This past May, I participated in a session at the Council of Science Editors Annual Meeting about starting a new journal. My role was to discuss the logistics and technical issues, or better titled, the Super Long List of Things to Do. There were two very good presentations that went along with mine. Cara Kaufman of Kaufman, Wills, Fusting, & Co. discussed when and how to decide whether to start a new journal. Katherine Bennett presented a case study for the launch of a new open access journal at the American Society of Radiation Oncology.
The idea of launching a new journal may seem easy with today’s technology. Some may argue that all you need is a website with a content management system. This may work for some communities but for a journal that wants to meet the expectations of the typical journal user and/or subscriber, there are many, many things that need to be done.
I have launched three journals in the last four years, none of which are open access (OA) journals. I will try to differentiate between a subscription journal and an OA journal where necessary but I honestly think the process is pretty much the same, regardless of the business model.
So let’s assume that the business case for starting a new journal has been met and you already have an editor in place. Now you are tasked with all of the details needed to actually launch a new journal. Here are some things I have learned along the way.
In order to keep track of everything, I keep an Excel spreadsheet. This was originally created by an über-organized coworker. The spreadsheet has been refined and now serves two purposes: first, to record and keep track of deadlines and responsibilities; and second, to share critical information with everyone who needs the information.
In order to maintain the integrity of the data, all questions that come my way are answered with the spreadsheet — I literally send them the sheet, not cut and paste information. I have seen too many instances where retyping information results in errors. Of course this means that your spreadsheet needs to be correct and updates noted.
The first part of the sheet contains what I call “identifiers.” These are basic metadata elements that need to be correct and decided relatively early.
Title — What to call a journal can change as more people get involved with reviewing information; but, it’s important to make the decision and stick with it. I did have a journal title change half way through launch once and it required that I get new ISSNs, which was another unnecessary delay. You should also include an abbreviated title on your spreadsheet. Again, you want the same abbreviation to appear everywhere. For my program at the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), we use the abbreviated title in our references and the same abbreviations everywhere else.
Internal acronyms and codes — All of our journals have a two-letter acronym. This acronym is part of our manuscript numbering system and the URL for our manuscript submission sites. You may also need a code for internal accounting purposes. Remember that you probably need accounting codes for outgoing payments but also incoming payments.
ISSN — Serial publications should have an International Standard Serial Number or ISSN. Every format of the journal requires an ISSN. If you have a print and an online format, you need to request two ISSNs. For forthcoming print titles, an ISSN can be requested prior to the first issue being published if you provide a journal masthead page. Once the first issue is published, you will need to mail a copy to the Library of Congress in order for your ISSN to move from provisional to final.
For online-only publications, you cannot request an ISSN until 5 papers have been published. A URL will be required in lieu of the print masthead page. Note that many of the library holdings systems require ISSNs so even OA journals should consider having an ISSN for the libraries.
In the U.S., ISSNs are assigned by the Library of Congress. There are other ISSN granting institutions outside the U.S. An important note — an ISSN must be registered with the International ISSN Registry in order for Scopus (and possibly others) to index the journal. ISSNs from the Library of Congress are covered but some international ISSN granting groups are not so careful about this.
CODEN — A CODEN is a combination of six letters and numbers assigned by the Chemical Abstract Services for cataloging serials. At ASCE, we have always had CODENS, partly because our first online platform required them. We still use CODENS as a unique journal identifier in places like the URL for journals and in the DOI. A CODEN is not required and many journals outside of the physical sciences do not use them.
DOI — Our Digital Object Identifiers, or DOIs, have evolved over time. Because we have 36 journals, we like to at least be able to identify the journal by just glancing at the DOI. In the beginning, we had loads of information in the DOI, then we switched to including ISSNs in the DOI string. With the delay in getting an ISSN for online only journals, we were forced into another change and now use the CODEN followed by the sequential number string. There are no requirements to include identifying information in a DOI string and, I would venture to guess that Crossref would probably rather you not do that anyway!
Format and Design
Frequency and schedule — If you intend to have “issues,” which is still advantageous for journals that will be indexed by Abstract and Indexing (A&I) services and others, you will need a frequency. This information will also be needed if you are selling subscriptions to the journal. Even if you intend to employ some form of continuous publication (eFirst, Just Accepted, etc.), you will need to set a frequency if issues are involved. The schedule for issues may be fluid for some publications but with 36 journals, we attempt to balance the number of issues coming out in any given month so as to not overwhelm the production department.
Cover and interior — “Cover” may not be the correct word in you have an online-only journal but you will need some branding and likely something shaped like a cover. Have you ever wondered why eBooks or online-only journals have a graphic that looks like a regular cover? It’s because that’s what people expect to see in marketing pieces. If it doesn’t have a cover, it’s not real. Also, many of the “spaces” provided on off-the-shelf online platforms for a publication image are the shape of a cover thumbnail. The spreadsheet should note any color considerations for branding, additional logos that need to be included, and notes about interior design.
Submission and Production Set-Up
Submission site — Note the URL for submissions when available. This will be important for marketing the journal and the call-for-papers campaign. This portion of the spreadsheet also includes information about the review style (EIC, Associate Editors, Editorial Board, Advisory Board, Single-blind, double-blind, open review, etc.). I also note on this section whether we can pull information from an existing site, such as a reviewer pool from another one of ASCE’s journal that has related content.
Classifications and taxonomy — If you have a taxonomy, it is important to review the taxonomy against the Aims and Scope of the new journal to ensure that you have appropriate terms. We use classifications for people and papers in our submission site so identifying where those will come from and who will review them (likely the editor) is important.
