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(Editor’s Note: An updated version of this list is available, please see UPDATED–73 Things Publishers Do 2013 Edition)

Journal publishers have been under pressure to prove that they add any value beyond managing peer-review and doing some basic copy editing and formatting. Often, authors are the ones asserting that journal publishers do so little, which is understandable, as authors only experience a small part of the journal publishing process, and care about the editing and formatting bits the most, making those the most memorable. Recently at SSP’s Annual Meeting, a session titled, “Publishers! What Are They Good For?” was held, shedding light on why scientists outsource publishing work (it increases their productivity), why an objective system of quality and relevance ranking provides value, and why publishers are integral to scientific progress, providing efficient dissemination of information and often funding the societies and organizations at its backbone.

Recently, I was asked to flesh out a list of things publishers do. It was a list initially consisting of 11 items, offered by a non-publisher, but a well-informed non-publisher. The brevity of the list was revealing, and my inability to immediately identify what was missing was also revealing — in both cases, it’s clear we haven’t assessed or communicated what we do.

So I spent a little time fleshing out the list. The resulting list is below, and adds 49 items to the initial 11. It took me about 30 minutes total to add these items, with most of it spent typing. I’ll assign a rough estimate of the expense involved, and since it’s the tough day of this year’s Tour de France, I’ll describe each profile using something akin to cycling terminology.

