"The Bruce Dickinson" (Christopher W...
“The Bruce Dickinson” (Christopher Walken) delivering the iconic phrase “…more cowbell!” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back in the summer of 2012, I wrote a post outlining 60 things journal publishers do (with many of these applying to publishers of books and other scholarly formats, as well). The post was written because 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.

Since the publication of the original list, comments on that post, Alice Meadows’ wise and insightful expansion of the list, and a “Stick to Your Ribs” recapitulation of the post and its attendant comments all added items to consider. I’ve sorted through all these, thought of one or two more, enhanced a few with additional scope or details, and have put it all together in a new and updated list consisting of 73 items total.

All new items are marked with a [NEW] flag. I have retained the cycling analogy of “Terrain” to represent difficulty and qualify it a bit.

  1. Audience/field detection and cultivation. [ENHANCED] 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. It’s not just about new audiences, but new audience needs within fields. In addition, publishers can create fields of study that weren’t apparent to the practitioners until disparate research outputs were pulled together into a salient journal property. So, this is many things, but for the sake of economy, 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. [NEW] Make money and remain a constant in the system of scholarly output. A fundamental goal for any business, it seems even more important for a system based on subtle signaling of quality and prestige for the brands and markers in that system to remain strong for as long as possible. This requires them to make enough money to remain in business while doing these other things, and that means making a profit, surplus, or gain sufficient to cover downturns, major technology transitions, field expansions, and parent organization (society or university) downturns. Expense level: $$. Profile: Paceline with potholes.
  5. [NEW] Plan and create strategies for the future. A famous joke is that the second book Gutenberg printed was entitled, “Now What? The End of Publishing is Nigh.” Publishers are famous worriers, and for good reason. Content has long been scarce, technological change is a constant, and risk is our shadow. Now more than ever perhaps, planning for the future is vital to survival. Expense: $$. Profile: Gradual hills.
  6. 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: $$. Profile: Rolling hills.
  7. Initial funding (3-5 years typically before break-even, and even longer before payback). This is where risk becomes real — expenditures are made, financial projections activated, and staff hired. Without this stage, there is no new publishing initiative or journal. Expense level: $$$$$. Profile: Multi-stage event.
  8. Establishing and monitoring infrastructure systems and contracts, managing these ongoing. Establishing these systems involves a lot of choices, and is often repeated as the years go by. Expense level: $$. Profile: Flat.
  9. 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.
  10. 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: $-$$$. Profile: Stationary training sessions.
  11. Acceptance of submissions. Luckily, some submissions are really good, and they deserve more attention. That’s when a lot more work starts. But notice how much has gone on before even the first paper is accepted. Expense: $ (act of acceptance only). Profile: Stationary training session.
  12. Tracking of submissions throughout. This bears on the infrastructure, but systems and technologies aren’t enough. Authors need a lot of handholding, materials can spring surprises on you, new requests from editors can come in, and so forth. Expense: $. Profile: Flat.
  13. [NEW] Tracking changes in the authorship environment. In many fields, rules around authorship requirements, funding disclosures, technical requirements, and funder requirements can change, and authors often don’t know this has occurred. Publishers have to keep track of these changes so they can provide useful advice and plan for the implications. This includes keeping authors compliant with funder mandates and ensuring domain normalization through compliance with broader standards. Expense: $. Profile: Hilly.
  14. Plagiarism detection. [ENHANCED] A new activity thanks to new tools and expectations, comparing manuscripts using plagiarism detection software often ends with steps involving human judgment. Other roles have included figure manipulation detection initiatives created and propagated by publishers. Expense: $. Profile: Headwinds.
