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RE: Costs of publishing a journal

Thanks, I appreciate the feedback and information.

My personal standpoint is that training costs can be high or low, 
but it is almost always dependent on the culture of the 
organization and the people available.  The software learning 
curve was minimal for me or my co-interns, but we all took some 
pride in our tech-savvy, so the case might be different in other 
environments.  Admittedly, the system does not do all the work -- 
again , that's up to the "volunteers", but the system took many 
of the administrative steps away and that work can add up if 
there is correspondence or other kinds of interactions involved.

I worked as both an intern for an academic journal and as a 
free-lancer for a commercial b2b magazine (doing some of the same 
things) while going to school to transition from a business 
environment to an academic environment. While the commercial 
magazine clearly did as much as they could to hold down costs and 
stressed productivity in training and assessment, my feeling 
looking back is that they just couldn't compete with the academic 
journal published by a university or library.  Aside from paying 
the boss, the assistants, the free-lancers, the infrastructure 
(office, overhead, and politics, though we used an open source 
content management tool there for a piece of the workflow), and 
seeking profit, I don't think they could get the same 
contribution from the people.  I always take a great deal of 
pride in my work, and I was frequently praised for turning in the 
most error-free pages per time unit among the people doing the 
same kind of work, but while working for the academic journal, we 
all did a little more because that's what we wanted to be doing 
-- or at least that's my rosy impression from this vantage ... 
and I'll admit I'm already nostalgic about the time I took to go 
back to school.

Anyway, for one or a few journals, I don't see how an academic 
journal could avoid being lower cost, but for more titles, there 
would need to be an office with at least one administrative 
person holding it all together, so the overhead would start to 
rise (and once overhead starts to accumulate, it is very 
difficult to hold back without the right culture).  Of course, 
you're right that I've simply shifted some costs under other 
shells, but many such fees (hosting, etc.) would be incremental 
or multi-purpose in an academic environment.  With regard to the 
real cost (people time), my experience as a business manager is 
that happy people can always do more if you ask for more 
periodically (allowing time for "digestion"), if you utilize 
fractions of their time, if you give them stuff that is 
interesting (or at least mix it up), and if you show them how to 
be more efficient (or even just give them that opportunity by 
talking with them more), so a smallish venture could potentially 
be absorbed among the existing costs of the paid workers, given a 
handful of librarians or other staff contributing <30% of their 
time -- and we've already discussed the costs of the work of the 
editors, etc.  Or anyway, I've seen one person handle two 
journals, a full teaching load, part-time librarian 
responsibilities, and otherwise lead a full life, but he was (is) 
a highly capable individual.

I think you're right that permanent staff will likely be more 
efficient at many things, so long as the organization doesn't 
hold onto foot-draggers, but grad students can be surprising in 
what skills they bring, generation after generation and, if this 
were a new venture , I'd be very interested to see the cultural 
impact among the permanent staff asked to help out.  There was a 
social networking study way back when social networking meant the 
human to human kind of interaction which showed that people who 
have contact with more and different kinds of people within an 
organization tend to offer the most ideas/ innovations.

I wouldn't want to generalize too much, though, since I think so 
much depends on culture and people, so I suspect there will be 
lean, effective approaches, as well as ineffective approaches, in 
any environment, regardless of whether or not there are natural 


-----Original Message-----
From: owner-liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu
[mailto:owner-liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu] On Behalf Of Sandy Thatcher
Sent: Friday, October 23, 2009 4:48 PM
To: liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu
Subject: Re: Costs of publishing a journal

A few observations on an interesting post, which nevertheless
reveals a certain naivete about the costs of publishing....

>Can anybody answer these questions:
>Is there any available data about showing proportion of peer
>reviewers are paid for their work?

For scholarly journals, I understand the standard practice is NOT
to pay peer reviewers at all. I would be interested in hearing
from other publishers on this list if any of them know of
journals for which peer reviewers receive payment, in cash or in
kind (free subscription?).

>What proportion of editors of scholarly journals are paid for
>their work (or paid more than the <$1000 nominal fee)?

There is wide variation here. My guess is that most commercial
publishers pay the main journal editors something and probably
provide free subscriptions to the editorial boards of journals;
some even subsidize the costs of the journal's editorial office,
including staff and other costs. Among non-profit publishers,
society and university press, i am sure there are many journal
editors who receive no compensation in cash for their work, while
it seems to be common practice among all publishers to provide
free subscriptions for scholars who agree to serve on the journal
editorial boards. I know of no source that provides this
information, by sector or type of publisher, even in highly
aggregated form. Does anyone else?

