascinating discussion, and apologies for being late to it. You seem to have covered the pros and cons of advertising, and we *will* be carrying ads. I'm not involved in that side of the business, but yes, we're considering the model and the options. If the ads generate sufficient revenue then we will be able to revisit the business model, but I'm not really allowed to say any more at this time. As pointed out, we hope that people will see value in our 'editorial comment'. - Richard P Grant
Just as I read _Nature_ for the News & Views and comments on the papers rather than the original articles themselves (Nature is so broad it's difficult to do anything else!) we're assessing the literature once it's passed peer review and is accepted as 'science'. We don't explicitly assess only PRed literature: our remit is anything in PubMed, which is *mostly* PRed. But Faculty should pick up on that. We're quite transparent about the Faculty by the way, as I mentioned in the interview. We are currently - Richard P Grant
running a project to make article evaluations more systematic and comprehensive. We're also looking at Social Media (funnily enough, this being me) and there will be forums and ability to share out from the site. RSS is also being plugged in, although what we actually put in that is not set in stone yet: because it's not OA we can't just shove everything in a feed. I saw the development server today and RSS is looking good, though :) - Richard P Grant
Thanks Richard and everyone else for commenting. I was hoping to start exactly this kind of discussion by asking Richard for an interview. - Martin Fenner
Thanks for the inside perspective, Richard. Want to apologize to everyone for being a jerk with my initial comment. Especially since it was directly below a reference to Richard, thus making it look like I was upset with him. I'm going to keep giving F1000 a try. So far, I've definitely found value from their service. Whereas the value from my collection of "other" services (friendfeed, citeulike, etc.) is more difficult to point to and thus F1000 seems to be winning. However, I do want to compete in the latter arena (open) and I hope it's a victory. A very nice victory would be F1000 figuring out how to make advertising profitable, which I still naively think is possible :) - Steve Koch
Yes we'd like that too :) Consider that my boss founded the first OA publisher (BMC). (Procedural note: BMC is not now associated with F1000. Our parent company does, however, run other OA journals -- see .) It'll be interesting, to say the least, to see how this pans out. - Richard P Grant