Another year, another groundbreaking innovation at eLife, as we announced our new publishing model in October. While it had been in the making for many years, the final switch to the full system was still a dramatic moment for us, and for the scientific community as a whole. The reaction to our announcement was extraordinary. We received significant media attention – with coverage in Nature, Science, The Scientist, Times Higher Education, and many others – as well as a high level of engagement on Twitter, reaching over one million impressions and over 34,000 engagements on our announcement tweet alone.
Why such a commotion? Well, things don’t change much in the world of scholarly publishing. There are tweaks to the system, the odd new starter on the block, but overall this industry is deeply conservative, with large, prestigious journals holding sway for the past 50 or so years. Our announcement represented a change to the system not seen since the launch of BioMed Central and PLOS and the birth of Open Access.
Our change is a simple but dramatic one. Instead of offering accept/reject decisions on papers in private, we instead provide all submitting authors (whose papers are invited for peer review) a new publication, called a Reviewed Preprint, and the opportunity to post a final version when they are ready. No more editor decisions, no more wasteful rejections, just a fairer and more transparent process for all.
The new model was met with great enthusiasm from a large swathe of the community, but scepticism from another. Articles were written in the mainstream press about it. Around the world, researchers debated what it meant for journals, publishing, and science in general.
And those keen to test the model were allowed to submit early drafts to it, which we sent for review and published in early 2023, when we fully launched the system.
The news dominated our other activities in 2022, despite us being as busy as ever building new technology, such as Sciety to aggregate reviewed preprints from across the web, and Kotahi to support the management of preprint peer review. We also continued to invest in improving research culture through our outreach work and Magazine content, telling stories of highlights and challenges in the lives of researchers.
So in all, another extraordinary year. 2023 has brought the full launch of the new model, which we will be reporting on regularly to show the community how it’s going, so stay posted.
Executive Director, eLife
eLife was founded in 2012 to innovate and improve how research in the life and biomedical sciences is communicated. With the increasing popularity of preprints among the scientific community, we announced in 2021 that we would only review articles that were available as preprints. We then set to work on including a ‘curate’ component to this model with the addition of a common vocabulary for preprints that we peer review.
In March 2022, we shared our new ‘publish, review, curate’ mission that puts preprints first. We also acknowledged that the process of only reviewing and curating research posted as preprints called for an update to our existing business model to reflect the full services we provide. As such, we trialled a new model with the Max Planck Digital Library, in which we charged differentiated fees for our peer-review and publishing services for authors, rather than charging solely for the content we published. Since the costs were shared out among all authors – instead of only those whose work we accepted for publication – individual researchers paid a lower cost for the services they received, making the system more equitable. The trial ran from the beginning of March to the end of May and better reflected our services for authors in the ‘publish, review, curate’ world.
Throughout the rest of the year, we continued to develop the new publishing model that forms a cornerstone of our mission. The model ends the accept/reject decision after peer review; rather, all papers that we invite for review as part of the new process are published on the eLife website as Reviewed Preprints, accompanied by an eLife assessment and public reviews. We announced the new model in October, including our plans to officially open it for submissions from January 2023. Building on our trial with the Max Planck Digital Library, we introduced a new service-based publication fee for authors submitting to the model. This covers the costs of initial evaluation, staff checks, peer review, the publication of a Reviewed Preprint, re-review, publication of subsequent versions of the Reviewed Preprint, and publication of the Version of Record (at the authors’ request) – with waivers still available to those who ask for them.
Two months after the announcement, we shared in December that 10 funding and other research organisations had committed to including reviewed preprints in the evaluation process, marking our joint progress towards improving research assessment. We are pleased with the response from funders, with supporters including the Gates Foundation, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, and Wellcome.
In another key milestone for eLife, the launch of our new publishing model coincided with our 10-year anniversary celebrations in late October. We hosted an event at the British Library in London, bringing together everyone who has helped make eLife what it is today. They included members of eLife’s executive staff, leadership team, Board of Directors, editorial board and Early-Career Advisory Group (ECAG). The event provided a wonderful opportunity for us to reflect together on eLife’s work over the past 10 years and look ahead at what comes next. Alongside the event, we also marked our anniversary by sharing a special collection of content, as well as an update on our open-source technology development and how we are building the ‘publish, review, curate’ ecosystem of the future.
All activities relating to eLife’s technology, community and research culture programmes in 2022 remained focused on our ‘publish, review, curate’ mission. Our core values of openness, integrity and inclusiveness in research underpinned everything that we did throughout the year.
In March, we announced a shift in our technology strategy from building a suite of open-source products for use by publishers to a renewed focus on building open scholarly infrastructure to support our mission. Most notably, the announcement included updates on our work with the Coko Foundation to develop the Kotahi peer-review management software – a key part of the new ecosystem. We also updated readers on our work on Sciety – a platform for discovering, reading and sharing preprints and open peer reviews.
Sciety continues to evolve in step with a rapidly growing community of preprint reviewers and curators. In 2022, we added five evaluating community groups to Sciety including, in support of our mission to showcase underrepresented researchers in the Global South, the Brazil-based SciELO Preprints and the ASAPbio–SciELO Preprints crowd review as a new group that evaluates preprints in Brazilian-Portuguese.