Article types and production issues — This section could be quite extensive and perhaps warrant a whole other worksheet depending on the journal. At ASCE, we try to keep the journals standardized so I simply note whether there are any additional article types that production needs to build into the XML metadata.
Crossref and other indexing services — Depositing DOIs with Crossref is an important step for discoverability. You should inform Crossref and any other indices that a new title is forthcoming. In order to deposit a DOI for an article, an ISSN is needed and as mentioned earlier, you cannot apply for one for online only content until at least 5 papers have been published. You are permitted to deposit DOIs with a journal title level DOI but those will need to be replaced when an ISSN is added. Either way, it’s important to note that your DOIs will need to be deposited off cycle and that getting the ISSN as soon as possible is important.
Web of Science— You should be sending Thomson Reuters (or their apparent successor) a frequency chart each year with any changes to frequency. New journals should be added even if you haven’t applied for coverage yet. There is an application for getting a new journal indexed and you can apply immediately once you start publishing content.
Thomson Reuters takes timeliness of issues very seriously. Once you have applied and have published three issues, you are encouraged to ask for a status update. This will ensure that someone is actually evaluating your content. You will need to provide access to Thomson Reuters for evaluation. If your content is behind a paywall, you will need to provide them with subscriber access. You can read more about the evaluation criteria and process here. Generally speaking, you will be informed if and when your journal is indexed. This could take years. A journal will not be assigned an Impact Factor until it is accepted into the appropriate database.
Scopus/Compendex — It is important to note that you cannot apply for coverage in Elsevier’s databases until the journal has been published for three years. Once the time has passed, there is an online application and evaluation process. The Scopus database is separate from the other Elsevier databases and as such two separate applications are required. More information can be found here. You will be informed if your journal has been accepted or denied. It can take more than a year to find out.
PubMed/Medline — For print journals, you must supply copies to Medline for evaluation and you can start as soon as the first issue is out. For online journals, you cannot apply for coverage until you have published for 12 consecutive months and you have published 40 articles. Medline requires access to content for evaluation purposes.
Google Scholar — While it may not be entirely necessary to inform Google Scholar of a new journal, it certainly doesn’t hurt. Google Scholar is quite accessible and appreciates it when publishers are proactive about their plans.
Feed and crawler management — The spreadsheet should indicate if there are any metadata feeds or crawler that the new journal should be excluded from. If not, then you may actually need to add this new title to the feeds you are managing (see next section on Website).
Landing page — A new journal needs to be added to the publication platform. All of the information needed in the administrative tools for set up should be included in the spreadsheet. You may need to decide when to make a journal landing page live and whether having a “coming soon” page makes sense. For us, we include cover art, editor, Aims and Scope, Submission information, and the ability to sign up for Tables of Content Alerts. Whether on the platform or not, potential authors will need access to the Aims and Scope as well as editor information as early as possible.
In house web ads — Identify other web pages within the platform would be most appropriate for Call for Papers ads and announcements.
Turn feeds on or off — Depending on your platform, you may need to manually include the journal in routine feeds of metadata. Sometimes, you may need to suppress a feed until a later date (like if you don’t have an ISSN yet for Crossref deposits).
Subject categories — If the journal platform has title level subject categories, these should be assigned at set up.
Contract and Notifications
You know you have them, you probably have lots of them. If your contracts or agreements list the journal titles, you may need to reach out to those partners with an addendum. You may need to adjust the contracted number of papers being hosted or typeset depending on the volume of new journal. Don’t forget to review any agreements with A&I services as well as archive services like CLOCKSS and Portico.
New journals require a serious amount of marketing support. We cover this in separate meetings between marketing and journals. It is important for the journals and production teams to know the schedule for things like annual catalogs and maybe member journal renewals. Annual meetings or conferences may also be the platform for announcing a new journal. The marketing schedule should run parallel to the journal launch schedule to maximize opportunities for promotion. Promotions we have done for new journals include:
- Call for Papers PDF flier (can print for conference booths and send to the editors for email distribution)
- E-mail campaigns to authors or members that may be interested in the new title
- Editor interview posted to organization website
- Conference promotions (fliers, posters, etc.)
- Editor solicitation cards (pocket-sized cards that members of the editorial board can use at conferences to solicit submissions from presenters)
- Social media — post early, post often
There are lots of people within your organization that need to know about new journals. Here is a list that I use:
- Customer Service — make sure they can answer any questions that come in about the new title. You don’t want someone to call with a question and the customer service rep says that you don’t have a journal with that title.
- Membership — the new journals should be included on things like a member renewal or services brochure.
- Website Team — Our corporate website is separate from our publication website. It’s important to include the new journal on any corporate website pages that focus on publication titles.
- IT and Accounting — If you pull sales reports on journals or track APCs paid per journal, then likely there is a report that needs to have the new journal added.
Without a doubt, the hardest part of launching a new journal is getting the editorial staff or volunteers on board and then soliciting content. For a subscription journal, constant and steady solicitation is vitally important to ensure that quality peer-reviewed content is served to subscribers in a timely fashion. For an OA journal, the pressure for subscriptions is null but you still want to have a nice showing of content for the marketing blitz.
There is a ton of competition with new journals being born all the time. Starting a new journal is not to be taken lightly. Gone are the days — if they ever existed — to “build it and they will come.” It’s a lot of work.
In this post, I have tried to outline the more routine details — my “to do” list for starting a new journal. I hope you find the spreadsheet template and PowerPoint slides helpful and I look forward to your comments on how you manage the process.