JMIR Publications: A Model for Open-Access Health Sciences Publishers?

JMIR Publications 1

“Leading” according to whom?

This is a review of the medical publisher JMIR Publications, based in Toronto. It bills itself as “The Leading eHealth Publisher,” a claim I find dubious. There’s a lot of other fishy stuff about this publisher as well.

JMIR publishes sixteen open-access medical journals, most of them broad in scope, a strategy designed to optimize revenue by making most health sciences articles fall into the coverage of at least one of the journals.

 

JMIR Publications 2

Their journal covers appear amateurish

The publisher’s claim to fame — and marketing gimmick — is that its flagship journal is the Journal of Medical Internet Research, one of the original open-access journals, launched in 1998. The force is with them.

Here are some of the weaknesses I’ve observed with this publisher

  • Some of the journals don’t have their own editorial boards. For example, if you look for the editorial board for JMIR Cancer, a notice says, “The Editorial Team of this journal currently consists of JMIR Editorial Board members.”
JMIR Publications 3

For this journal’s editorial board, please see our other editorial board.

  • The publisher appears to be in a belabored process of re-organizing and expanding, aiming to maximize profits. For example, one of the journals says,

Published by JMIR Publications, publisher of JMIR, the leading eHealth/mHealth journal (Impact Factor 2011: 4.4), i-JMR has a broader scope and features a rapid and thorough peer-review process, professional copyediting, professional production of PDF, XHTML, and XML proofs (ready for deposit in PubMed Central), and an ipad App (in prep.).

The fact that the publisher is currently reporting a three-year-old impact factor is further evidence of its amateurish organization.

  • Like many predatory journals, some (or all) of the JMIR journals offer a fast-track peer review for an additional fee:

There is an optional fast-track fee of US$450 if the author requires a decision within 3 weeks. Since 2015, as the journal is now PubMed-indexed, there is an Article Processing Fee of US$1500 payable only in case of acceptance, to cover copyediting and publishing costs.

This is evidence that as open-access journals get added to prestigious indexes and databases, their author fees increase, further burdening authors, universities, and funders.

JMIR Publications headquarters.jpg

JMIR Publications’ headquarters at 131 South Drive, Toronto, Ontario as shown on Google Maps. A dwelling.

The publisher, Gunther Eysenbach, serves on most or all of the editorial boards. The website is hard to navigate and poorly organized.

It’s telling that one of the original open-access journals has morphed into just another profit-seeking medical publisher, one that is expanding by publishing a growing number of journals, organizing conferences and offering services such as fast-track review.

Large open-access publishers like JMIR Publications may be evolving into the type of publisher the open-access movement was organized to take down.

Is JMIR Publications the future of medical publishing? Is it a model for the future?

Appendix: List of JMIR Publications journals as of 2015-12-16

  1. Interactive Journal of Medical Research
  2. iProceedings
  3. JMIR Bioinformatics and Biotechnology
  4. JMIR Cancer
  5. JMIR Human Factors
  6. JMIR Medical Education
  7. JMIR Medical Informatics
  8. JMIR Mental Health
  9. JMIR mHealth & uHealth (mobile and ubiquitous health)
  10. JMIR Preprints
  11. JMIR Public Health
  12. JMIR Rehabilitation and Assistive Technologies
  13. JMIR Research Protocols
  14. JMIR Serious Games
  15. Journal of Medical Internet Research
  16. Medicine 2.0

22 Responses to JMIR Publications: A Model for Open-Access Health Sciences Publishers?

  1. To answer the questions you raise above:

    1) “Leading – according to whom?” – The Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) was ranked #1 by Thomson Reuters by impact factor in the Medical Informatics category until last year (current JCR impact factor: 3.4). The journal has a better impact factor than Plos One, BMJ Open, PeerJ etc. See http://www.jmir.org/announcement/view/80
    JMIR is also ranked “leading” on scirev (https://scirev.sc/journal/journal-of-medical-internet-research/) – with a manuscript handling rating of 4.7 (out of 5).
    JMIR is one of the cofounders of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA), and is committed to top quality and ethical publication practices.