  15. Copyright registration and protection. While many publishers allow licenses to suffice, most still require copyright transfer. This is a highly valuable service for authors, I believe, as it alleviates them of monitoring something that loses its value to them once published and gives it to a trusted partner to monitor and protect on their behalf. Expense: $$. Profile: Unknown.
  16. 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: $-$$$. Profile: Mixed.
  17. Care and feeding of reviewers. A list of reviewers isn’t enough. They need to be acknowledged, communicated with, helped, and supported. Publishers are good at this, or try to be. Expense: $. Profile: Rolling hills.
  18. Training of peer reviewers. In addition to caring and feeding, peer reviewers have to be trained. They don’t arrive knowing how to use the systems, either technical or categorical, and they often deviate from one another in unhelpful ways within both systems. Expense: $$. Profile: Headwinds.
  19. 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: $$$. Profile: Paceline.
  20. Manage technical reviewers and reviews. See above.
  21. Training of editors. It may be surprising, but a subject-matter expert needs to learn how to be a good editor. This comes naturally enough to some, but others struggle with it, and a few never quite get it. Staff provide a lot of training and monitoring, and this is an area of some confidentiality as to what actually goes on. After all, nobody wants to lose face. Expense: $$-$$$. Profile: Training wheels.
  22. Editorial meetings. Another level of editorial support, this often involves meetings that include selected high-level reviewers, a tier of editors, statisticians or technical reviewers, and editors. Staff have to plan, run, and manage these, along with editorial leaders. Expense: $-$$$$. Profile: Hills.
  23. Management of peer review process. The peer review process isn’t static. New elements come in — like new disclosure rules, new grading or evaluation approaches, and new media forms. How these are integrated matters a good deal, and it takes work. Expense: $. Profile: Rolling terrain.
  24. Conflicts of interest and disclosures. As noted above, conflicts of interest and disclosures are becoming more important in many fields (and should be very important in most). Keeping current with the state of the art, collecting and organizing the forms from dozens of authors, matching them with manuscripts, and following up with reluctant or forgetful authors all requires a lot of work. Expense: $. Profile: Headwinds.
  25. Author attestations. Scandals around fake or shadow authorship have made it necessary to get authors to attest that they indeed wrote, and were in a position to control the data and write freely, the paper submitted under their name. With growing author lists, this can involve a lot of attestations for the average paper. Expense: $. Terrain: Out and back.
  26. [NEW] Dealing with authorship problems. Authors get things wrong. Authors make mistakes. Authors commit fraud. Editors and publishers deal with allegations, try to understand their veracity, collaborate on what to do if claims have merit, and then implement a response — perhaps a retraction, perhaps an expression of concern, perhaps letters to the editor. In extreme cases, authors can be banned from publishing for a period of time, and the publisher has to keep track of these bans. Expense: $-$$$. Terrain: Flat tire pit stop.
  27. 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: $-$$$$. Terrain: Track pursuit.
  28. Illustration. Some high-end journals provide illustration staff to authors of selected papers, particularly review articles or review journals. Some improve the basic illustrations authors provide, for the sake of clarity and consistency. Expense: $$$. Terrain: Sprints.
  29. 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.
  30. Multimedia handling. See above. A new area, so slightly different. Expense: $$. Terrain: Rolling hills.
  31. Layout and composition. Whether the journal in question is still printed, the PDF is still in high demand, and typesetting and layout still occur. Luckily, computers make this relatively easy, but it’s not automatic. Figure-sizing, pagination, and other factors demand knowledgeable human intervention and skills. Expense: $$-$$$. Terrain: Intervals.
  32. XML generation and DTD migration. Now, in addition to making pages, publishers spit out XML, and track DTD migrations as they occur. DTD migrations can be minor (new elements to reflect a change somewhere in the pipeline) or extreme (a new DTD requirement, like the NLM DTD was). Expense: $-$$$$. Terrain: Bike path mostly, but be prepared for a multi-week stage race.
  33. [NEW] Format migrations. Just in the past two decades, we’ve moved from SGML to XML to NLM DTD and now to JATS. Flipping your content from one to the other is not a trivial exercise, and it’s not cheap. It takes planning, money, and management to do it right. Content stores are becoming larger, as well. Expense: $$-$$$$. Terrain: Hilly.