>I studied under the founder and editor of a highly regarded
>peer-reviewed journal, who also happened to support Open Access
>strongly, and one of his points was that online publication
>applications had obviated the need for much of the staff to
>handle the workflow of publication.  Submissions, queueing,
>distribution to reviewers, distribution throughout the
>decision-making process, and "publishing" the work online are
>all automated, so the actual cost of publishing a peer-reviewed
>journal can be quite low. The app he recommended was open
>source. Infrastructure costs (hosting) can often be footed by
>universities (his publication is hosted by a university which
>hosts many other journals).

"Automated"? Surely, that is a vast exaggeration. Yes, editorial
management software creates considerable efficiencies in the
processing of manuscripts from initial submission through to
production. But the use of this software, even if it is available
"open source," hardly comes without costs, in both initial
training and in the constant input of data accurately.  And
remember that journal editors do not remain in place forever, so
new editors need to receive the startup training. And to the
extent that graduate students are relied upon to use these
systems, they constantly are turning over, so the learning curve
needs to be repeated almost every year by a new crop of interns.
In our experience at Penn State, even the main journal editors
often resist having to go through this learning curve; this is a
drain on their time initially, even if it carries long-term
benefits for efficiency. And we have had serious problems with
changing editorial office staffs populated by graduate students,
few of whom ever reach the level of efficiency of professional
publishing editorial staff.  These are all "costs" of running a
journal. And if the university "hosts" the journal, this is also
a cost, even if not charged directly to the journal. And in any
true accounting of the cost of operating a journal, such costs
need to be accounted for, not ignored because they get absorbed
into some other part of the university's budget.  This appears to
be the way the impression is created that OA journals published
out of universities are somehow much cheaper to operate.  Much of
this is smoke and mirrors, not reality.

>As I recall, one of the only real questions in his view was
>whether to pay the editor and peer-reviewers, although he stated
>(anecdotally?) that most scholarly peer reviewers, board
>members, etc.  are essentially volunteers (although they get
>career rewards for their work) -- I think he mentioned that
>there are a handful of notable exceptions among the big name
>commercial journals.  I know there are numerous studies showing
>how commercial journals have much higher costs per page to
>publish than nfp and oa journals, but I don't know why exactly
>those costs are so much higher and I don't buy the handful of
>defenses/ apologies I've seen (tobacco use does cause cancer,
>global warming does exist, and so does commercial journal

Well, consider a simple fact: real estate in New York City (where
most large commercial publishers have their offices) is much more
expensive than real estate in the towns where many universities,
like Penn State, are located.  It is also true that commercial
publishers, especially the largest, tend to cover more of the
journal editorial office costs than non-profit publishers do; and
a few even have professional staff who are trained scientists
capable of conducting peer review themselves, and these staff
thus are paid to be peer reviewers.

>I suppose, since commercial journals don't have access to
>semester after semester of committed intern teams, which give
>university and library published journals an advantage, that is
>probably a factor.  As an intern on a peer-reviewed journal, I
>worked with a team to digitize old print volumes of the journal
>(scan, ocr, copy-edit, html), to help re-design the journal, and
>to convert submitted works to clean html (with slight
>copy-editing duties), so I suppose these could be costs under
>other publishing models. In addition, all of the higher level
>work, the real editor work, was volunteered by scholars in the
>field and the journal's board consisted of international
>scholars, likewise volunteering their work.

That "advantage" comes with a cost, viz., as noted above, the
need to train each new crop of interns. It is an open question
whether the overall cost of using interns is greater or less than
relying on professional publishing staff alone.  At our press we
have concluded, with respect to several journals we publish in
the humanities, that the latter is less expensive overall.

>As an aside:  it seems to me that a huge advantage of library
>and university published journals, for students, is that grad
>student-interns get the opportunity to learn much more about
>what they are studying to become -- not just to become aware of
>the publications in their field and the work contained therein,
>but also to learn lots of highly applicable real-life lessons
>about some aspects of their upcoming professional lives (and the
>opportunities to network within the field are unique).  Such an
>internship can be a much more valuable learning experience than
>the typical grad student term paper or presentation.  In fact,
>the professor I mentioned above ventured that there should be a
>program to teach universities and libraries how "easy" and
>inexpensive it can be to publish peer-reviewed journals, since a
>journal can be run by a small core of committed faculty and
>staff (each giving some <30% proportion of their work-time),
>utilizing grad students for the grunt work and a rotating set of
>scholars interested in advancing their fields (and in their
>fields) to serve as board members and peer reviewers.  One
>by-product of such a program could be a stiffening of the
>definition and quality of peer review in general, since one
>complaint I've seen published a couple of times is that few
>commercial journals have training or formal assessment programs
>for their peer reviewers.

I agree entirely with the educational benefit of using interns to
help publish journals, or books for that matter. We run an intern
program at Penn State Press as a service to the University and
feel that this is part of our mission as a non-profit publisher.
But we do this realizing that there are real costs to operating
such a program, which may mean a net increase in costs for our
publishing operation.

-- Sanford G. Thatcher
Executive Editor for Social Sciences and Humanities
Penn State University Press