    2) Why do “some of the journals don’t have their own editorial boards”. These are brand-new journals (sister journals of JMIR) less than 12 months old. The original issues were published with articles originally submitted to JMIR, where authors consented to a manuscript transfer. Editorial board members are currently being recruited. However, much like other modern journals in the Internet age, JMIR Publications is moving away from static editorial boards, and offer an editor role for these new journals based on merit points.

    3) “The publisher appears to be in a belabored process of re-organizing and expanding, aiming to maximize profits.” – yes, JMIR Publications is re-organizing and expanding, because our reputation in the field (and frankly, obsession with the Impact Factor) attracts more submissions than what JMIR can handle with the original minimal staff. Sister journals were created to recruit additional editors. Profits are re-invested into people and infrastructure.

    4) “JMIR publishes sixteen open-access medical journals, most of them broad in scope, a strategy designed to optimize revenue by making most health sciences articles fall into the coverage of at least one of the journals.” – it should be noted that all journals have a focus on technology in health, so the focus is not as broad as you make it sound like. JMIR is a niche publisher and it is actually more likely that an article falls into the scope of the 300 journals published by Elsevier.

    5) Like other leading publishers (eg. Nature Publishing Group), JMIR experiments with an optional fast-track fee, where we guarantee a rapid decision within 3 weeks, by tightly monitoring reviewer responsiveness. JMIR invented this model – we were the first publisher experimenting with it (long before Nature did), developed the code and contributed it to the OJS platform. If this is used by what you call “predatory” publishers, then this is unfortunate, but nothing we have control over. The fast-track option is much appreciated and heavily used by some of our authors who have a specific deadline for a rapid decision, eg. a grant proposal, deadline for tenure & promotion, or PhD defense date. Pointing out the additional costs is a bit like criticizing that some researchers prefer to take the plane rather than a Greyhound bus to a conference. And don’t worry, these costs don’t come out of library budgets.

    6) “The website is hard to navigate and poorly organized.”: Our DIrector of UX and our users certainly have a different opinion: – some of the tweets we have collected include:
    — “Just noticed your new website. Beautiful! Best journal website I’ve seen so far.”
    — “Simple, responsive and friendly!.. @JMedInternetRes new website is above Excellent..i am returning each day to my account!.” — “I really love the new look at the Journal for Medical Internet Research! Great work, ”
    (http://www.jmir.org/announcement/view/83).
    We will continue working on our goal to “make JMIR the most cutting-edge, beautiful, and advanced academic journal site on the web” (Josh Flowers, Lead Designer and Director of User Experience at JMIR Publications). We welcome constructive feedback if there are specific issues you had with the site.

    7) Regarding Google map picture of a “dwelling”, JMIR is a virtual organization, with staff and freelancers in different places and often working from home. The editorial office (where the permanent staff is hosted) is actually located in an administrative wing at the Toronto General Hospital, and a picture of that office building can be found at http://jmirpublications.com.

    Finally, it is somewhat flattering (but inaccurate) to frame JMIR Publications as a “large” publisher that is morphing into “the type of publisher the open-access movement was organized to take down.”. JMIR Publications is still a far cry away from being a Elsevier or even PLoS. JMIR is a scientist-owned publisher that was created in 1998 out of passion for technology in health, long before the open-access movement became fashionable. While we are proud of having become one of the leading journals in our field with a journal that is on par or better (according to impact factor) than journals published by publishing giants, it was certainly not created to “take down” anything or anybody.

    To answer your last question — is JMIR the future of medical publishing? — we certainly think so and we will continue to be innovative and disruptive in many aspects.

    Gunther Eysenbach
    Publisher

    • Aviv Shachak says:

      I can certainly confirm that JMIR Publications is actively recruiting editorial board members to its sister journals. I have recently joined the editorial board of JMIR Medical Education and am very excited about this. This journal makes an important contribution to bringing informatics/eHealth/ Health information technology into health professional and medical education. The review process is real and rigorous.

  2. John Torous says:

    JMIR Mental Health is certainly not as described above. Rather it is a high quality publication that has offered an avenue to disseminate works at the intersection of mental health and technology. The peer review process is rigorous and the published articles interesting, informative, and high quality. The fact that is open access has allowed innovative ideas to easily spread and inspire others. Of note, JMIR Mental Health is currently forming an editorial board and this has been planned long before the above story was written.

