Just a short post today to highlight an interesting new initiative in the field of manuscript exchange (the process of taking an article that has been submitted to one journal, and transferring it for submission to another journal, most commonly after it has been rejected by the initial journal). This is an area that, if not exactly “ripe for disruption” (an overused and ill-applied phrase) could certainly do with some streamlining. Researchers commonly complain about the time and effort involved in reformatting an article for re-submission to a new journal after rejection by their first choice (Steven Inchcoombe described it as “publishing’s nasty secret” at the UKSG One-Day Conference last November). And while, in theory, therefore, the now relatively common concept of transfer within a publisher’s portfolio ought to be popular, it is often greeted with cynicism (particularly in scenarios where the transfer is from a prestigious subscription-based journal to a less established open access journal; it does reek a little of “your article’s not really good enough for us, but we’ll publish anything if you pay us”).
So a movement to simplify transfer across publishers is a welcome sign of the publishing industry overcoming competitive boundaries to make life easier for authors. MECA, “Manuscript Exchange Common Approach“, was launched I think at this year’s SSP Annual Meeting and presented again by HighWire’s John Sack at last week’s ISMTE conference (the International Society of Managing and Technical Editors — a wonderfully collegial and practical group if you’re in that kind of role and looking for peer discussion, networking and professional development). To quote the MECA website, “a group of manuscript-management suppliers has taken up this challenge [of transferring manuscripts and peer review data across publishers and systems] and is working to develop a common approach that can be adopted across the industry”.
Participating organizations (and systems) include Clarivate Analytics (ScholarOne), Aries Systems (Editorial Manager), eJournal Press (eJPress), HighWire (BenchPress) and PLOS (Aperta). The focus is on defining recommended best practices in the following project areas (slide from John’s talk at ISMTE, which I don’t think was video recorded, but you can see a video of a slightly earlier iteration of the talk on the MECA site):
This focus on “recommended best practices” reminds me of what we set out to do at KBART (Knowledge Bases And Related Tools, a UKSG- and NISO-led project which defined some basic formats for exchange of title level metadata / holdings data between publishers and library software suppliers). That project is now over ten years old, and its recommended practices have been widely adopted, which provides an encouraging precedent for MECA in terms of gaining adherence to voluntary principles. That said, KBART was “voluntary” in what I imagine Joe Esposito might call “the Sicilian sense”; it quickly became part of library RFPs and therefore publishers and systems suppliers were pretty soon over a barrel to comply. Whether authors have sufficient power to drive MECA’s uptake in the same way remains to be seen. And of course, whether authors actually want to transfer reviews (in particular) between publishers is also an open question. This is not the first experiment with review transfer across publishers; the Neuroscience Peer Review Consortium was launched in 2008 as a framework for sharing of reviews between publishers, and the progress / fate of portable peer review initiatives such as Axios, Rubriq and Peerage of Science have been widely covered here in the Kitchen. These experiments haven’t always met with success — uptake is limited, perhaps because authors don’t necessarily want a journal to know it was not their first choice. And it’s interesting that the MECA initiative is primarily being led by systems suppliers rather than publishers; how would (say) a small publisher feel about putting time and effort into the peer review process for a paper, and then passing the results of that process to (say) a bigger competitor? It’s hard to model who has most to gain from manuscript exchange, and it may be another scenario in which small publishers end up losing ground to bigger ones.
What the MECA team have not yet mentioned, as far as I know, is anything about introducing standards to simplify formatting across different journals. That’s the bit that really pains researchers, and seems utterly ridiculous in this day and age (where digital publishing offers so many better ways to impose a journal’s “personality”, and really what else are arcane formats trying to achieve?). Every time it comes up, publishers tell me woefully that their editors will defend to the end the need for their journal’s own specific format — though that hasn’t prevented some experimentation with post-publication formatting, as with Elsevier’s “your paper, your way” initiative. If MECA takes us one step closer to doing away with journal-specific formatting requirements, that will certainly be welcomed by authors.
- Learn more about MECA in a webinar on September 20th–sign up via the project’s homepage.