  34. Tagging. [ENHANCED] To generate good metadata, articles and elements are often tagged using either semantic, custom taxonomies, or both. Sometimes, tagging is manual, sometimes automated, and sometimes a little of both. But it doesn’t happen all by itself. And it isn’t maintained, enhanced, expanded, migrated, or corrected all by itself, either. Expense: $-$$$. Terrain: Flat.
  35. DOI registration. A minor task usually, and easily accomplished. But a task. Expense: ¢. Terrain: Flat.
  36. 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: $$$. Terrain: Headwinds and hills.
  37. [NEW] Integrate and track metrics and, increasingly, altmetrics. The Internet throws off data, and now publishers are running more data-intensive businesses. In addition, these data are shared with more constituencies, from librarians (COUNTER reports) to authors (usage metrics and altmetrics). Expense: $$. Terrain: Headwinds.
  38. Rapid publication practices. More common than ever, most journals have a custom path for rapid publication. This often involves special staff and processes. Expense: $$. Terrain: Hilly.
  39. Publication. Ah, at last, we’re published! This involves more now than ever (the next few steps at least). Expense: $$$. Terrain: Paceline.
  40. 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: $$-$$$$. Terrain: Paceline.
  41. Physical distribution. Mailing is more complex in some ways, because the mail streams are less robust. And reduced print runs have made postal expenses lumpy. Expense: $$-$$$$. Terrain: Hilly.
  42. Media relations and publicity. Press coverage drives awareness, and important authors of important studies expect to be in the mediasphere. Also, if there’s a scandal, you’d better know who to call and what to say. Expense: $$$. Terrain: Mountainous.
  43. Social media distribution. Twitter and Facebook have created a new alerting expectation and outlet. Expense: $. Terrain: Paceline.
  44. [NEW] Third-party licensing and negotiation. Users aren’t the only ones who want the content, and your direct audience is not the only audience. Some companies want to include the content in their offerings, or try to sell the content into adjacent markets. Negotiating and managing these deals and relationships takes time. Expense: $. Terrain: Rolling hills.
  45. On-site hosting and archiving. Hosting platforms can be expensive because they support many of the functions above. [NEW] Archiving is a new expectation that comes with the digital age, and one that is not trivial or simple to do well. However, solutions provided by the likes of CLOCKSS and Portico certainly help. Expense: $$-$$$$. Terrain: Paceline.
  46. Platform upgrades and migrations. Ah, the fun of either upgrading your platform or moving to another provider. It’s a lot of work, and the fear of downtime makes it a delicate task. Expense: $$$$. Terrain: Mountainous.
  47. Comment moderation. Sure, nobody comments on articles — until they do. Then what? The publisher has to staff for it and establish policies around it. Expense: $. Terrain: Unpredictable.
  48. [NEW] Implement and manage interlinking services. With the Web, linking became a new expectation, and publishers had to work with vendors to implement linking options at various points in their content sets and across their service offerings. These links need to be reevaluated periodically, and some of the data they throw off tracked. Expense: $. Terrain: Easy.
  49. Supplement proposals. Some journals allow supplements. Dealing with proposals alone is a chore. Publishing supplements delves into many of the steps that precede and follow. But because these can come from core authors, they have to be handled delicately. Expense: $. Terrain: Unpredictable.
  50. Analytics and abuse monitoring. Is your site under attack? Has someone stolen a paper and reversed its meaning on a commercial site? A good publisher watches for these things, and has a network that will tremble when there’s a problem. And then there are the more mundane analytics editors and business units need. Expense: $$-$$$$. Terrain: Flats and hills.
  51. Managing and protecting financial records. Yes, publishers get hacked, and have to create firewalls, handle credit card transactions, maintain payroll records, and so forth. Expense: $$. Terrain: Flat.
  52. 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.
  53. Managing and protecting editorial records. Peer reviews are confidential. Records showing which manuscripts you rejected are confidential and definitely touchy. Expense: $. Terrain: Flat.
  54. Responding to legal actions. Sometimes, authors are sued, and publishers get entangled. Then, things get interesting. Expense: $-$$$$. Terrain: Mountainous.
  55. Basic management functions. Publishers have to do HR, legal, corporate compliance, and so forth. Expense: $$-$$$. Terrain: Rolling.
