Publishing with Cureus: What is the process really like?

The Cureus Journal of Medical Science (“Cureus,” for short) began with a goal of streamlining and fast-tracking the otherwise laborious and tediously slow process of academic (medical) publishing. The journal is Open Access — and — is one of the few Open Access (OA) journals that doesn’t charge exorbitant Article Processing Charges (APCs).

“Free” Publishing

I first learned of Cureus about a year ago. I was intrigued at the possibility of “FREE” OA publishing given that many OA journals charge crazy-expensive APCs to authors as a condition of publication. (Some are under $1k but the average APC for OA journals is in the $3k+ range.)

Cureus manages to offer free or “low cost” (more in a minute…) OA publication by flipping traditional article preparation into a DIY process. The author formats everything using Cureus’ online platform and effectively produces the article proof (before peer editing and editorial checks) and, later, the “final” version. (No LaTeX files…or multiple versions of the same Word document…required.) In theory this requires a lot less staff time and the savings are passed on to the author.

To qualify for “free” publishing, one’s article has to be close-to-perfect. If the reviewing editor spots an error (or lots of errors) the article is re-routed to the “Preferred Editing Service.” And…the service isn’t free. (According to Cureus about half of their articles are published for free.)

Dear Dr. Anama-Green,

Thank you for submitting “Survival Analysis of Demographic Factors Associated with 5+ Year Survival of Pancreatic Carcinoma” to the Cureus Journal of Medical Science. Our preliminary review has determined that your submission fails to comply with our editorial guidelines and is no longer eligible for free publication.

A calculator on the Cureus website helps you calculate what your editing fee “might” be and why. Further, purchasing this service does not guarantee eventual publication of your article.

For me, moving forward was a bit of a gamble. I didn’t know what “errors” were present. I didn’t have a guarantee of publication after paying the editing fee. Traditional OA publishing charges the fee after article acceptance. However, I decided to proceed given the fact that the article wasn’t outright desk-rejected.

So, I paid the $245.00 invoice. (I used my Apple card and earned 1% back…who needs a coupon code?) To my surprise, the article was immediately unlocked and ready for peer review. I imagined that the article would have been handed off to an editor for a few days.

Apparently the edits had already been made…with the editors hedging the bet that I would pay up. Regardless, $245 was the only fee that I was required to pay…which makes it the lowest publication-related fee that I’ve seen for an OA journal.

Peer Review

The Cureus peer review philosophy is “peer review not peer reject.” You know as well as I do…peer review is a coin-flip. Sometimes a peer reviewer will be a reasonable person who will provide good feedback that actually improves the article. Sometimes a peer reviewer just wants you to cite their work. And sometimes a peer reviewer is determined to reject your article no matter what.

Thus, I found the Cureus method to be a breath of fresh air. I was given the opportunity to invite peer reviewers and Cureus also invited a number of reviewers to keep things fair. (At least one Cureus-invited reviewer was required to participate.) My favorite part of the peer review process was the “remind” button, which sent a reminder email to each peer reviewer. I clicked it every few days, which ultimately meant that the entire peer review process lasted just a couple weeks.

In the end, I think only the Cureus-invited reviewers actually reviewed the article. However, I can’t be sure because the peer review process was single-blind (the reviewers knew my name, my co-author’s name, and our credentials).

Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the peer reviews. Both reviewers provided substantive comments to improve the article (and neither asked me to cite their work). The article was unlocked for editing. I made my edits and responded to my reviewers’ comments the same day I received them.

Publication

From there, my revised article went to an editor for review. Publication was almost immediately defered. I panicked for a moment, until I realized that they just needed a copy of the IRB letter. I uploaded the letter and re-submitted for editorial review. And then I began to check the status updates on my author dashboard a couple times a day.

A few days later the status was updated to “editorial review completed” with the message “awaiting copy editing.” I took this to mean that the article was probably more than likely accepted. (Who copy edits a rejected article?) But of course I had to wait for official confirmation.

Shortly after the “copy editing completed” message appeared on my dashboard I received an official acceptance email. Provided I was happy with the copy editing job, I could log on and click “publish” from my dashboard. The article was live on Cureus as soon as I did so. I was able to download the PDF and share it immediately.