  1. Audience/field detection and cultivation. This is why you start a journal, I think — there’s a new field emerging, a field splintering, or a field growing beyond the outputs currently available. Detecting and cultivating these forks and leaps in scientific progress is what a good publisher does. And it’s not just about new audiences, but new audience needs within fields. But we’ll count it as one thing. Expense level: $. Profile: Headwinds and hills, long ride.
  2. Journal launch and registration (ISSN and PubMed, for example). A small but detailed job, with follow-up being important. Luckily, PubMed is making their process more fluid, and ISSNs can be registered online now. Expense level: $. Profile: A few hard climbs, short ride.
  3. Create and establish a viable brand (including filing, protecting, and maintaining trademarks). This is a step many take for granted, but it’s potentially expensive and time-consuming. First, what is your brand? How do you decide? Some use consultants, some use internal brainstorming, some use individual inspiration. Once you have an idea, you have to express it visually. If you want to protect it, you have to register trademarks in many markets, and renew them every so often. The initial registration is usually the most time-consuming part. Failure to do so may limit your ability to own your brand. Defending a trademark is part of the deal. Expense level: $$. Profile: Rolling hills.
  4. Establish, cultivate, and maintain a good reputation (this is vital to attracting papers and conveying prestige to authors). A brand is a brand, but a reputation is even more important. You might say that Nature and Science are equivalent brands in some ways, but to many, they have slightly nuanced reputations. Reputations diverge significantly in some fields, and can take a hit before brands will. Keeping your reputation requires a lot of good management throughout the organization. Expense level: $$. Profile: Rolling hills.
  5. Initial funding (3-5 years typically before break-even, and even longer before payback). This is where risk becomes real — expenditures are made, financial projections activated, and staff hired. Without this stage, there is no new publishing initiative or journal. Expense level: $$$$$. Profile: Multi-stage event.
  6. Establishing and monitoring infrastructure systems and contracts, managing these ongoing. Establishing these systems involves a lot of choices, and is often repeated as the years go by. Expense level: $$. Profile: Flat.
  7. Solicitation of materials. How do you get those first papers? This is often the responsibility of a thought leader or a set of them. Expense: $. Profile: Individual time trial.
  8. Rejection of submissions (and in some cases multiple rejections). Some of the first papers will be rejected, and if you’re successful, you’ll attract more papers than you can use, papers that aren’t appropriate, and papers of low quality. These have to be rejected, sometimes more than once. Communications with authors, a fair system to determine what makes it through, and ways to know what you’ve seen before are all important. Expense: $-$$$. Profile: Stationary training sessions.
  9. Acceptance of submissions. Luckily, some submissions are really good, and they deserve more attention. That’s when a lot more work starts. But notice how much has gone on before even the first paper is accepted. Expense: $ (act of acceptance only). Profile: Stationary training session.
  10. Tracking of submissions throughout. This bears on the infrastructure, but systems and technologies aren’t enough. Authors need a lot of handholding, materials can spring surprises on you, new requests from editors can come in, and so forth. Expense: $. Profile: Flat.
  11. Plagiarism detection. A new activity thanks to new tools and expectations, comparing manuscripts using plagiarism detection software often ends with steps involving human judgment. Expense: $. Profile: Headwinds.
  12. Copyright registration and protection. While many publishers allow licenses to suffice, most still require copyright transfer. This is a highly valuable service for authors, I believe, as it alleviates them of monitoring something that loses its value to them once published and gives it to a trusted partner to monitor and protect on their behalf. Expense: $$. Profile: Unknown.
  13. Recruitment and retention of editors and reviewers. Editors and reviewers don’t grown on trees. They are usually busy people with a lot of demands on their time and professional options. How do you get them to head up a journal or provide expert review of submitted manuscripts? Expense: $-$$$. Profile: Mixed.
  14. Care and feeding of reviewers. A list of reviewers isn’t enough. They need to be acknowledged, communicated with, helped, and supported. Publishers are good at this, or try to be. Expense: $. Profile: Rolling hills.
  15. Training of peer reviewers. In addition to caring and feeding, peer reviewers have to be trained. They don’t arrive knowing how to use the systems, either technical or categorical, and they often deviate from one another in unhelpful ways within both systems. Expense: $$. Profile: Headwinds.
  16. Manage statistical reviewers and reviews. This varies by domain. Some don’t use statistical reviewers, especially when direct observations are possible. Others, like medicine and public health, use them all the time. They are often more integral than peer reviewers, and have more decision-making authority. Expense: $$$. Profile: Paceline.
  17. Manage technical reviewers and reviews. See above.
  18. Training of editors. It may be surprising, but a subject-matter expert needs to learn how to be a good editor. This comes naturally enough to some, but others struggle with it, and a few never quite get it. Staff provide a lot of training and monitoring, and this is an area of some confidentiality as to what actually goes on. After all, nobody wants to lose face. Expense: $$-$$$. Profile: Training wheels.
  19. Editorial meetings. Another level of editorial support, this often involves meetings that include selected high-level reviewers, a tier of editors, statisticians or technical reviewers, and editors. Staff have to plan, run, and manage these, along with editorial leaders. Expense: $-$$$$. Profile: Hills.
  20. Management of peer review process. The peer review process isn’t static. New elements come in — like new disclosure rules, new grading or evaluation approaches, and new media forms. How these are integrated matters a good deal, and it takes work. Expense: $. Profile: Rolling terrain.
  21. Conflicts of interest and disclosures. As noted above, conflicts of interest and disclosures are becoming more important in many fields (and should be very important in most). Keeping current with the state of the art, collecting and organizing the forms from dozens of authors, matching them with manuscripts, and following up with reluctant or forgetful authors all requires a lot of work. Expense: $. Profile: Headwinds.
  22. Author attestations. Scandals around fake or shadow authorship have made it necessary to get authors to attest that they indeed wrote, and were in a position to control the data and write freely, the paper submitted under their name. With growing author lists, this can involve a lot of attestations for the average paper. Expense: $. Terrain: Out and back.
  23. Editing of content. This is the one everyone is familiar with, but it’s also a complex one with a lot of variability possible. Some editing is cursory and done by outsourced editors with little domain expertise who just apply style guides. Some editing is intensive, done by lay editors with the training and experience to really push authors to be clear and precise, catching errors peer review and authors both failed to identify. Expense: $-$$$$. Terrain: Track pursuit.
  24. Illustration. Some high-end journals provide illustration staff to authors of selected papers, particularly review articles or review journals. Some improve the basic illustrations authors provide, for the sake of clarity and consistency. Expense: $$$. Terrain: Sprints.
  25. Art handling. Authors don’t always follow instructions, sometimes submit the wrong figures, sometimes submit too many figures, or need to supply new figures after review and editing have uncovered ways to improve their materials. Expense: $. Terrain: Flat.
  26. Multimedia handling. See above. A new area, so slightly different. Expense: $$. Terrain: Rolling hills.
  27. Layout and composition. Whether the journal in question is still printed, the PDF is still in high demand, and typesetting and layout still occur. Luckily, computers make this relatively easy, but it’s not automatic. Figure-sizing, pagination, and other factors demand knowledgeable human intervention and skills. Expense: $$-$$$. Terrain: Intervals.
  28. XML generation and DTD migration. Now, in addition to making pages, publishers spit out XML, and track DTD migrations as they occur. DTD migrations can be minor (new elements to reflect a change somewhere in the pipeline) or extreme (a new DTD requirement, like the NLM DTD was). Expense: $-$$$$. Terrain: Bike path mostly, but be prepared for a multi-week stage race.
  29. Tagging. To generate good metadata, articles and elements are often tagged using either semantic, custom taxonomies, or both. Sometimes, tagging is manual, sometimes automated, and sometimes a little of both. But it doesn’t happen all by itself. Expense: $-$$$. Terrain: Flat.
  30. DOI registration. A minor task usually, and easily accomplished. But a task. Expense: ¢. Terrain: Flat.
  31. Search engine optimization. Ah, Google, how you vex us! The black magic of SEO can drain teams and budgets, all to deal with the swamp light of search. But authors want their papers to be found. Expense: $$$. Terrain: Headwinds and hills.
  32. Rapid publication practices. More common than ever, most journals have a custom path for rapid publication. This often involves special staff and processes. Expense: $$. Terrain: Hilly.
  33. Publication. Ah, at last, we’re published! This involves more now than ever (the next few steps at least). Expense: $$$. Terrain: Paceline.
  34. Printing. Yes, many journals still print, and it’s not getting less complicated, as presses, paper mills, and mailing facilities adjust to a shrinking print world. Expense: $$-$$$$. Terrain: Paceline.
  35. Physical distribution. Mailing is more complex in some ways, because the mail streams are less robust. And reduced print runs have made postal expenses lumpy. Expense: $$-$$$$. Terrain: Hilly.
  36. Media relations. Press coverage drives awareness, and important authors of important studies expect to be in the mediasphere. Also, if there’s a scandal, you’d better know who to call and what to say. Expense: $$$. Terrain: Mountainous.
  37. Social distribution. Twitter and Facebook have created a new alerting expectation and outlet. Expense: $. Terrain: Paceline.
  38. On-site hosting and archiving. Hosting platforms can be expensive because they support many of the functions above. Expense: $$-$$$$. Terrain: Paceline.
  39. Platform upgrades and migrations. Ah, the fun of either upgrading your platform or moving to another provider. It’s a lot of work, and the fear of downtime makes it a delicate task. Expense: $$$$. Terrain: Mountainous.
  40. Comment moderation. Sure, nobody comments on articles — until they do. Then what? The publisher has to staff for it and establish policies around it. Expense: $. Terrain: Unpredictable.
  41. Supplement proposals. Some journals allow supplements. Dealing with proposals alone is a chore. Publishing supplements delves into many of the steps that precede and follow. But because these can come from core authors, they have to be handled delicately. Expense: $. Terrain: Unpredictable.
  42. Analytics and abuse monitoring. Is your site under attack? Has someone stolen a paper and reversed its meaning on a commercial site? A good publisher watches for these things, and has a network that will tremble when there’s a problem. And then there are the more mundane analytics editors and business units need. Expense: $$-$$$$. Terrain: Flats and hills.
  43. Managing and protecting financial records. Yes, publishers get hacked, and have to create firewalls, handle credit card transactions, maintain payroll records, and so forth. Expense: $$. Terrain: Flat.
  44. Managing and protecting subscriber records. If you have subscribers, you have to keep their records from prying eyes, or risk violating your privacy policy. Expense: $. Terrain: Flat.
  45. Managing and protecting editorial records. Peer reviews are confidential. Records showing which manuscripts you rejected are confidential and definitely touchy. Expense: $. Terrain: Flat.
  46. Responding to legal actions. Sometimes, authors are sued, and publishers get entangled. Then, things get interesting. Expense: $-$$$$. Terrain: Mountainous.
  47. Basic management functions. Publishers have to do HR, legal, corporate compliance, and so forth. Expense: $$-$$$. Terrain: Rolling.
  48. Create and maintain e-commerce systems. Whatever your revenue model, you have to take online orders. These systems can be simple or very complex, but they have to be robust. Expense: $$-$$$$. Terrain: Rolling.
  49. Manage sales forces. Whether you sell subscriptions, advertising, ancillary products, sponsorships, or licenses, you have either an internal, outside, or mixed sales force. Expense: $$. Terrain: Rolling.
  50. Provide reporting to oversight, governance, tax, and local authorities. The Journal of Machine Learning Research lost their non-profit status because they didn’t comply with this obligation. It’s part of the deal. Expense: $. Terrain: Intervals.
  51. Interact with agents for institutional and individual sales. In addition to direct sales forces, agents provide another layer of sales support, and often offer different services and approaches, from telemarketing to storefronts. Expense: $. Terrain: Rolling.
  52. Conduct financial projections and set prices accordingly. Publishers want to be around for a long time, and that requires planning. Expense: $. Terrain: Intervals.
  53. Maintain facilities. Publishers have to live somewhere, and often the expectation is that they have inspiring and impressive offices. It’s part of the prestige factor so important to the mutual aspirations of authors and editors as well. They should be at least as nice as the universities where so many work, or so it seems. Expense: $$-$$$$. Terrain: Flat.
  54. Engage in product development. Things change. Little changes like the Internet or the iPhone drive product changes. Expense: $$-$$$$. Terrain: Hills and mountains.
  55. Conduct market research. This informs so many aspects of editorial and business planning. Expense: $$-$$$. Terrain: Rolling.
  56. Do renewal and retention marketing. Marketing and sales go hand in hand. Renewals keep the audience in place for future authors to reach. Expense: $$. Terrain: Intervals.
  57. Do new customer marketing. Growing the audience is also important. Expense: $$$-$$$$. Terrain: Intervals.
  58. Buy and rent lists for various email and snail-mail marketing initiatives. To grow the audience, marketing experts have to source and secure lists of potential customers, and track results over time. Expense: $$-$$$. Terrain: Intervals.
  59. Comply with privacy, email CAN-SPAM, and other regulations affecting publishing. There are a lot of standards and rules about online advertising and marketing, and publishers know and live by these. Expense: $. Terrain: Rolling.
  60. Pay for and comply with terms of publisher insurance policies. Yes, authors can do things that make it even riskier for publishers presenting new findings to the world on their behalf, so we buy insurance. Expense: $$. Terrain: Intervals with mountains.

