Starting a new journal is fraught with risk, expense, and hard work. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) launched two new journals this past year and the hardest part, without a doubt, is soliciting content. I warn editors and committees wanting to start new journals that it is a rough slog with constant attention to solicitations needed for years.
At a recent inaugural editorial board meeting for one of the journals, the editor sent a survey to all of the board members. One question asked them to identify the greatest challenge for the journal. Every single person said that the lack of an Impact Factor and/or the lack of indexing in Web of Science (WOS) are huge hurdles. The board discussed how they needed to focus solicitation efforts on more senior faculty as they are less likely to care about publishing in journals with an Impact Factor.
These conversations happen all the time and are then followed by questions to the publication staff about the process for “getting” an Impact Factor. We explain that this is a three year lagging indicator and that there is an evaluation process at Thomson Reuters that has to happen first. The bottom line—we are looking at three years minimum and considerably longer for a niche journal. Given citation patterns in civil engineering, it is more likely to be 5-7 years. The editorial board is deflated. You can tell that they are trying to figure out how many tenured faculty members they know in order to convince them to submit papers to this unknown publication.
Coming off the heels of that meeting just two weeks ago, I was surprised to see that eLife was granted an Impact Factor this year. Having only started publishing issues in late 2012, how could they have a 2013 Impact Factor? Helpful folks on Twitter pointed me to other journals that had announced “partial” Impact Factors. Cell Reports also received an Impact Factor with only one year of publication under its belt.
By way of reminder, the 2013 Impact Factor calculation is as follows: The number of citations in 2013 to papers published in 2011 and 2012 divided by the total number of papers published in 2011 and 2012. As stated earlier, none of the journals mentioned above had publications in 2011.
I reached out to Thomson Reuters to ask about this and it turns out that this is not all that uncommon. Patricia Brennan, vice president of Product and Market Strategy at Thomson Reuters, explained the process for inclusion in WOS, the starting point for Impact Factor evaluation.
“Thomson Reuters editors thoroughly evaluate each journal with a firm and rigorous set of criteria that looks at a journal’s timeliness, compliance with international editorial conventions, language (bibliographic information, at a minimum must be published in English), author and editorial board, international diversity, citation analysis and editorial content,” Brennan wrote via email correspondence. She further explained that the journal must publish either 15 papers over 9 months or 20 papers a year.
eLife launched with the first issue in October of 2012. But in those last three months of 2012, 46 papers were published making it automatically qualified for inclusion in WOS. Cell Reports began publishing in January of 2012 and had well over the 20 papers published that year. Both titles were highly promoted and anticipated. It makes sense that the editors at Thomson Reuters would want to ensure that the journals were included in WOS as soon as possible.
Brennan explained that citation patterns for new journals are certainly different than those of established journals. When they see citations happening in the first year of the journal, this shows promise and the journal is deemed adequate for an Impact Factor.
Remember though that the Impact Factor for 2013 includes citations to papers published in 2011 and the number of papers published in 2011 is in the denominator.
“A journal receives its first impact factor when Thomson Reuters has three complete and known years of source item data,” Brennan wrote. So again, how does a journal with no publications in 2011, even get included an Impact Factor in 2013 with only one year of publications?
“In instances of new titles—whether the result of a 2012 title change or because a journal was added to coverage with 2012 volume 1, issue – it will be listed with a Journal Impact Factor in its second year, as the known count of scholarly items is zero for 2011. In this type of case, the Journal Impact Factor calculation comprises citations to just one year of scholarly items. The known zero value is displayed in the Journal Impact Factor calculation,” wrote Brennan. I had to read this a few times. The known value for 2011 is zero and therefore, the journal qualifies for an Impact Factor.
If a journal is not indexed in the first year, but rather the second year—say volume 2 indexed in 2012—Thomson Reuters does not know how many papers were published in 2011 because they were not indexing the journal for 2011. This produces a null value and that journal does not qualify for an Impact Factor, Brennan explained.
“Basically it boils down to when we began covering a journal, and the difference between a known zero value vs. an unknown null value,” Brennan wrote. Oddly, both eLife and Cell Reports are credited with citations to papers published from 2009-2011. I asked Brennan about this and she said that they are dependent on the metadata provided with the citation. If an author puts the wrong year in the reference, the journal gets credit for that citation. In my past conversations with Thomson Reuters regarding citations, I was under the impression that there was validation of the citations, but these erroneous citations show the value in taking the time to dig through the citation data used for your journal and making sure it’s accurate.
A journal does not need to request an Impact Factor in order to get an Impact Factor. In fact, eLife has declared over and over again that it does not care about Impact Factors and that it will not promote an Impact Factor. They may have requested to be included in WOS. This is clearly not a case of eLife or Cell Reports trying to get the upper hand. In fact, Brennan makes it clear that this is all perfectly normal.
The problem is that certain new journals clearly have an advantage over others. eLife had a lot of start-up money for promotion, and a very influential editor and board. There are no fees for publishing in the journal, yet. This particular title would have a relatively easy time of ensuring that the first year of publication, October –December of 2012, included influential and highly citable authors in a very broad yet elite journal.
But the second year of publication for a new journal can look very different than the first—maybe not for eLife or Cell Reports but for less sensational though still higher end journals. The first year may be chock full of papers written by the friends of editorial board members. This is how journals start! You have to solicit the heck out of your contacts, and as discussed at my recent editorial board meeting, you need to go after more influential authors—tenured authors—who aren’t fazed about a lack of Impact Factor. By the second year, the board may sit on its laurels a bit or maybe have run out of friends to solicit. Year two is when you hope to see spontaneous submissions start rolling on. Year two for an OA journal may be the year that APCs are being consistently charged following the first year of gratis publication.
Why does year two matter? Because the Impact Factor is supposed to be based on two years of publication and citation data and year two may actually drag down the average citations per paper achieved by the big names solicited for year one.
If you look at the Journal Citation Report for eLife and Cell Reports, you will see that there are zero publications in 2011 but that is the only indication that the Impact Factor is actually only based on one year. The term “partial” does not seem to be an official designation of Thomson Reuters but perhaps there should be some qualifier for Impact Factors based on one year’s worth of data.
As for new journals hitting the market, my advice would be to collect at least 20 papers for publication in the first issue or two and promote them a lot to encourage quick citation. Get papers published ahead of print as soon as possible. Citations to those early versions online are counted and held until the paper is assigned to an issue. You can start collecting citations well before the first issues are posted.
While your efforts may be focused on solicitations at this point, equal effort should probably be made for increasing citations in that first year of publication. Subscription journals may want to consider giving away access to the content in order to increase visibility. Coach the authors of these first papers to use social media and email alerts to colleagues.
Perhaps with enough effort and solid content, a new journal could cut a little time off the long wait for an Impact Factor, though it’s still unclear exactly how one makes the cut. Thomson Reuters claims to understand that different fields have different needs and citation patterns. While our niche civil engineering journals do not compete with eLife or Cell Reports, it is a bit frustrating to see elite journals benefit from a system that does not equally benefit the average journal. Given Thomson Reuters’ new commitment to transparency, some clear guidance on how to jump the line would likely be greatly appreciated.