2018 Financial Overview
Continued transformation, renewed focus
2018 was a year of significant change for PLOS. Driven by the strategic realignment set in motion the prior year, we reshaped and resized the organization for a new future in a changed publishing environment. This is a pivotal moment in the life of PLOS and Open Access (OA) as it was envisioned by our founders 18 years ago. As in any period of transition, we’ve faced difficult challenges head on. But through demonstrated commitment and shared purpose, we also continued to advance our mission by empowering researchers to accelerate progress in science and medicine by leading a transformation in research communication.
Putting researchers and research first
PLOS renewed its commitment to our core publishing operations to improve the experience of our authors. This multifaceted effort included continued expansion of PLOS ONE’s Editorial Board as the first part of a drive to reduce our time to publication. We accelerated our efforts in 2018 – to date we’ve added more than 4,400 new Editorial Board members to the community. This expanded network of experts collaborates with reviewers to provide accurate assessment that readers can trust. Together we make science, and the process of publishing science, fair, equitable, and accessible for the whole community.
Accelerating science through partnership
We know PLOS can achieve more and have greater impact by working in partnership to provide more opportunities, choice, and context for readers and researchers. In 2018, PLOS launched a new collaboration with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) allowing submitting authors to opt-in to post their manuscript to bioRxiv, the life science preprint server. While research articles are being thoroughly peer reviewed, authors can collaborate, earn credit, and get feedback early by posting. Nearly 4,000 preprints have been posted using this service to date. But we’re not stopping there – we’ve just launched a pilot to assess whether community feedback provided in preprint comments can help PLOS further improve the quality and speed of the review process.
Building options for choice, transparency, and credit
In 2018 our teams built the infrastructure for PLOS’s newly launched modular, opt-in approach to signed and published peer review. While PLOS isn’t the only publisher providing this option, our solution puts choice, credit, and transparency for authors front and center. Our approach allows authors to decide what works best for their manuscript. Authors can reveal the expert assessment that has shaped their final work by publishing the editor’s decision letter and reviewer feedback along with their response. Reviewers choose to sign their review and can take credit for their comments. Readers get deeper context from more expert perspectives. When science becomes more Open, we all advance.
Ensuring Sustainability and Responding to Change
We also made some difficult decisions in 2018, driven by the need to be fiscally responsible and remain a sustainable nonprofit organization. Our decision to wind down development of the Aperta submission system, which had been an organizational priority for several years, paired with declines in submissions for PLOS ONE drove a series of internal changes and realignments. We took a hard look at ways to streamline our processes for greater efficiency and reviewed our internal and external workflows, resulting in a restructuring of the organization to better support our goals going forward. PLOS is a leaner organization now, but we are one that will continue to fully support our researchers and scientists.
Now to the numbers (see figures 1, 2, 3 for a fuller picture)
- As of December 31st, 2018, PLOS had net assets of $10.7 million, down by $6.3 million compared to the previous year’s $17 million. This reflects reduced investment holdings driven in part by severance payments to staff affected by restructuring within the organization.
- Of the 2018 year-end net assets, cash and unrestricted investments totaled $11.5 million compared to $16.8 million at year-end 2017, due to severance payments and market volatility.
- For the year ending December 31st, 2018, PLOS generated total revenues of $31.7 million compared to total revenues of $36.8 million for the year ending December 31st, 2017, due to a decline in publication revenues.
- 2018 total expenses of $38 million compared with $38.5 million in 2017.
- PLOS provided $1.9 million in annual Publication Fee Assistance.
In 2018 we focused on aligning our resources with our strategic priorities to make targeted and impactful progress toward our mission. We delivered key projects across PLOS: from the significant progress on PLOS ONE, to providing authors with the ability to share research early via preprints and building the foundation for an elegant published peer review option for researchers. 2019 is another big year for PLOS. Perhaps most importantly, we expect the organization to be back into surplus and are rebuilding our cash to ensure our ability to grow and evolve to meet the changing needs of our communities. We’ve focused our innovation activities in a core number of areas where we believe PLOS can have the most impact in pushing the boundaries of “open” to create a more equitable system of scientific knowledge and understanding. We’re excited about the road ahead and look forward to sharing more progress over the coming year.