Of course, the big picture is that scientists and policymakers don’t have to do these things. There’s a set of trades and associated professionals who do all these things on their behalf.

Now, what did I miss? What do you think is no longer necessary?

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


93 Thoughts on "A Proposed List — 60 Things Journal Publishers Do"

R&D seems to be missing? Not all do it, but many do (often the big ones) Elsevier and Springer with their apis come to mind, The RSC with their work on Chemspider. R&D is a budget item.

It’s implicit in the list, but supplying bandwidth for use isn’t free. One could spend some time here breaking down the platform hardware categories in terms of their costs. A couple of things to bear in mind here – backups and regional caching of data to be able to deliver globally. Also worth pointing out that there are legal considerations that make some of us wary about using the various cloud based infrastructure out there, because of things like the legal status of the data held therein and who might get to see it or declare jurisdiction over it.

And as many publishers also do books and various online offerings, there’s a bunch of items there that could be added to this list I think, because journal publishing doesn’t exist in a vacuum isolated from the other publisher activities.

Product Development is in there, as is market research. But you’re correct, they are not quite R&D, which traverses both but with a bit more umph. Thanks.

Being in Oxford, I think OUP is the only large publisher with offices here to manage Number 53

OUP’s author dining rooms are impressive if you like traditional country hotels but if your taste is more contemporary they make the whole organisation appear archaic and complacent. In other words, the appearance of OUP is good for some authors, especially those who feel part of the establishment, but for others its symbolic of a company that has struggled to move with the times despite the huge competitive benefits it gains from being exempt from corporation tax.

I’d say we could do away with all of those things other than maintaining a lightweight infrastructure that allows scientists to post papers in a structured format, makes everything freely available, and has a simple, uniform format for comments, reviews and organization.

We have that already, Michael: Blogspot (and its many competitors) offer everything you’ve listed above, at no charge to the author. Given that authors nevertheless continue to submit their papers to more traditionally-structured journals, they must want something more.

I’m not sure if it is that the authors want something more or that they need something more official for funding and other evaluation. I would love to participate in a more open, self-regulating system, but I’m afraid that no one will take those articles seriously when I’m evaluated.

David, I think we’re saying the same thing in two different ways. The traditional journal-publishing structure offers things to authors–notably certification by a third party that you’ve done good research–that simple dissemination doesn’t. Authors want/need that certification, because their performance is going to be judged by people who may not have either the expertise or the time to thoroughly read and evaluate all of their work. This is the problem with the argument that “the only purpose of research and publication is dissemination.” Making a paper widely available is cheap and easy. Putting a reasonably reliable quality marker on a paper is expensive and difficult. That’s why publishers are still in business despite the widespread availability of free tools for worldwide dissemination.

Scientists want prestige and priority, which publication conveys. That’s how they transform the information they have into something economically viable for them and their academic lives. Having trusted third parties who objectively (we hope) convey prestige and priority, and who preserve both over time, is incredibly valuable and important. It takes a lot to establish, run, and engineer/evolve a system to do this, while serving agency functions for scientists and removing financial risk from their plates.

So, you think copyediting is just a frill, only needed for print publications? God help us all if we have to live in an OA world with no copyediting!

Your list is interesting, below is a summary of my opinion on the usefulness of each item, for my field (fundamental mathematics), which have several specificities:

a. it is small in term of number of people involved, and each subfield is even smaller — often, one nows a large majority of mathematicians likely to read one’s papers,

b. we use arXiv a lot, at least in some subfields;

c. we use LaTeX an awful lot, which means our *submitted* paper are almost of publishable quality — they are far from perfect, but for example the formula layout is better than in every book published in the last two decades which was not using TeX I opened, and by a large factor).

Of course, my points can have very little significance, if any at all, for different fields (in particular, I understand that health science needs different services than mathematics). Before turning to the list, let me give a few conclusions I draw from it:

I. publisher probably do a lot of work that we are not aware of, but we only need a minority of these services,

II. therefore we could spend less money to publish our papers, and in fact this possible economy partially explains why our non-profit publishers and academic societies sell their journals up to 8 times cheaper than commercial publishers,

III. we could spend even less in a OA model where journals would be run and completely funded by institutions (big universities or CNRS for example), whose current subscriptions would probably amount to 2 to 4 times the necessary funding,

IV. we could spend even less by making these journals overlays of open archives; but this means dropping the copy editing, which is a net loss (especially compared to non-profit cheap publishers, which do a much better job at this than Elsevier or Springer).

Here is my view on your items, starting with the ones that seem less useful to me.

1. Audience/field detection and cultivation. Can be done by scientists, who are at the origin of most new journal.

3. Create and establish a viable brand (including filing, protecting, and maintaining trademarks). Mostly unnecessary, at most we need to protect the name of the journal.

4. Establish, cultivate, and maintain a good reputation. Done by the editorial board by selecting good article. We do not need more.

7. Solicitation of materials. Done by the editorial board.

8. Rejection of submissions. Done by the editorial board.

9. Acceptance of submissions. Done by the editorial board.

11. Plagiarism detection. We do not need this, thanks to the small size of the community.

12. Copyright registration and protection. We do not need this; no copyright transfer is best.

13. Recruitment and retention of editors and reviewers. Done by the editorial board (I have never had any contact with any publisher as a reviewer).

14. Care and feeding of reviewers. Done by the editorial board.

15. Training of peer reviewers. Not done, or done by the editorial board.

16. Manage statistical reviewers and reviews. We do not have these.

17. Manage technical reviewers and reviews. Idem.

20. Management of peer review process. I do not think we have changed much since a few decades, and what changed happened was slow and happening inside the editor-reviewer-author relation, independently from publishers.

21. Conflicts of interest and disclosures. Not relevant (our articles contains very, very little opinion, and full proofs of our claims; whatever conflict of interest there may be the argument are what counts).

24. Illustration. Not done.

25. Art handling. Not done (the use of TeX put this task on the shoulder of the author).

26. Multimedia handling. Might be useful, not done.

29. Tagging. Done by the author.

31. Search engine optimization. Unnecessary for journals, the right place to use fine search tools is databases (which covers all publishers in the field for the ones which are useful).