Hi Dr. Anama-Green,

Congratulations! Your article, “Survival Analysis of Demographic Factors Associated With 5+ Year Survival of Pancreatic Carcinoma,” has been approved for publication in the Cureus journal. We hope you’ve enjoyed your publishing experience and we look forward to your next article submission!

Visit your dashboard now and click the “Publish” button to publish your article. You will then be prompted to rate the quality of your reviewers using a star system — this provides valuable feedback to our many generous Cureus reviewers.

Thanks for publishing with Cureus and congratulations on publishing your article!

Thanks,
The Cureus Editorial Team

But that’s not all…

The story doesn’t end here!

As part of the final publication process I received the following offer:

I knew the article would be indexed in PMC in about 6-weeks. I didn’t realize I would be offered an expedited indexing service. I actually didn’t realize that was “a thing.” I’ve never seen this before. I declined to order the expedited service…it’s OK…I’ll just wait.

Marketing

The next offer was a marketing package. I was beginning to get a strong a la carte vibe. I don’t see anything wrong with this…but I wasn’t used to seeing this setup in academic publishing. Nevertheless, I do appreciate the option to purchase the “extras.” I imagine traditional APC-charging OA journals roll all of their services into one “must-pay” fee. (I wouldn’t know…I’m not willing to skip three mortgage payments to find out.)

Here is the “social boost” package that I was offered:

I declined to buy this one as well. I made my own obligatory Facebook post, added the line to my CV, and posted the article on the usual sites. (I.e., ResearchGate, OrcID, etc.) As I’m not really trying to gain notoriety with this research I’m good without an ad campaign about my pancreatic cancer research.

Aaaand Door #3

I really thought I was finished at this point. But then I checked my email.

By publishing my article, I had earned “Scholar” status with Cureus.

I gotta say…a rewards program for academic publishing is pretty cool. Who knows, maybe I’ll become a Cureus Laureate someday? (Probably not, as my current research fits better elsewhere. But, I can dream.)

According to the email, my article was in desperate need of SIQ ratings. But what are SIQ ratings, you ask?

Hi Dr. Anama-Green,

Your recently published Cureus article, “Survival Analysis of Demographic Factors Associated With 5+ Year Survival of Pancreatic Carcinoma,” currently has less than three submitted SIQ™ scores. Why does this matter? Numerous SIQ scores reflect highly on your article — think of it like an Amazon.com or Yelp.com review. Ultimately, the highest-scored articles will receive the most visibility.

So there you have it. Amazon.com…and Kentucky’s public schools…use a star-rating system. Medium uses claps. And Cureus has SIQ™ scores. Good to know. I have to say, though, that having spammed my colleagues’ inboxes with peer review reminders for two weeks…I’m a little reluctant to ask them to rate my article. I think the SIQ rating requests will have to wait…

My poor little scoreless SIQ rating.

Overall Opinion

Having now gone through the whole Cureus publishing process and the “traditional” academic publishing process, I have to say I am pleased with my Cureus experience.

Time-to-publication was impressive. For comparison, a traditional journal article that I submitted in May 2020 was accepted in late September 2020 and published online as a corrected proof in October 2020 (I’m still waiting for hard-copy publication). This was fast for a traditional journal.

However, my entire Cureus experience, from submission to publication, only took about a month.

Pricing was very reasonable. Weighing the reality that my recently-published traditional article was published for free…but can’t be accessed by most of the world…$245 isn’t so bad. (For context, I chose an Elsevier journal to publish another of my articles last year. If you don’t know the Elsevier story, just Google it.)

Peer review and editing processes were fair overall. As the $245 fee covered editors’ time, I think it’s fair. I was a little put-off that I didn’t actually find out what errors were corrected by the editors. But I wasn’t miffed enough to compare documents in Word and find the difference. As I mentioned before, peer review was a welcome breath of fresh air.

Final publication was quick and straightforward. The final article looks great. The system took the text, figures, and tables that I provided and created both a professional-quality PDF and web-based article with good UI/UX.

Overall, I’d give Cureus a SIQ rating of 9.9/10.

I am a researcher, teacher, and author living/working in the Central Appalachian Mountains.