  56. [NEW] Extended management functions. Many publishers exist inside a society of some sort, and have extended management roles that include internal reporting, strategic consultation, internal resource negotiations, basic office politics, and more complicated contracts. Expense: $. Terrain: Slick roads.
  57. Create and maintain e-commerce systems. [ENHANCED] Whatever your revenue model (subscription, OA [APCs], or some hybrid [page charges, color charges, subscription]), you have to take online orders. These systems can be simple or very complex, but they have to be robust enough to comply with credit card processing requirements, which have become much more stringent. In addition, the international scope of e-commerce has many publishers wrestling with VAT compliance. Expense: $$-$$$$. Terrain: Rolling.
  58. [NEW] Sell advertising, reprints, and single copies. Not all publishers or journals can make a significant amount of money from selling ads, reprints, or single articles, but when they can, their subscription prices or APCs can be — and often are — lower. Therefore, there is a mutual win if this can occur — publishers diversify their risk, readers or authors pay less. Expense: $$. Terrain: Headwinds.
  59. Manage sales forces. Whether you sell subscriptions, advertising, ancillary products, sponsorships, or licenses, you have either an internal, outside, or mixed sales force. Expense: $$. Terrain: Rolling.
  60. Provide reporting to oversight, governance, tax, and local authorities. The Journal of Machine Learning Research lost their non-profit status because they didn’t comply with this obligation. It’s part of the deal. Expense: $. Terrain: Intervals.
  61. Interact with agents for institutional and individual sales. In addition to direct sales forces, agents provide another layer of sales support, and often offer different services and approaches, from telemarketing to storefronts. Expense: $. Terrain: Rolling.
  62. [NEW] Create or integrate with educational offerings. In some fields, CME or CE credits are commonly tied to journal publication in one way or another. In others, separate publishing initiatives are built around educational modalities of some sort, often relying on a journal or periodical product as their backbone. Expense: $$. Terrain: Paceline.
  63. Conduct financial projections and set prices accordingly. Publishers want to be around for a long time, and that requires planning. Expense: $. Terrain: Intervals.
  64. 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: $$-$$$$. Terrain: Flat.
  65. Engage in product development. [ENHANCED] Things change. Little changes like the Internet or the iPhone drive product changes. Somewhere, no matter what technology is emerging, some publisher somewhere is experimenting with it. In some cases, entire new product suites are developed and launched, as well. Expense: $$-$$$$. Terrain: Hills and mountains.
  66. Conduct market research. This informs so many aspects of editorial and business planning. Expense: $$-$$$. Terrain: Rolling.
  67. Do renewal and retention marketing. Marketing and sales go hand in hand. Renewals keep the audience in place for future authors to reach. Expense: $$. Terrain: Intervals.
  68. Do new customer marketing. Growing the audience is also important. Expense: $$$-$$$$. Terrain: Intervals.
  69. Buy and rent lists for various email and snail-mail marketing initiatives. To grow the audience, marketing experts have to source and secure lists of potential customers, and track results over time. Expense: $$-$$$. Terrain: Intervals.
  70. Comply with privacy, email CAN-SPAM, and other regulations affecting publishing. There are a lot of standards and rules about online advertising and marketing, and publishers know and live by these. Expense: $. Terrain: Rolling.
  71. Pay for and comply with terms of publisher insurance policies. Yes, authors can do things that make it even riskier for publishers presenting new findings to the world on their behalf, so we buy insurance. Expense: $$. Terrain: Intervals with mountains.
  72. [NEW] Work together to solve more general access and fairness issues. As pointed out in Alice Meadows’ post, publishers have a great track record of working together to solve perceived inequities or general problems, from DOIs to CrossRef to CrossCheck to HINARI to Research4Life to INASP to free access to low-income countries to CHORUS, publishers generally aspire to fairness and accessibility, and have created an admirable legacy of working to implement these aspirations. Expense: $-$$$. Terrain: Tailwinds.
  73. [NEW] Benchmark and compare notes. Publishers like to check in with other publishers to make sure we’re not falling behind, to get advice when the going gets rough, and to see if there are better ways to do things. We attend meetings and webinars to remain on the forefront. In a rapidly changing environment, the time needed to do this is increasing. Expense: $$. Terrain: Headwinds.