32. Rapid publication practices. Usually not done, not really necessary.

33. Publication. What is this except everything else?

36. Media relations. Not done, as far as I know. Not necessary for journals.

37. Social distribution. Not done. If it was done, it would probably by scientists.

40. Comment moderation. Not done: we do not publish comment — until… we still do not.

41. Supplement proposals. Unnecessary.

42. Analytics and abuse monitoring. Partly unnecessary: if someone wants revearse the meaning of a proof of the four-pinching sphere theorem on a commercial site, good for him.

46. Responding to legal actions. None takes place, as far as I know.

49. Manage sales forces. Unnecessary for the academic system: it is the quality of the editorial board, then of published papers that will convince mathematician to ask libraries to subscribe. Advertising can be kept at the mouth-to-hear level.

55. Conduct market research. Very little is done, at least for the journals I value most.

56. Do renewal and retention marketing. Very little to nothing done in this area.

57. Do new customer marketing. Not necessary.

58. Buy and rent lists for various email and snail-mail marketing initiatives. Very unnecessary. I cannot see one thing more annoying than getting spammed by publishers. Usually, in my experience, I only get spammed by publishers on the predatory side.

59. Comply with privacy, email CAN-SPAM, and other regulations affecting publishing. Unnecessary.

This leaves at most:

2. Journal launch and registration (ISSN and PubMed, for example). (small)

5. Initial funding (one time thing).

6. Establishing and monitoring infrastructure systems and contracts, managing these ongoing.

10. Tracking of submissions throughout.

18. Training of editors. (The echo I have from colleague that have editorial duties is that seems to be at least rare).

19. Editorial meetings.

22. Author attestations. (small; note that most article have at most three authors).

23. Editing of content. (Considered unnecessary by many).

27. Layout and composition. (Eased by the use of TeX by the authors, the papers are almost camera ready — in the good cases; many consider this unnecessary).

28. XML generation and DTD migration. 5i do not know what DTD is).

30. DOI registration. (small)

34. Printing. (can be dropped for e-only journals, can be outsourced)

35. Physical distribution. Idem.

38. On-site hosting and archiving. (can be dropped for overlay journals; expenses by paper are small, as shown by arXiv which runs for 7$ a paper).

39. Platform upgrades and migrations. (some journal have not done this in ten years).

42. Analytics and abuse monitoring. (parts)

43. Managing and protecting financial records. (could be mostly dropped for an open journal run and funded by an institution).

44. Managing and protecting subscriber records. (unnecessary for OA journals).

45. Managing and protecting editorial records. (note that I heard once of a editorial record being hacked; it was at a commercial publisher and it is the editorial board that spotted the fraud).

46. Basic management functions.

47. Create and maintain e-commerce systems. (unnecessary for an open journal run and funded by an institution).

50. Provide reporting to oversight, governance, tax, and local authorities.

51. Interact with agents for institutional and individual sales. (unnecessary for an open journal run and funded by an institution).

52. Conduct financial projections and set prices accordingly.

53. Maintain facilities.

54. Engage in product development.

60. Pay for and comply with terms of publisher insurance policies. (I do not know if this is necessary at all).

Scientists are not able to detect new or emerging fields, unfortunately. That requires a macro view and time to reflect on it, as well as incentives to then do something with the observation. Scientists have no incentive to carve out new fields and unify them through publication, and often are too “heads down” to see an emerging field.

An editorial board needs management, believe me. There is little guiding them or making them cohesive otherwise. At least, if you want a journal that rises above the mundane, you need to inspire them to greater heights. Otherwise, they become internecine and stall out. If you watch the journals world carefully, you can see this often. Journals rise and fall with management skill and editorial leadership. A process is not enough.

Many of the things you say are “not done” are done, so you’re simply wrong about the majority of journals. Your experience shows that not all journals are created equal. Your field, fundamental mathematics, has an entirely different way of working as a field than biomedicine or engineering, let’s say. Therefore, you’re speaking only for one area. Most OA initiatives are aimed at biomedicine implicitly, from what I can tell. I don’t think a goal driving OA is to make fundamental mathematics more available to taxpayers. It’s been a lot about health information.

Peer review has changed. It’s become more rigorous, and more international in scope. That makes it harder to manage in some ways, but also more beneficial.

I would encourage you to study some journals in other areas to see what they do. You might get some ideas about how to improve the journals you work with.

“Most OA initiatives are aimed at biomedicine implicitly, from what I can tell.” The movement goes through all fields I know, and the recent news from UK and EU are not targeted specifically to biomedicine. I did mentioned heavily that what I was saying was for maths (and by the way, I know what I mean when I say that for example there is *no* reviewer training); if you are talking only about biomedicine journals, please say so more clearly.

For more than a decade, much of the rhetoric of OA was centered on biomedicine, from Lorenzo’s oil-inspired stories to other claims of the need to access medical information. This is why the NIH was the center of much of the activity over the first decade of OA discontent. There has been little rhetoric about the need for taxpayers to access mathematics research.

I was presenting a list of functions most larger journals perform. Smaller journals may do less, but if they have ambitions to be bigger, they might want to look at the list for gaps.

“There has been little rhetoric about the need for taxpayers to access mathematics research.” One other important thing about Open Access is that *researchers* can access it (it is clear that most universities cannot afford to subscribe to all journals it could need). This is well worth in mathematics as in any field of science.

The dichotomy you make between larger and smaller journals does not address my remarks in my field: in math, no journal, however large, provides all the services you listed. Maybe it is because we do not have large journals (the largest We subscribe to in my department publishes 7000 pages a year). And in fact, I cannot think of a single service that (relatively) big math journal provides on top of what all math journal do. Last, I do not see why a journal would need to do more various thing than a small one, especially if these things are not really needed.

Well, if you are convinced you shouldn’t try these things or incorporate them, I’m not going to try to convince you. You seem to know that maths journals have achieved their ultimate state, and nothing can improve their reach, status, or effectiveness. Congratulations.

I clearly do not think we should run math journals as businesses (marketing, packaging, selling do not advance science by themselves), I consider they should be run as public services.

That does not mean they should not evolve (indeed they do, and will probably know their biggest evolution for a long time soon). The most important evolutions in the last decades are probably the use of TeX and the arXiv; none of them was invented by the commercial publishers.

I agree that in an ideal world, journals would be recognized as being of such great significance that a high level of funding would be guaranteed. But we live in a world where research funding is incredibly tight and every penny must be fought for. You note arXiv, which has an annual budget of at least $400,000. They have to scramble every year to get donations to allow them to continue to exist. Given their importance, I’d rather have them be self-sufficient rather than living in continuous jeopardy.

And that’s true for all not-for-profits. If you don’t make a profit, if you don’t have excess funds, you can’t experiment with new developments, you can’t evolve and you can’t weather any storms that happen to come your way.

