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RIP: The Medscape Journal of Medicine, an open-access pioneer, stops publishing new papers

A pioneering medical journal has fallen victim to the dramatic and wrenching changes that are overtaking the publishing industry: The Medscape Journal of Medicine (MJM), the first electronic-only open access general medical journal,* will no longer publish new papers, Editor in Chief George Lundberg and colleagues announced yesterday.

Open access is a movement to make studies available for free online, instead of charging taxpayers who funded the research (and others) to read them. The first for-profit open access publisher, BioMed Central (BMC), was founded in 2000 and launched BMC Biochemistry, its first journal, in July of that year. A BMC parent company made articles in existing journals open access in 1999.** BMC was sold to Springer last year. The Public Library of Science (PLoS), the first nonprofit open-access publisher, was also founded in 2000, but did not publish its first journal, PLoS Biology, until October 2003.

MJM came before BMC and PLoS. It was not the first open access medical journal when it was established in April 1999 as Medscape General Medicine, but it was among the first. Its offerings included original research, video commentaries, and even letters "to help clean up the messes made by any medical journals."

Unlike BMC and PLoS, which charge authors up to $2,850 per paper, MJM never charged author or publication fees. (Such fees are generally paid out of research grants, and are waived for those in developing countries.)

Perhaps because MJM did not have that source of revenue, Medscape--owned by WebMD--has decided to adopt a strategy similar to that of many other publishers: "We believe that we can provide the most value to our members by focusing on our role as an aggregator and interpreter of medical information and not as the primary source for original scientific articles." Its archives will remain live at Medscape, according to yesterday's announcement.

(A bit of disclosure: I've considered Lundberg a mentor ever since I worked with him as an editor of the student section of JAMA from 1994 to 1998. I've also been a peer reviewer for the MJM, and a former staffer at The Scientist, which was then owned by the same parent company as BioMed Central. Hat tip to Twitter users allergynotes and AHCJ_Pia.)

*Note (2/2/09): The words "electronic-only" were added to clarify what was first about the MJM; the British Medical Journal (BMJ) was the first general medical journal to make some articles available free.

**Note (2/2/09): The two sentences preceding the asterisk were updated with corrections from a commenter below.

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