What’s in a name? Beginning January 2013, the American Medical Association is changing the name of nine of its research journals, replacing the prefix “Archives of” with “JAMA.” Archives of Internal Medicine will soon become JAMA Internal Medicine, for example.
According to the editorial, the changes coincide with a print and online redesign and integration into a more cohesive JAMA Network. Information and commentaries about articles published in one journal may be featured across other journals in the network. Manuscripts rejected by one journal can be transferred internally to another journal in the network. The changes in journal name reflect the idea that the AMA publishes more than just a collection of independently related titles.
Name changes have consequences. In the short term, a name changes artificially depresses the journal’s impact factor as citations in the next two years are split between the old and new title names. Citing authors are also prone to making mistakes, attributing new articles to the old name or vise versa. As some authors are prone to reuse the erroneous citations of others, errors can persist years after a name change has been made.
A study of journal title changes in 1994 and 1995 illustrated that name changes can depress a journal’s impact factor beyond the two-year transition period. On average, it took three years for journals to recover to their old-title impact factors. So why fix what isn’t broken?
It’s important to distinguish the rationale behind a title change. The vast majority of title changes take place because the scope of the journal no longer represents the articles it publishes. Some fields grow, others decay; a few exceptional topical articles published in your general biology journal this year may result in a flood of similar topical manuscripts next year. It’s not always possible to predict where your journal is moving until you’ve made a significant shift. This is not the reason for the new JAMA titles.
The changes in JAMA titles are an effort to unite a collection of journals under a common brand, and an attempt to convey an interconnectiveness between the titles, explained Howard Bauchner, Editor in Chief of JAMA, by phone. The JAMA Network brand even extends his email address, which ends with jamanetwork.org. Asked about the implications of rebranding the Archives journals, he responded that many readers may not have realized that the Archives journals were published by the AMA, and that the word “archives” is a pejorative term to some, signaling that the journals didn’t publish important and current research. Bauchner understands that the title changes will depress the impact factor of the entire network of journals for two years, but believes that they will be in a stronger position in the near future.
Publisher branding is not new to STM publishing. Nature began doing this with its sister and review titles beginning in the mid 1990s. Cell Press followed a similar strategy by starting a suite of sister-branded journals. IEEE is known for its engineering journals, and BMC with its open access journals. The American Physical Society’s approach is somewhat different, branding a suite of journals under Physical Review and naming its new open access journal Physical Review X, as opposed to APS-Open.
Brands can also be a liability, and there is an argument to be made for not extending a brand too far, explained John Hawley, Executive Director of the American Society for Clinical Investigation. Nature was careful not to associate its new open access journal, Scientific Reports, with the Nature name. Cell Press still persists as an independent brand in spite of the fact that it is owned by Elsevier. And scientists are now more likely to associate the PLoS brand more with a huge, high-acceptance rate journal than with the selective high-profile journals it began publishing. “Brands are powerful [signals], but they can also be overextended,” said Hawley.