Here’s a list of mathematics journals, with their years of first issue:

Homology, Homotopy and Applications, 1991
The New York Journal of Mathematics, 1994,
The Electronic Journal of Combinatorics, 1994
Theory and Application of Categories, 1995
Documenta Mathematica, 1996
Discrete Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science, 1997
Journal of Graph Algorithms & Applications, 1997
Theory of Computing, 2005
Ars Mathematica Contemporanea, 2008
Contributions to Discrete Mathematics, 2006
Journal of Computational Geometry, 2010

The common thread through this list (which I’m sure is incomplete) is that all of them are OA, and free to authors and readers. All of them are respectable journals, run by volunteers, often using OJS. Mathematicians have been very effective in starting their own journals without the aid of commercial publishers. This list is evidence of what Benoît is talking about.

Kent is correct when he says publishers do these things. Journals not published by a commercial publisher may very well not do them.

If you go to the INTEGERS website, for example http://www.integers-ejcnt.org/vol12.html then all the articles are free. DeGruyter publishes the print version and for some unknown reason doesn’t direct people to the free copies, rather asking people to pay €30 for an article…

To follow up on my assertions about mathematics journals, here’s a list of first-issue dates of pure and mostly pure mathematics from the big two commercial publishers (and yes, to my surprise, there *are* journals started since 1997, but none that I had heard of before as they are distant from my subfield):

(1 in 19C – Comptes Rendus)
1961 1964(x2) 1965(x3) 1966 1967 1969
1970 1971(x4) 1973 1976 1977 1978 1979
1980 1982 1983(x3) 1984
1990 1991 1993 1995

Springer (of which a great deal are society journals or translations of Russian journals)
19thC: 5
1900-1909: 2
10s: 1
20s: 3
30s: 2
40s: 3
50s: 8
60s: 13
70s: 13
90s: 21 as follows:
90: 2
91: 3
92: 3
93: 2
94: 1
97: 9
98: 1
2000-2009: 14 (2 Springer Open)
2010- :5 (1 Springer Open)

Ideally I’d like to break these down by founder (society, mathematician(s) or publishers) but that’s an exercise for another day.

There appear to be a great many more subscription journals than OA, including recent entrants. Nor is the all volunteer OA journal a viable model for the industry.

Obviously there are more subscription journals. The WWW has only been around for 20 years or so. My point was that commercial publishers don’t seem to be that interested in starting specialist pure maths journals. Elsevier haven’t founded a pure mathematics journal since they started publishing online (in 1995). Springer have started some (most notably the Springer Open ones), but most of their journals are actually society journals, and they are mostly ‘publish all new results in mathematics, pure and applied’ type.

Over the period 1990-now, I would wager that pure maths journals, and especially specialist ones, have mostly been founded by mathematicians, or at the very least by mathematical societies. And I don’t mean just OA ones. Mathematical Science Publishers started some of the top journals in geometry, topology and so on – and they are run by mathematicians. However they are excellent value for money, and seen as equal or better than their equivalents owned by commercial publishers. (By commercial publishers I mean the big ones that have dozens of journals across many fields. MSP only publishes half-a-dozen or so pure maths journals).

On a different note, if the commercial publishers were seen as value for money, we wouldn’t have had this massive backlash by mathematicians. The most visible input a publisher has for mathematics is copyediting (all the distribution and publicising and stuff happens in parallel with the arXiv and other channels. If big journals disappeared tomorrow, I for one wouldn’t notice and I’ve heard many other people say the same) and many people feel that what we get is actually subtracting value due to shoddy work/misunderstanding norms in mathematical writing/etc. If commercial publishers offered to mathematicians what they do now at half the price, you would get a lot less people looking longingly at OA.

Like Benoît, I can only speak of mathematics, and anything I say quite likely makes no sense in the light of how other scientific fields run their publishing.

I am more interested in understanding the world of science than in criticizing it, so the interesting question is why the demographics you describe exist? For example, it is possibly that there is a rough spectrum wherein purist found purist journals, societies found specialized journals, and commercial publishers found journals with maximim growth potential. Pure math may have very limited growth potential.

Moreover, as a journal gets broader its relevance to the purist necessarily gets smaller. Clearly broad journals play a different role than pure journals, but the question is what is that role? As for mixing pure and applied math, that seems like a very important role, because the societal benefits of pure math lie in their application. So the fact that some pure mathematicians have little use for commercial math journals is not an argument against the latter.

Journals play many different roles in the complex system we call science.

“For example, it is possibly that there is a rough spectrum wherein purist found purist journals, societies found specialized journals, and commercial publishers found journals with maximim growth potential.”

No, what I said was that societies usually established generalist journals, mathematicians establish specialist journals (usually online, and very often OA) and commercial publishers are not doing much of the points 1-5 in the original post. They certainly don’t seem to be doing much of what Kent says:

“Scientists are not able to detect new or emerging fields, unfortunately. That requires a macro view and time to reflect on it, as well as incentives to then do something with the observation. Scientists have no incentive to carve out new fields and unify them through publication, and often are too “heads down” to see an emerging field.”

I reject this statement outright as far as it applies to mathematics. Mathematicians can and do establish new fields in a single paper, and people pick up on it and run with it.

So while publishers may do all the things in that list, they aren’t doing it for me and my colleagues. While we have been told a number of times that publishing isn’t all as we say, I can confidently turn around and say not all publishing is as you say.

If publishers are only interested in areas which promise high growth, then it seems to me that they are not really interested in furthering fundamental science if it doesn’t lead to profits.

Thank you for engaging.

You apparently have a concept of fundamentality that is different from that which the publishers are looking for. Theirs is much like citation, namely that which many people will build on, hence pay the cost of publishing for. If you are referring to single fundamental articles which no one need read then yes publishers have little interest in these.

Publisher profits are driven by the paying attention of the community, as with all production. Publishers do not serve fundamentality per se, they serve consumer interest. How could it be otherwise? Again, you seem to be blaming commercial publishers for failing to serve niches that are so narrow that only volunteers can serve them.

Mind you, once authors and funders pay for everything this formula may change. It will be interesting when consumer interest ceases to be important. But even then fundamentality is not likely to have much money. It is all about the S curve, where rapid growth comes long after discovery. Publishers have no control over this fundamental feature of science.

Huh? We don’t edit comments (except to eliminate a really obvious typo, and then only rarely).

More seriously,

“single fundamental articles which no one need read” ?

no, there have been many instances in which a single paper has launched the mathematical equivalent of a thousand ships e.g. This paper http://www.springerlink.com/content/j8n1g2mjr566mj63/ which Google Scholar informs me has been cited over a thousand times (it’s certainly been cited more than the 75-odd times that CrossRef and SpringerLink think it has). This paper changed the face of a field of mathematics.

Or perhaps this monograph: http://www.getcited.org/pub/101247737, which has been cited, according to Google Scholar, over 1300 times. This founded a whole field of mathematics.

