History of the True Open Access online journal, eCM
A journal ahead of its time.
eCM Scientific Editorial board and journal managers
Back row: Hanns Plenk (University of Vienna, AT), Joost de Bruijn (Queen Mary, London, England, UK), Iolo ap Gwynn (University of Wales, Aberystwyth, UK)
Third row: Juerg Gasser (Novartis, Basel, CH), R. Geoff Richards (AO Research Institute Davos, CH), Godfried Roomans (Örebro University, SE)
Second row: Brian Johnstone (Oregon Health and Sciences University, Portland, US), Charlie Archer (Cardiff University, Wales, UK), Christine Hartmann (IMP-IMBA, Vienna, AT), Martin J Stoddart (AO Research Institute Davos, CH)
Front row: Mauro Alini (AO Research Institute Davos, CH), Chris Evans (Harvard Medical School, Boston, US), Thimios Mitsiadis (University of Zurich, CH)
Open access journals are journals that use a funding model that does not charge readers or their institutions for access. According to the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) definition of 2001, "open access" is the right of users to "read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles" as mandatory for a journal to be counted as open access. Access: All content freely available, Registration: Free user registration online is acceptable; Open Access without delay (e.g. no embargo period).
During the first Cells and Materials conference in Davos in June 1999 – which was subsequent to the demise of the associated printed journal ‘Cells and Materials’ – and long before open access was a term in the scientific publishing world, the idea of an online “free to all” scientific journal was born over a beer by three peers. The men in question were Iolo ap Gwynn (University of Aberystwyth, Wales), Godfried Roomans (Uppsala University, Sweden) and Geoff Richards (AO Research Institute, Davos, Switzerland). High production costs precluded a print option, so online free to all literature was decided upon as the only logical way forward for scientific publishing.
Work got underway to set up the journal. A name had to be found (at the outset, it was called European Cells and Materials, as the original ‘Cells and materials’ had been published in the USA). The journal website was initially hosted on the University of Aberystwyth server, in Wales, using the URL www.eurocellmat.org.uk (since, at the time, we were planning to try to obtain funding from the British government). A private company was established to secure the journal (based in Scotland) and render it eligible to apply for funding. A team of internationally established scientists was created to conduct the reviews. An editorial process was set up to deal with manuscripts for papers and supplements. All the work was done voluntarily. A few key commercial sponsors, along with two societies which took eCM as their official journal (Swiss Society for Biomaterials and Tissue and Cell Engineering Society), were found to cover the modest running expenses. After a year and half of hard work by the three founders, we launched our first volume in January 2001. Our goal was to accept only high level publications putting them through a rigorous review procedure. We also continued the unique pattern, established in the original ‘Cells and Materials’ journal, of having a useful ‘Discussion with reviewers’ section at the end of each paper, keeping the review procedure more open/transparent than traditional journals to minimise possible favouritism or prejudice.
European Cells and Materials online “free to all” scientific journal was now live, with a group of dedicated scientists working as volunteers to promote the journal. The publishing pattern was set with two volumes a year (January to June and July to December); papers being added to the volume as and when they became available. The main advantages of the new journal were transparency with high standards of review, rapid and free publication, author retention of copyright, as well as remaining free and open access. Initially, the opportunity to purchase a CD copy of each volume at the end of each six month period was offered, but did not prove popular. In the ensuing years open access publishing took off in the scientific world, yet most publishers looked to make a profit through either submission or publishing charges. eCM was set up as a not-for-profit journal and therefore, we coined the term True Open Access (no submission, publication or reading charges of any kind to anyone), differentiating eCM from other open access journals. eCM was not only benefiting scientists, by being free and open to all, but also eCM had no printed copies produced. eCM was environmentally friendly: reducing paper usage, having no postal paper submissions, no postal replies upon the decision of the journal (all conducted by email), along with saving storage space in libraries. All submissions were handled by email to the Editor-in-Chief, Geoff Richards, who distributed very large files to the scientific editors for full review by two to three reviewers (plus a review by the scientific editor). Accepted papers were then passed to Godfried Roomans for editorial processing and then finally to Iolo ap Gwynn, for document layout, final PDF manuscript production and website publishing.
