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The Public Library of Science (PLoS), which was set up last year to pioneer the publication of 'open access' journals, has launched an institutional membership scheme to help scientists from underfunded disciplines and those in developing countries to publish their research in its journal PLoS Biology.

Under its standard publishing policy, researchers are normally asked to pay US$1,500 to publish in the journal – on the principle that this will provide sufficient funds to allow readers to access it free of change.

Universities and other organisations that sign up to the new scheme will now be able to purchase an institutional membership allowing their researchers to publish their research in the journal at reduced cost.

"Institutional memberships are one way to provide an incentive for scientists in less well funded disciplines, as well as those in developing countries, to publish in open-access journals," says Helen Doyle, PLoS director of development and strategic alliances.

One of the main criticisms of the open-access model championed by PLoS is that author fees may discourage researchers from publishing in open-access journals. PLoS hopes that its institutional membership scheme will help tackle this by substantially reducing any financial barriers that researchers face to publishing in PLoS Biology.

"We already waive all fees for any authors who say they can't afford them," Doyle adds, "But we hope that institutional memberships will help assuage the concern that open-access journals are unsustainable in fields with less funding."

A spectrum of levels of institutional membership is offered. For example, an institutional membership costing US$2,000 gives a 10 per cent discount on publication charges in PLoS Biology for researchers from that institution. At the other end of the scale, an institutional membership costing US$100,000 gives a 75 per cent discount on publication charges.