Or this paper: http://projecteuclid.org/DPubS?service=UI&version=1.0&verb=Display&handle=euclid.tmj/1178244839 and its sequel, which has been cited over 1200 times. This changed a whole field of mathematics, which is one of the main pillars of modern mathematics.

Or perhaps I should mention Grigori Perelman, who never even bothered to publish his proof of the Geometrisation Conjecture, preferring just to leave it on the arXiv. Or Jacob Lurie, whose papers and books on higher categories are helping change the face of category theory and homotopy theory (and which are all freely available, I might add).

All of these people won Fields Medals (except Lurie, who I expect might win one in a couple of years). Mathematicians can quite capably found fields of scientific study on their own. Again, I refute the statement,

“Scientists are not able to detect new or emerging fields, unfortunately. That requires a macro view and time to reflect on it, as well as incentives to then do something with the observation. Scientists have no incentive to carve out new fields and unify them through publication, and often are too “heads down” to see an emerging field.”

The people listed above, and many others, didn’t need a publisher to establish a mathematical journal in a new field to help them realise they were too “heads down” to figure out what they were doing.

Signing off.

My comment above which currently ends in “Thank you for engaging.” ended, when I typed it in, with “Thank you for engaging. /sarcasm”.

Unless the intertubes waylaid my bits, I don’t know how else they vanished. 🙂

I am well aware that single papers can create new fields. In fact I recently posted an SK article presenting a logic model of this phenomenon. I have been trying to make some sense out of your apparent criticism of commercial publishers, but now I have no idea what it even is. You have lost me.

I personally do not know what “/sarcasm” means so it is just as well. In any case sarcasm is rude and uncalled for. I was trying to make sense of your argument.

“Peer review has changed. It’s become more rigorous, and more international in scope.”

Really? So I shouldn’t trust all those mathematics papers from 50 years ago that I regularly cite? Because their peer review wasn’t up to scratch?

More seriously, what Benoît says is on the ball for pure mathematics. The pure mathematics (yes, _pure_, not applied) journals established in the past 15 years or so are pretty much all established by mathematicians (often breaking away from publishers), and usually OA (I challenge readers to find a pure mathematics journal recently established by a commercial publisher). Sometimes they migrate to a publisher, but most often not. I don’t see massive interest in publishers establishing pure mathematics journals, they usually just acquire them by purchasing other publishers. I see publishers as more interested in starting new journals in niche fields that have lots of money. New titles means another subscriber list. Shoehorning papers into perfectly acceptable journals of broad reach means only existing sources of income.

The comment about peer-review’s increased complexity and scope doesn’t dismiss what was done in the past. But there are more centers, more researchers, and more rules around what should be involved and included today than there were 50 years ago.

“More rules around what should be involved…”

What? What extra rules? (We are talking only mathematics here) Mathematical proof does not change over time. There are no degrees of correctness (well, in mathematics there are subtle shades of this, but that requires a course in the philosophy of mathematics e.g. Lakatos’ Proofs and Refutations, but I digress). All mathematicians need are a) correctness and b) suitability for the journal in question. That has not changed in 50 years.

I doubt this is true. I do philosophy of math and have even studied the logic of proof. Much of a proof lies in the step by step discussion. I imagine this is the primary topic of peer review. But whether the standards have changed in the last 50 years is an empirical question. They probably have because things like the copier, fax and internet have facilitated multiple cycles of review and improvement. I recall reviewing an article in 1970, and not realizing that my copy was the only review copy, I mistakenly wrote on it.

I find it highly instructive as to where you see or don’t see the value. Some of your comments illustrate the issues we as publishers face in education here. You assume that authors are happy and willing to mark up their papers (No 27). I see this one a lot in various ways, and with the greatest of respect, I think are suffering from selection bias here. You do it, your colleagues do it and, I’m guessing, much of your research community does it. Most other research communities do not. Some within those communities do so, and often they wish for a world where that all happened. But it’s not the world as exists in the wider research community, and progress here will be incremental at best, absent a massive external driver for it. Compliance (No 59) is not a luxury, it is a requirement and a vital one at that. Management functions seem to be massively underestimated by many OA advocates. This is about to be discovered. But thank you for your thoughtful comments, because it helps to see where the gaps in understanding are.

I think it speaks to the flawed concept of the “typical researcher”. In many ways, we’re dealing with an enormous number of subcultures, each with their own behaviors and needs. A one-size fits all approach may not be the best way to go.

If I wrote that 59 was unnecessary, it is because from what I understood it is related to advertising and marketing, and maths journal need no real advertising or marketing (apart, again, spreading once the word that the journal is being launched).

Again, I was talking about math journal, because I know them well, and did not claim this was universal.

I think most journal editors would like their journals to get a bigger share of the more important work, to be seen as “more prestigious.” An editor can work tirelessly to try to do that; marketing can very significantly (along with the editorial effort) impact that.

You are possibly right, even if mathematician tend to be quite reluctant to marketing; but you would not improve the overall quality of math publishing, just the way submissions are distributed among journals.

My understanding–I could be wrong, I don’t work with math journals–is that mathematicians largely even DRAFT their work in TeX. So the mark-up is automatic. This I think, tends to be specific to math and math-related (i.e, mathematical physics) disciplines.

(I work at Springer; my opinions are solely my own.)

Authors who draft their works in Word also are using a tool that carries over into production nicely. It’s not the technology, but the intellectual content, that’s at issue.

I would not suggest that there isn’t work that publishers should do on math manuscripts. I would observe though that Knuth, as I understand it, had a deep understanding of typography and that TeX output can be used as typeset–i.e., professional-grade kerning, leading, ligatures, typographer’s characters, etc. And at a quality level closer to what you see from Adobe, not from Microsoft.

It does mean that, theoretically at least, there could be less typograhic work to be done on a math paper than on, for example, a materials science paper that comes in in Word, with unprocessed materials micrographs that need to be processed, etc.

And we’ve come a long way since Knuth designed the font Computer Modern and the original TeX. With modern variants of TeX/LaTeX and so forth a book can be completely designed ready to print (yes, the whole book).

Respectable mathematics journals would reject something written in Word using some sort of equation editor…

Much of your list talks about the needs of a static field, one which will not at any point expand or branch. As an example, you note that you don’t need plagiarism detection because the field is so small. We’re seeing an enormous influx of researchers throughout the world in all fields from places like China. Should your field grow, your needs will likely change greatly and many things on this list may become requirements.

‘Plagiarism detection. We do not need this, thanks to the small size of the community.’ – what?!!! I think even publishers were shocked at the level of plagiarism taking place when they began to run papers through anti-plagiarism software – would researchers really be happy for this to become even more widespread? As for no copyright I’m sure there are an awful lot of researchers out there who wouldn’t agree – and why shouldn’t they retain rights over their own hard work?

Concerning plagiarism, it does exist in math but in small proportion, as claiming a known theorem cannot stay unspotted when only a few dozen people work in a given area. In fact, some work is done there by Math Sci Net reviewers (a database, not a journal), and by arXiv (which runs at a very low cost, free for reader as well as author).