In 2001, 14 papers were accepted and published (about 1/3 of submissions). At the end of 2001 we pushed for the journal to be indexed by many sites. The problem was that these sites required a certain level of citations before they could index us. Citation data are handled through Thomson ISI, who required us to be indexed more to be considered for their indexing – and, therefore, assessment of citation (the notorious Impact Factor). Some months of ‘fun’ emails ensued (actually years, with some of them). Our first success came slightly out of our field in July 2002: CAS, a division of the American Chemical Society, a source for chemical information, agreed to monitor us. Our foot was in the door. We decided to cut the ‘.uk’ and have just ‘.org’ in our URL – which was more fitting for a “free to all” world-wide journal. In summer 2003 the URL was changed to ‘ecmjournal.org’ (this also persuaded the AO Foundation to change its emails from ao-asif.ch to aofoundation.org). More indexing sites accepted us and more papers were submitted, though we maintained our rigorous reviewing policies. This meant that, along with advertising the journal through societies, networks and word of mouth at conferences as well as encouraging scientists of good standing to contribute reviews and novel manuscripts to the journal (always with rigorous review of course!), the journal gained in popularity. Indexing in Medline and other sites followed and papers published in eCM could also be searched through PubMed. This allowed for massive exposure to scientists and surgeons alike throughout the world and registered numbers (for the monthly newsmails) increased. In 2004, eCM applied to Thomson ISI to be indexed for evaluation for an impact factor, but at that time the resulting rejection was due to “low level of recognition from the scientific community”. By the end of eCM’s fifth year in 2005, it was indexed by numerous sites, had over 4000 registered readers and had about 700 paper downloads a month through the PubMed Linkout mechanism. In spring 2006, on the first date possible, we reapplied for indexing by Thomson ISI and later that year we were accepted for review. Three years later, in June 2009, the first impact factor (based upon the citations of 2007/8) was given – 4.289, which was nearly double the value that our scientific editorial team had expected. We were straight in at number three in the biomaterials field.
eCM published under 20 papers a year until its first impact factor was released in June 2009, which resulted in submissions increasing exponentially and 27 papers being published in the first half year volume of 2010 and 35 papers in the second half, with the submission acceptance rate falling to about 25%. In May 2009, eCM changed its submission procedure to take advantage of the professional services of Manuscript Central, which serves thousands of journals worldwide. This professionalized the submission system and the throughput to scientific editors and potential reviewers, thus reducing our administrative workload dramatically. Manuscript editing, layout, production and publishing, along with journal marketing, website production, editing and maintenance continued to be dealt within the small voluntary team. In 2010, our first impact factor caused an explosion in submissions, with 450 manuscripts submitted. It would not have been possible to handle such a volume of work if we had kept to the original mode of operation, with everything passing through the emails of the management team, since this was carried out in their “free time”.
eCM journal was fed with excellent papers from the annual single-session focused topic eCM conferences in Davos, which started in 1999 and continues today with subject areas repeating on four year cycles to allow major changes to occur within the respective fields. The 2009 eCells and Materials conference, focused on Stem Cells for Musculoskeletal Regeneration, started with a notable first for the eCM series of conferences (and AO conferences/courses in general), when the opening presentation was given by the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, Sir Prof Martin Evans. He provided a wonderful introduction to the early years of embryonic stem cell work and demonstrated a clear enthusiasm for science. His approachability and willingness to discuss science was a highlight for many of the delegates. eCM conferences have always attracted leaders in the field to present and often submit to the journal. For authors, eCM’s speed of publication (approximately three weeks after acceptance) was a great advantage over any paper-based journal at the time. This concept pushed paper-based journals to also be available with early views online – in order to compete with online only journals. This is now standard practice for nearly all journals within the field. The other benefit for authors of eCM papers was that they retained the copyright (rather than the journal owning the copyright) and could pass on PDF copies of the paper freely to their colleagues (saving reprint costs for the authors).
2010 was the tenth anniversary of establishing the eCM journal. The AO Foundation, along with the managing editors, scientific editors and reviewers can be proud to celebrate, in such a young journal, the release in June 2010 of the 2009 Impact Factor of 5.378, making this the number one rated journal in the area of trauma research. The hard work paid off with the journal also surpassing the 10,000 mark for number of registered readers. In January 2011, eCM achieved a level of 3000 PubMed linkouts per month (direct links made from the PubMed entries to papers in eCM). Continuing commercial sponsorship, for which we are very grateful, remains an important support element for the journal – reflected in the prominence given to every one of them on every journal web page. The Editorial Board, made up of a strong international team of well established scientists (The Scientific Editors), meets annually at the eCM Conference to reflect on the year’s activities and discuss journal policies and future strategies. What started as an innovative ‘fun’ rebellion against the cost of scientific journals ended with a serious world leading journal. A 2009 report shows that 20% of peer-reviewed articles across all disciplines published in 2008 were freely available. 8.5% directly at the publishers' sites and an additional 11.9% free manuscript versions could be found using search engines.
Academic publishers (including the AO Foundation) need to take into account open access in their business strategy and copyright policies. Funding agencies (also including the AO Foundation) should also consider mandatory open access publication of their funded works, following the example of the NIH in USA, which are starting to require open access availability of results from research projects they fund. Open access is fully established, proving that we were correct in our original thinking more than ten years ago and within the next 5 years we predict that the majority of peer-reviewed articles across all disciplines will be open access.
Dr Iolo ap Gwynn, University of Aberystwyth, Wales
Prof.Godfried Roomans, Uppsala University, Sweden
Prof. R Geoff Richards, AO Research Institute Davos, Switzerland