The costs to authors, readers, and libraries for the publishing process were out of control in 1994-95. Journals were charging authors and subscribers too much for relatively modest services. As authors, scientists were providing the raw material for publishers, yet they were charged for providing this material. As readers and subscribers, scientists provided the market for the product of the publishers, and of course they were charged for access. Scientists were charged largely for access to their own work product. Molecular Vision, with no submission or production fees and no subscription fees, came along and challenged this model, making a lot of publishers very nervous.
Molecular Vision was founded and has remained successful because of the need for a journal in the area of the molecular biology and genetics of the visual system. No other journal in 1994 had an editorial board qualified to peer review the subject area. The journal's distribution and business model was designed from the outset as web-based (even though browsers had become image- and table-capable only months before), allowing for no-fee participation by anyone. As such, Molecular Vision became the prototypical Open Access journal before there was a formalized Open Access movement at all.
Molecular Vision's approach also addressed the contemporary problem of slow publishing cycles. It was not uncommon for more than eighteen months to pass between acceptance of a manuscript and publication of the paper in basic vision research journals. The competition provided by Molecular Vision forced publishers to move faster and keep costs lower.
Because the Internet and web permeate our lives today, it is hard to remember a time when this approach was not only new and controversial but also actively attacked by the old guard, even among scientists, who were being charged coming and going by the status quo. Today, Molecular Vision continues to be ranked in the top 13 percent of all scientific journals and among the top three or four of its field, positions it has enjoyed for nearly all of its fifteen years of its existence.
--John Nickerson, Editor, Molecular Vision