For the copyright, I meant that the publisher need not take care of it if the author keep its copyright — which is not what happens most of the time, unfortunately.

I would point out that it’s economically useless for a scholarly author to keep copyright of works, and actually a bit dangerous. In the US, not registering a copyright reduces your ability to protect it, which reduces the ability overall of anyone to protect the literature. Registration is not free, and monitoring is not easy or inexpensive. Why distract authors from future productivity by burdening them with something that has no economic value to them after publication of their paper (which gives them the priority and prestige that is economically viable)?

Serving as an agent for copyright protection, paying to register the copyright, and monitoring copyright for years all amounts to a major service publishers provide to authors and major source of integrity for the literature.

Again, there is probably a cultural difference between fields here. We do not need a strong copyright watch, we mainly need not to be denied the authorship of our papers. If someone wants to sell beauty cream using the proof of Fermat’s last theorem, good for him.

Actually, plagiarism detection is a useful service in mathematics. Doug Arnold gave me some figures for SIAM. They screen all submissions for plagiarism, and over the last two years this has flagged about 3% of the 9000 submitted papers (about half of them for self-plagiarism and the other half for plagiarizing from other people). They do further checks on accepted papers, and over the last year this has led to rejecting two of those papers. Two isn’t very many, but it’s sad that these two papers made it past a first round of automated screening, at least two referees, and the editorial board.

I’d imagine that the scope of the plagiarism problem varies a lot, depending on how high-profile the journal is. Presumably it’s very hard to get a plagiarized paper into the Annals of Mathematics, but even high-quality journals like SIAM journals need to worry about this, and I’d bet the problem gets far worse at less prestigious journals.

On point 38 I’d be interested to see an example of a working overlay journal – can anyone provide an example?

Editorial Board’s usually comprise busy people I sense the significantly increased onus you place (4,7,8,9,14,15+) on them to deliver editorial needs might require additional funding/incentives. I also think timeliness might be a massive challenge. Publisher’s are also able to provide services across a range of subject areas, your post is of course very specific, but in actuality demands across disciplines vary tremendously and papers in one field need to be accessible/have merit in other fields in this era of collaborative science.

Is this a model for a journal that would rely on traditional subscriptions from libraries? If so, lots of luck. Most library budgets are spoken for by “big deal” and “small deal” packages from the giant publishers. Regretfully, very few have leeway for adding any new one-by-one subscriptions, whether digital only or print or both. I didn’t understand one of the commentators who said they wouldn’t bother with reaching out to faculty by regular print or electronic advertising. Would one simply reply on word-of-mouth for obtaining subscription orders?

Yet, many smaller bundles are doing fine, including those from mid-size houses to even smaller single-bundle publishers. But you’re right, single titles don’t work well anymore. You need a small bundle to make it work, one of the ways smaller library budgets and OA pressures have changed the landscape.

I don’t understand the attitude of “we don’t need to market.” It’s arrogance, pure and simple.

Geometry and Topology did not market beyond maybe advertising a little (a few articles) in societies letters and spreading the word, and now it is *the* leading journal in its field. Everyone in the field knows it, praises it, and buys it.

**Again**, I understand that this is only possible because fundamental mathematics is a small world: with an editorial board of 20 great mathematicians talking their colleagues about the new journal, and in two stages the few hundred or thousand of mathematician in this field know about it.
But the science has a lot of small communities, so this may extend far beyond mathematics.

What I try to explain, is that several fields are simply way different from yours, and what you feel is unavoidable may simply be unavoidable in your field — maybe not for all scientific publishing.

Kent, great job. Perhaps I’ve missed it (will re-read later) but it seems that included somewhere in 37-39, or as a unique item, should be the development of mobile apps/solutions. Getting your journal(s) onto the ipad or an ereader is not easy nor is it cheap.

Product Development is in the list. This is a broad category. Migration to new devices is definitely part of product development.

Good start for scholarly publishing, Kent. With the OA “Rapture” upon us, it would be useful to include the functions of scholarly book publishing. A good place to start is here: http://www.creativeskillset.org/standards/standards/BookJournal/. These Occupational Standards come from the UK Commission on Employment and Skills (UKCES), which is accountable to the Secretaries of State for BIS and DWP and Ministers in HMT, DfE and the Devolved Administrations.

Interesting that David Willetts, champion of OA in the British Cabinet, is the Minister of State under BIS.

By the way, another function is maintaining and monitoring licenses with aggregators, and they do need monitoring. But I wonder if anyone at the RCUK, BIS or the relevant EC directorate has calculated the protracted cost involved in renegotiating the terms with these intermediaries, who receive a percentage of the subscription the publishers are due. If there are no subscription payments, some new model will have to be invented — or not. Perhaps the aggregators’ function is deemed superfluous after the Rapture, too.

Of course, if all the superfluities are eliminated, then there will be no need for these particular Occupational Standards, which means that the workload of the UKCES should fall, which means we will need less government, which means we should have lower taxes, which means that there will be less funding for Academe and Science, which means that authors won’t have the money to make the APC, which means that there will be fewer papers, which means that we won’t need as many journals and learned societies, which means a further reduction in libraries’ budgetary requirements and an increased availability of some prime properties in London otherwise occupied by learned societies. I’ve always wanted a pied-a-terre in London. Maybe I could furnish it with the books and journals the libraries and societies will have to turf out.

One to add: Enhanced content linking, including CrossREf DOI reference linking, author name linking cited-by linking, related content linking, updates and corrections linking,

Thank you Kent for considering and committing to a list the many services a journal publisher offers, which I’m sure can be added to. It helps bring into focus the ‘invisible infrastructure’ that a journal publisher offers. These tasks are done methodically, quietly and efficiently by thousands of staff in dozens of countries and without loud fanfare, but it means the difference critically between a journal that either performs well or badly.

From personal experience as a publisher of medical journals, Benoit’s ‘done by the editorial board’ contention is fantasy rather than reality. Publisher management and intervention again make the distinction between a journal that thrives or fails, and thousands of real-world examples support this.

Again (how many times will I have to repeat this?), I was talking very explicitly about math journals, and never claim it could be applied in any other field. Why is it so hard to believe things are different in other places? I did not spoke lightly, I do now some things about math publishing, have talked with many people involved at different stages, have acted as an author and a referee several times, know a lot of editors and met several publishers. This is not fantasy, it is how things work now, *in math*.

One should add looking to expand potential single copy sales of individual articles. I note more and more publishers who convert their pdf’s to Kindle format and make them available, one-by-one, on Amazon. “DeepDyve” is a single-article rental service which just released a PR note today describing their growth. These, on top of selling single articles on one’s website. Others might know and mention additional strategies.

+Another to add: society partnership, strategic liaison in helping them attract new members, marketing society activities in related publications and so on.

A really important point, particularly for publishers partnering with societies. We spend an enormous amount of time working with our partners on activities that directly benefit the research community.