In the big picture, having publishers doing these things means that scientists and policymakers don’t have to do them and can focus on doing their work. We represent a set of trades and associated professionals who do all these things on their behalf.

Any updates you’d like to propose for next time? The comments thread is open below.

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.


27 Thoughts on "UPDATED — 73 Things Publishers Do (2013 Edition)"

Re #37, what is a COUNTER report?

Re #67, renewal marketing is a big deal. I once worked on a prestige policy newsletter that was bought by a major publisher and run into the ground. (Is there a biking metaphor for that?) Their idea of renewal marketing was sending out renewal notices with invoices.

Thanks Bernhard, but the website does not say anything about reports, just standards. Do they have publicly accessible reports?

David, these reports are not like reports written e.g. by consultants. They report the usage of electronic materials on an institutional level. Libraries use these reports to asses the value-for money of the products they have subscribed to – each library uses their own report. If you want an example I can sent it via email.

Please do Bernhard, send the example to dwojick at (@) craigellachie.us. I am very interested in usage statistics. If there is an emerging standard that could be very important.

One of the things I love about this blog is how much I learn. But then when one knows so little learning is easy.

COUNTER has been around for a while (2008 for journals)—not sure I’d call it “emerging”. It’s just basically the way libraries have demanded usage statistics so they can get a realistic and consistent view of what their users are using. It cuts out things like search engine robots and automated traffic. It’s ingrained in every major journals platform and used by pretty much any journal that wants to have libraries subscribe.

Super! Is this COUNTER data publicly available? We could use it to map scientific activity in real time. Science is going where science is looking and this data tells us where science is looking.

It sounds like most journals are generating this data. Who owns it?

“17.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.”

Oh, if only they did. As a reviewer, my contacts with journals are almost entirely automated. Stock emails, on-line manuscript management systems for review submission, automated thank you emails when the review is submitted. But it’s not so long ago that section editors communicated directly and personally with authors, and where there was a an actual human interaction. Those days are gone, and with them the sense of personal commitment that went with reviewing. I miss it

Carl, just to be clear: is it your experience that interacting with a journal as an author is just as automated and impersonal as your interactions with it as a reviewer? (What I find it that my experience as a reviewer is indeed very mechanical and automated, but that my experience as an author is usually much more personal and human. But I don’t know if my experience is typical.)

Here are a few more that come to mind

Support societies and associations by going to meetings.

Support young scholars with grants

Employ people in an industry numbering in the thousands

Train internal staff

Contribute to the development of new publishing software

Create databases of scientific information

Create new communities of scientific interests. This is an offshoot of creating a new journal or for that matter book(s)

I think the support of research societies is an important factor touched on in this list, but perhaps not emphasized enough. Research journals are often the primary source of revenue for research societies and enable them to do the important work they do, training, funding research, lobbying on behalf of a field, putting together meetings, etc., etc. Beyond the revenue brought in by the journals, publishers work with their society partners to drive membership, create new training/learning opportunities, offer support for activities (ranging from sponsoring seminars to providing prizes for poster competitions) as well as driving strategy and policy (see metrics below).

Along similar lines, many not-for-profit publishers are parts of research institutions, providing funding for research, scholarships and general infrastructure and support.

I might also expand your section on metrics. Most publishers do enormous amounts of bibliometric analysis. This is generally used to drive editorial strategy–what subjects are of the most importance to the community, should they be highlighted with special issues/sections, what areas are seeing the highest levels of readership, where’s the growth, should we commission comprehensive review articles in these areas to help summarize the field to new researchers? All of this data is of course shared with society partners to help drive society strategy as well.

Excellent list—and it is interesting how many of the items seem to be delayed.


It may be time to start thinking about how this list could be subdivided into discrete and logical categories.

I’m working on a movie adaptation, as well. Hey, if they can do “Moneyball” . . .

This is a great list but doesn’t cover what book publishers do. Has anyone thought of starting a separate or partly adapted list of the ways book publishers add value?

45. On-site hosting and archiving — These are each big, important issues and deserve to be divided into two separate points. As to the latter, even the smallest publisher must understand its responsibility to digitally archive with an outside agency,

Crossmark, FundRef, and ORCID XML
Online manuscript management system
hyperlink and cited-by function via DOI
QR code
audiovisual presentation of the paper
Pubreader and ebook installation
Journal app for smart phone and smart pad

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