    • Why bother to form an editorial board when the journal has achieved perfection without one?

      • The debate is valid, but I don’t believe anyone has ever stated that any of JMIR Publications’ journals are perfect.

        First you attack the publisher for not having editorial boards for their newest journals, and when information arises that indeed editorial boards have been forming for some time now, you respond with hyperbole.

        I have personally met John Torous and his passion for Mental Health inspires me to help JMIR Publications strive for perfection, however unobtainable it may be.

  3. brennada says:

    As a rabid anti-predatory journal author committed to Open Access principles, I was was somewhat dumbfounded by J Beall’s poorly researched and ill informed post here about JMIR. I have recently published in this journal and did substantial due diligence on this very matter. I’m grateful for Gunther Eysenbach’s comments above. They smartly and clearly delineate this journal’s stature and pro open access yet NON- PREDATORY practices. I think it’s wise for other readers to also be critical and to conduct due diligence in regard to Mr. Beall’s work. I have been a fan of this page. I’ve realized once again that all researchers have limitations. It reminds me not to rely on any one source. I will continue to engage with the work Mr. Be all has done, I will do so with much more
    caution.

    • It’s clear that Eysenbach is asking his pals to leave comments here to defend his “leading e-health publisher” business, so I expect more sycophantic comments such as this to appear. Brennada, did you pay extra for the fast track review? How many revisions did the missing editorial board require before your paper was accepted? None?

      • brennada says:

        Wow, I had no idea that you would refer to me as sycophantic for expressing a disappointment in your recent article. That seems, well, unprofessional. I have no relationship with G. Eysenbach other than that I recently published in JMIR. He did not ask me to write these comments. Other than tweeting about it including his handle, I have never spoken personally to him about this at all! I found the experience with JMIR to be highly professional and exactly what I would expect from a reputable open access journal. The website was well organized from my perspective. Could there be some features to make it easier for authors? Yes. When asked for my feedback, I will let them know. Our funders now require we publish in OA journals and I did a diligent amount of research before settling on this particular journal. I worked on this through reviewing your other comments and through other websites and our librarians and OA staff at the university at which I work. I took almost months to make this decision. I have not published in any OA journals before, so I was determined to do it properly and in a proper journal. My main reaction is partly because an article of mine came out this week in JMIR and when I read your piece this week, which I do most weeks, I just did not find any of your points to hold much validity. I did not pay for fast track. I knew it was an option but one that was not necessary for me. Mr. Beall, I have been a fan of your work. I am simply pointing out that I think you have made some misleading and troubling statements, which I was pleased to see G. Eysenbach address. I would most certainly publish in this journal again. I just think you got it wrong. Is that not within the realm of possibility in your mind?

  4. I am the designer and director of UX for JMIR and I am disappointed by some of your dismissive remarks about our website, which we strive to improve daily and are actually very proud of it.

    I’ve been at JMIR Publications for almost 3 years now, and in that time I’ve seen our journals grow at breakneck speed. Because of this (and our minimal staff), our growing pains (as with all growing companies) have become magnified, which contrary to what you point out, continues to fuel us as we strive for a unified look and feel. I would like to point out that our main goal from a design perspective was to launch a new design as quickly as possible and then to iterate, iterate and iterate. The idea of a “perfect UI” is a relic of the Waterfall software development process. Following it today would mean that new features would never launch.

    Our tech team has grown from 1 to 5 and big changes to JMIR Publications’ UI are forthcoming, and will continue to come as we adapt to a more agile development process with a mantra of continuous development.

    As for the “journal cover” of JMIR Public Health and Surveillance, in no way, shape or form is it meant to show that it is an actual printed issue of the journal. JMIR publications prides itself on being a digital only journal and we wanted to show these “journal covers” merely as an animated design element to serve as a link to each respective journal.

    As always, we continue to welcome any feedback so please feel free to contact us directly and we can discuss any design concerns you may have.

    • Karen Web says:

      With all the pointed attacks directed against JB, it is obvious that these comments are organized and spear headed by JMIR. Here is my take:

      1- Having a high IF does not automatically qualify you to be a leader in anything.

      2- For being a leader in publishing, you need to have a track record of at least longer than 5 years. The fact that JMIR has been publishing for only 2-3 years indicates that they lack experience and the track record to be a leader in publishing.