Here is another addition for consideration: Many journals offer continuing education CME/CE credits as part of their services to society members and individual subscribers. Article reviewers also can earn CE/CME for participating in peer review. While these are rarely money makers, these online offerings involve content preparation for the quizzes, review, care and feeding of whatever technology is involved, and reporting.

I was also surprised to see Benoit’s comment about not needing plagiarism detection. I would think that the rising number of allegations and retractions would sound a very loud alarm and push any publisher to establish a way to protect themselves against plagiarized content, whether researchers do it intentionally or not.

Excellent list, Kent! I once made an attempt to articulate such a list for editorial acquisitions of books in university press publishing in an essay in The Journal of Scholarly Publishing (January 1999) titled “The ‘Value Added’ in Editorial Acquisitions. I identified nine roles that editors play (and also discussed the key role of faculty editorial boards also), as follows:
“This general overview of the acquiring editor’s role only begins to hint at the important function that this person can play in facilitating scholarly communication, however. Without going into great detail, aspects of this role are especially worth highlighting for the ‘value’ they ‘add’ to the process. The editor, in fulfilling these functions, serves as hunter, selector, shaper, linker, stimulator, promoter, ally, reticulator, and listbuilder.” Some of these functions would have counterparts in journal publishing; others would not. I would argue that all are still important even if publishing moves entirely into an open-access mode.

I’ve been fortunate to encounter a few acquisition editors over the years. They are very sharp people, without exception. Because they deal with unpredictable yields and a lot of judgment calls, it’s easy for people obsessed with quick and flashy demonstrations of value to be fooled. However, academic publishing isn’t about the flash in the pan. It’s about building strong shoulders for the next generation to stand on.

Yes, and much of that money goes back to scientific societies and scientific institutions, funding educational, advocacy, and research efforts. It’s interesting to note that very little OA money goes back to science. PLoS currently has a non-profit status but no conduit to return to science the money it makes off research/grant funding.

It wasn’t meant as a criticism. There’s nothing wrong with making money, it’s just that it wasn’t on the list and it’s the number one reason they’re there. If they had to choose to either give up their role in the betterment of science and society or give up profits, I think we know which one they’d vote for. I for one couldn’t image a world without professional publishers and journals.

Many journals in the humanities and social sciences, and even some STEM journals, have minimal support from the editors’ institution, other than perhaps office space and a course release. At our 11-journal university press operation, it is crucial for each journal that we generate *at least 15,000 or 20,000* in funds each year for each journal office’s operation in addition to covering our own modest nonprofit publishing expenses. The journal editorial offices use these funds for such costs as hiring their grad assistants and/or a managing editor, purchasing computers and office supplies, conference travel, perhaps partly compensating a book/media review editor, sometimes the summer salary of the faculty editor, etc. To bring in this revenue, we work hard to maintain subscription renewals (not easy!) and promote new subscriptions globally, we sell advertisements in our journals, and we license permissions for re-use of content. We also publish several journals of interest both to academics and to biz or gov professionals outside academe, so we did find a way to offer single electronic subscriptions and single print subscriptions. Sometimes we’ve provided modest but crucial bridge funds when a journal office or association has an unexpected financial crisis.

I generally support all of the fundamental mathematician Benoit’s comments, in particular, regarding the fact that “one size fits all” is inappropriate. I mostly agree with his separation of functions between the “editorial board” (I call it the “journal”) and the “publisher” (e.g., Springer) as regards the journal in the area of theoretical and mathematical physics that I have been associated with for about fifteen years. In our case, the “publisher” receives “camera ready” files (*.ps) and on-line ready files (*.pdf). The set of ps files typically includes one more file than the set of pdf files: the table of contents for the issue (the December issue also includes ps files for the “Annual Table of Contents” and the “Author Index” for the paper version). In this case, the publisher handles marketing, subscriptions, printing, distribution. etc. If we view all the activities in Kent’s list associated with producing the “camera-ready” files—handling submissions, recruiting, training, supervising referees, tracking the review process, accepting or rejecting submissions, obtaining copyright assignment agreements, translating (English to Russian or Russian to English in our case), copyediting, improving illustrations and graphics, sending proofs to authors and working with authors at the proof stage, page-layout and equation formatting, etc.—as “production” activities, then the “journal” does ALL our production. The “journal” also sends a monthly “invoice” to the publisher listing the amounts to be paid to translators, copyeditor, “Russian” authors, and the “editorial board.”

Regarding value added by the copyediting in this one specific journal, my personal view as the copyeditor for the English version is that the added value is mostly value for the advanced undergraduate and graduate students who will read a paper in our journal. I edit for them. The researchers in the narrow field of a particular paper have already experienced the ideas in a conference or workshop presentation, have read the first- or second-version arXiv submission, and so on. They may ultimately cite the journal publication, but the journal in most cases is not the original source of their information, and they may not in fact even read the finally published version in the journal. Secondarily, the copyediting may be of some value to researchers in related fields who do read the journal version as a primary source. There should be much fewer instances of needing to read a sentence more than once and thinking to figure out what the author is trying to say. As much as possible, the author’s thought should be clear on the first reading of a sentence.

An impressive list, but how many really need to be done? I accept peer review to ensure articles reach a standard is a necessity, but the current system of journals with their niches and levels of prestige is another matter, and most of the list is about ensuring the continuation of the system rather than actually enabling content to be published.

We don’t do all this for fun. Many came through hard experience. Some incentivize investment and support. Some support authors. Try it without most. It’s easy enough with WordPress.

Rachael, the system in question is science and yes journals do a lot more than communicate content. Are you claiming that is wrong?

Benoit’s claims about his math community seem to imply a model of science which I doubt is correct. Science is seamless, not divided into discreet fields where everyone knows everyone else, making journals unnecessary. The topology is a network structure in which everyone has close neighbors in a multi-dimensional concept space. Pure math is no exception as it shades off into applied math and thence into the various pure sciences, sometimes very quickly. See for example http://www.springerlink.com/content/57553165301u2h15/ and the related papers listed there. In fact I do applied topology of science.

The role of journals in this system is poorly understood, and it extends far beyond Kent’s fine list. Claiming journals play no essential role in science is in my view unsupportable. The question is not what editors do, it is what do journals do? The present answer is that we do not know.

One important thing not explicitly mentioned is the ongoing stewardship of the content – dealing with updates, corrections and retractions. It’s more than just point 40 comment moderation, point 38 hosting and point 46 dealing with legal actions. This is true for any type of journal publishing – OA or subscription. The most important version is the publisher maintained one – Green OA doesn’t deal with this and Gold OA needs a mechanism for updates to be notified on all versions of the article that exist (something along the lines of, for example, CrossMark).

Ed, that’s a really good point, and I’d take it beyond updates, corrections and retractions. What happens to back content when technology evolves over time? If you have a chance of selling that back content, then you’re more likely to invest in upgrading it to the new technology. If you can not recover the necessary investment, it becomes much more difficult to justify improvements to older content. What happens when we eventually move away from PDF? If already-published articles are no longer revenue sources, do you bother to update them to the new format?

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