This paper is the first of two Learned Publishing articles in which we report the results of a series of interviews with senior publishers and editors exploring open access megajournals (OAMJs). Megajournals (of which PLoS One is the best known example) represent a relatively new approach to scholarly communication and can be characterized as large, broad-scope, open access journals that take an innovative approach to peer review, basing acceptance decisions solely on the technical or scientific soundness of the article. This model is often said to support the broader goals of the open science movement. Based on in-depth interviews with 31 publishers and editors representing 16 different organizations (10 of which publish a megajournal), this paper reports how the term ‘megajournal’ is understood and publishers’ rationale and motivations for launching (or not launching) an OAMJ. We find that while there is general agreement on the common characteristics of megajournals, there is not yet a consensus on their relative importance. We also find seven motivating factors that were said to drive the launch of an OAMJ and link each of these factors to potential societal and business benefits. These results suggest that the often polarized debate surrounding OAMJs is a consequence of the extent to which observers perceive publishers to be motivated by these societal or business benefits.