      3- Having a fancy UI/Ux does’nt mean anything. I spoke with JMIR developer few months ago and I was told the company has spent > $100,000 for the OJS design, which BTW I found it to be crapy and convoluted at best!

      Karen

      • gunthereysenbach says:

        “For a leader in publishing, you need to have a track record of at least longer than 5 years” – Thanks very much – JMIR has actually a 17 year track record, with the first issue published in 1999 (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=jmir and http://www.jmir.org/issue/year/1999). We were the first open access journal in the medical informatics category, and ranked #1 by impact factor for 5 consecutive years, hence the byline “The leading eHealth journal”, which was amended to the “leading eHealth publisher” as we created sister journals. We are also leading by other metrics which I am happy to share on request. And as an side, we brand ourselves as the “leading EHEALTH publisher”, not the “leader in publishing”.
        No responses here are “organized”. JB is insulting the intelligence of 20.000 authors and peer-reviewers – PhDs and professors in the field – who have over the past 17 years decided to publish in, edit for, or peer-review for JMIR journals, so some level of pushback and setting the record straight is to be expected. It is the word of a librarian who is not a subject expert against 20,000 subject experts.

      • What a silly and fallacious response, very unbecoming of a medical publisher. Your attempt to play me off your “20,000 subject experts” is an act of desperation. It’s clear that JMIR Publications has a lot of problems and has been caught with its pants down.
        JMIR nonsense JMIR is NOT the “leading peer-reviewed journal for health and healthcare in the Internet age”. This is hyperbolic marketing, and it has no place in science.

      • gunthereysenbach says:

        It is certainly a valid debate to discuss what makes a journal or publisher “leading” (e.g. leading a discipline by impact factor, showing leadership and commitment to quality and integrity in open access by participating and co-founding organizations such as OASPA, being the first open access journal in a discipline, etc), but such dialogue must also consider quality of content and include subject experts. We stand by our tagline and branding as the “the leading eHealth publisher”, for the reasons mentioned above.
        To summarize the “problems” you, Mr Beall, “caught” us with: 1) you do not like our web design and our branding as “leading ehealth publisher” (duly noted). 2) you “discovered” that 4 out of 14 newer JMIR sister journals don’t have their own editorial boards (yet), rather they use JMIR editors (something we transparently disclose on our website and pointed out is transitional), 3) you do not like the fact that JMIR Publications is charging an (optional) fast-track fee, and introduces article processing fees as newer journals become indexed (again, all transparently disclosed on our website, and not specific to JMIR Publications), 4) you do not like the fact that we are “re-organizing and expanding”.

        We thank you for your feedback and reiterate our commitment to innovation in scholarly publishing and to our mission statement, which is “To help innovators in the health technology space to collaborate and to disseminate their innovations, ideas, and research results to the widest possible audience, in a timely manner, adding value to the quality of their work and adhering to the highest ethical and quality standards”.

        As JMIR enters it’s 18th year, we will continue to review and continuously iterate our web design, branding and processes and will post any updates related to this post at http://www.jmir.org/content/beall, including any potential changes we are making. A link to our feedback form for constructive feedback regarding our ongoing website re-design is at http://www.jmir.org/announcement/view/83. We will continue to engage with organizations such as OASPA, COPE, DOAJ and STM (all of which we are a members in) and amend our processes as deemed necessary by them and our peers. Thanks & merry xmas..

      • Your marketing is dishonest. JMIR is NOT the “leading peer-reviewed journal for health and healthcare in the Internet age”. You market your journals like they are laundry detergent. This is a shameful practice for a medical publisher.

        Authors beware.

  5. Here is evidence that at least four of JMIR Publications’ journals lack editorial boards, in apparent violation of both OASPA and COPE principles. This publisher arrogantly grants itself exemptions from the rules

    • gunthereysenbach says:

      JMIR is a (founding!) member of OASPA and a member of COPE and we are very well aware of these principles. Please read again what these “evidence” screenshots as well as their principles say. This is not a violation of OASPA and COPE principles, as nothing in these principles says that “no two journals can have the same EB members”. These 4 journals are “sister” journals and during a transitional period, where they are “incubated”, submissions are edited by JMIR EB members. The names of each academic editor as well as the peer-reviewers are transparently published at the end of each published article.
      OASPA and COPE have complaint mechanisms against its members (and we are a member of both), so if you think we are in violation, the proper pathway would be to first discuss your concerns with us, and if your concerns remain, file an official complaint with these organizations, which they will investigate with due process.