Sciety helps showcase the activities of all the evaluating community groups it hosts and, to this end, we made improvements to each group’s homepage on Sciety last year. This included adding the “PReF” preprint review features, helping readers to interpret and compare evaluations. We also provided each group with an engagement analytics dashboard to help them understand how readers engage with their preprint review and curation activity.
In July, we shared an informational video that explains the concept behind Sciety, along with an FAQ page to help people better understand the platform and the value it brings. Additionally, in a cross-team effort to promote Sciety to a more diverse audience of researchers, we hosted a webinar that provided an introduction to the platform for early-career researchers. The speakers demonstrated some of Sciety’s key features, including the aggregation of open reviews, curation of preprints and more.
There were many other community activities in 2022 to help promote open review in research more widely. Notably, our Communities team continued working in partnership with AfricArXiv, Eider Africa, PREreview and the Training Centre in Communication (TCC Africa) on the Open Peer Reviewers in Africa workshop. In March 2022, we opened nominations for researchers in the life sciences and medicine to help co-create and then disseminate resources promoting best open peer-review practices in Africa.
We welcomed 128 researchers from more than 50 countries to the third edition of the eLife Community Ambassadors programme – an initiative to help channel and support the passion of early-career researchers in driving change towards open science, greater integrity and equity in the wider scientific enterprise. During an initial eight-month learning and community-building phase, which included 28 training and workshop events, we helped equip the Ambassadors to talk about open science, reproducibility and the ‘publish, review, curate’ model in the contexts of their own communities. Later in the year, they received an invitation to work with the programme for the 2022 Einstein Foundation Award for Promoting Quality in Research, which involved organising and delivering a symposium on ‘Global dynamics in Responsible Research’ as part of the award ceremony in December.
In May, we opened a call for new ECAG members to work with our journal staff and editors to help shape the ‘publish, review, curate’ future, with five new members announced in August. This was followed by the launch of the Ben Barres Spotlight Awards for the fourth year in September. As in 2021, we opened these awards to both eligible authors of preprints with publicly available reviews, as well as authors published in eLife. We later announced the 10 winners and 2 runners-up in December.
eLife’s extensive partnerships to accelerate change towards open, trustworthy and inclusive research communications, alongside the enthusiasm of early-career researchers to embrace and promote such practices, led to our decision to launch the Open Science Champions network in 2022. We were pleased to welcome 150 Open Science Champions into this pilot initiative in February.
Additionally, we shared our support for ASAPbio’s Publish Your Reviews initiative in July. This initiative encourages reviewers to post their comments alongside the preprint versions of research articles, as part of a move to help open up the scholarly discussion of new findings.
Finally, in November, eLife and PREreview were pleased to announce a grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, supporting our efforts to enable more diverse communities of researchers to participate in open preprint review.
eLife once again published a significant amount of research content in 2022, covering all areas of the life sciences and medicine. We also continued to provide channels for the research community to discuss issues of relevance to them, namely through podcasts, personal stories, interviews and other articles in our Magazine. We highlight some of our top Magazine and research content below.
The eLife Magazine section published articles on a wide range of topics in 2022. Examples include an article calling on life scientists to re-embrace advocacy and activism – which were once hallmarks of academia – in response to ongoing climate and ecological crises; an article highlighting the positive aspects of being a PhD student (which has more than 40,000 views to date); and a series of interviews on the challenges facing science and scientists.
Equity, diversity and inclusion remained a priority in 2022, and the Magazine section published articles on systemic racial disparities in funding rates at the US National Science Foundation (which was covered in The New York Times), a guide for writing anti-racist tenure and promotion letters, and a meta-research study on how parenthood contributes to gender gaps in academia.
We also added 12 articles to the Sparks of Change collection, including an interview with a researcher in Ukraine, an article by a researcher who had an abortion during her PhD, and several articles on the theme of “When things don’t go to plan”.
Below are some additional highlights selected from the 1,857 research articles published in eLife in 2022.
Rahman et al. reported real-time gene acquisition by vaccinia virus – a DNA virus that replicates in the cytoplasm of infected host – from the host DNA genome.
Image credit: CDC/Cynthia Goldsmith; Public domain
Our publication fee income increased in 2022 due to the delayed effect of an increase in our fee per article in early 2021. This increase in fee income reduced the need for grant support. In addition, an increased proportion of grant income was used to support our development of specific systems.
During 2022, a high proportion of our development team’s time was spent on creating the platform that supports the new publishing model we announced in October. As this is specific to our publishing activities, we have included these costs within our publishing costs. We expect to see these costs come down in future years as we move to maintaining, rather than building, this software.
The remainder of our development effort in technology and innovation continues to focus on the Sciety platform, which is designed to serve a wider community.
Community expenditure incorporates our work in research culture, with some wider advocacy work to raise awareness of our new publishing model resulting in an increase in expenditure.
Revenue and expenditure, years ended December 31, 2022 and 2021
|Technology and innovation||1,328||1,955|
|Surplus before tax||145||329|
The full audited accounts for eLife Sciences Publications, Ltd for 2022 are available below. As a US-registered tax-exempt organisation, we also publish detailed financial information in our Form 990.
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