  6. Aviv Shachak says:

    Dear Mr. Beall,

    Thank you, I learned a new word: “sycophantic” (English is not my first language so I had to look it up). It’s a very effective way to end a discussion because if the responses are sycophantic there’s no need to deal with the arguments and check the facts. I may use it some time.

    Unlike you, I don’t want to make it personal. I used your list and blog several times in the past and, together with other tools, they provided a good service. Unfortunately, this time you got it wrong. I know for fact that JMIR has started these new journals for some time. I also know for fact that both JMIR and sister journals have a real and rigorous peer review. How do I know?
    1) I published a paper in JMIR in 2013. Because Gunther had a potential conflict of interest with me and another co-author, the whole process was handled by an Associate Editor;
    2) Over the past 8 years, I reviewed several articles for JMIR and recently for JMIR Research Protocols; and
    3) I joined the editorial board of JMIR Medical Education in November 2015. I saw a tweet that they were looking for editors and submitted an application according to the instructions on JMIR’s website. I’ve already started handling papers and coordinating reviews.

    As for my relationship with Gunther Eysenbach, here’s the full disclosure:
    – I’ve known Gunther since I joined the University of Toronto in 2007.
    – As mentioned, I published one article in JMIR, reviewed several papers for JMIR and sister journals, and recently joined the editorial board of JMIR Medical Education
    – I’ve been a member of the thesis committee of one of his students since last year. The student recently got a paper from his work accepted for publication with both Gunther and myself as co-authors. Other than that, I have not worked directly with Gunther and we have quite different research agendas.

    I’ll let the readers decide whether my response is sycophantic or not and whether they think I’d be willing to risk my reputation- that I built through my research, publications, and educational activities and for which I do not need Eysenbach’s (or your) approval- for a fishy publisher. My name is linked to my most up to date personal page and anyone can see it and judge for themselves. While based on your previous comments I have little hope that you will recognize that you’ve made a mistake here, I do hope that the readers of this post will.

    Happy Holidays

    • Hi, Aviv,

      I’m sorry you haven’t been able to find a better journal to associate with or publish in. JMIR (the journal) currently lists only eight editorial board members, and these eight people are jointly serving as the editorial board for about five of the JMIR “sister” journals.

      You write, “I know for fact that JMIR has started these new journals for some time.” Interesting. If the journals have been around for some time, why hasn’t Eysenbach been able to attract people to fill their editorial boards like quality journals do?

      I stand by my criticisms. I documented them using screenshots. This is a highly idiosyncratic publisher that does not follow standard practices and makes up its own rules and has an unrealistically high opinion of itself.

      And here are some additional vocabulary words for you: lackey, toady, shill.

  7. Mary Sampson says:

    What the heck is “JMIR Serious Games”?

  8. gaudart says:

    Dear Jeffrey Beall,
    with my team, we had a long discussion about submitting or not to JMIR. We decided to have a deep look (scientific) at this journal/editor.
    The JMIR journal seems to have high quality publications. But the fact that the journal and the publisher have the same name (JMIR) is confusing. Indeed, even if the first JMIR journal seems to be a good one (see IF and the articles), the other JMIR journals are very new and it is not possible to evaluate them. During the first submission we made (actually cancelled), it was too difficult to choose the good journal (at first, the corresponding author made a wrong journal choice). Furthermore, we found that we had to pay for submission, and in case of rejection, this payment will be lost; This is a problem, and we cannot accept this. We are not totally against payment for publication (I made several publications using such open system). We are against payment for submission, which is a very different process.
    Note that, some years ago, I’ve also experimented submission to a very good scientific journal, totally open and totally free !

    At the end, we decided not to submit to JMIR for these 2 reasons:
    1/ confusion between the first (good) journal JMIR and the other JMIR journals, leading to confusing submission process at the website,
    2/ payment at submission, wathever the decision of publication

    many thanks

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