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Re: Journal start-ups---and the current journal scene

Replying to Mary Ann Liebert's objections to my comments regarding new

Time flies, and things do change, but in the four (not ten or twenty)  
years since I stepped down as President of Lippincott my consulting
activities for large publishing firms, and my continuing close friendship
and association with fellow publishers and former authors, enable me to
reaffirm the accuracy of my earlier comments on journal startups.

True, journal start ups become more difficult each year. And publishers
certainly realize that failures are costly. But the pressure to keep
trying to initiate new journals continues. I admire Ms. Liebert's noble
sentiments about her publishing journals in order to make a contribution
to the fields on which they focus. If that is the case, she is a rara
avis. The publishers I know start journals to increase profits and cash
flow in the long run, which is nothing to be ashamed of. While journals
usually generate losses in their first three or four years, the usual plan
is to see a profit in subsequent years.

I would also remind Ms. Liebert that the larger publishers have in the
past depended on books as well as journals for their earnings, which means
that the decline in the unit sales of scientific, technical, and medical
(STM) books has only served to increase the pressure on such companies
(and therefore the pressure on their acquisitions editors) to find new
journals to start, as well as to increase the prices of existing journals.
Why try to deny what is common knowledge?

It is not an easy time for the publishing industry.  Much of the merging
of STM publishers that has been taking place is due to these forces. There
are almost no independent, family run STM publishing companies in
existence today in this country. For the most part they have wisely sold
out to large publishing conglomerates who hope to achieve economies of
scale through sheer size, although sheer size alone often leads to new
kinds of inefficiencies because control is difficult to maintain in a
detail ridden, people-oriented business such as this.

I agree that faculty tenure and grant awarding committees tend less and
less to focus on the sheer quantity of journal articles published by an
individual or laboratory. They do tend on the whole to place considerable
weight on the prestige of the journals in which the articles have been
accepted for publication, and then to scrutinize those articles more
closely than those published in lesser journals. Thus the peer reviewing
by prominent journals has great significance.

Authors clearly prefer to have their findings published in the major
journals in their field, but these journals find that they must place
limits on the number of pages they publish in order to control costs and
to avoid destructive price increases. As a consequence, many good articles
must seek a home in journals of lesser standing, thus contributing to the
glut in journals, and to the librarian's dilemma as to which lesser
journals to buy.

But must it now be so? Suppose that the most respected journals did not
have to turn away articles that meet their standards of excellence merely
because of the severe constraints of page budgets. Suppose instead that
they took the fullest advantage of the economies inherent in electronic
publishing and expanded to include far more quality articles than they
currently do, without lowering their standards. And suppose that tenure
and grant committees eventually had to place as much weight on an article
published electronically as they do on one published on paper. Suppose
that all this took place even if it meant that publication of these
journals on paper were suspended. Think then of the possible consequences.

With more quality articles accepted by the most prominent journals, those
journals would become even stronger, and would offer much greater exposure
to articles that would otherwise have gone elsewhere, and possibly have
been overlooked. The flow of articles to less prominent journals would
significantly diminish, placing them under pressure to question their need
to continued their existence in their current format. But the articles
they publish could still find an outlet under a Varmus-like proposal,
which would make them available in electronic form, at lower cost, and
with greater accessibility. In time it is reasonable to expect that the
major journals, become electronic, would co-operate with a universal
database of journal articles, maintaining their peer review standards, but
accepting the altered financial implications of the change.

This process would unfortunately create major dislocations for publishers
as well as for authors and those readers who dislike electronic format
publishing. But I submit that it is no longer a question of whether, but
of when, a process more or less similar to that described above will take
place. And publishers, like other businesses facing drastic changes in
their environment, can and should learn new ways to adapt to the new
environment. The free enterprise system is inherently Darwinian after all.

Alan M. Edelson, Ph.D.
(Retired) President and CEO
J. B. Lippincott Company


Liebert, Mary Ann wrote:

> Responding to Alan Edelson's comments about new journal start-ups:
> Both publishers and editors of new journals undertake such endeavors
> because they truly believe that these publications will make a
> contribution to the field -- as well as the literature.  Indeed, because
> there are so many journals, it is difficult to launch important new
> periodicals today. Highly-respected members of the biomedical community
> only agree to serve in the capacity of Editor if they are convinced that
> the publication will be a worthy and enduring endeavor.
> Most of these Editors will consult with their colleagues before they
> accept this responsibility, asking them to challenge the assumption of yet
> another journal. The colleagues who agree to serve on the editorial board
> know that they are expected to make an on-going commitment to the
> recruitment of high-quality manuscripts and participation in the review
> process.  Both demand commitment, time, and participation that does not
> end with the last issue of the first our second volume. The compensation
> for such work is minimal for the effort this entails..
> During Dr. Edelson's tenure at Raven and Lippincott, it was easier to
> assemble an editorial board because many who were asked serve on editorial
> boards agreed more readily, and in some cases, merely by lending their
> names to support the effort of a friend or close colleague.  This is not
> the case today.
> Today, the number of published papers today counts less than the quality
> of papers, in terms of terms of academic advance-ment and tenure
> Publishers do not determine a journal acquisition editor's success based
> on the number of journals they start.  Those days also passed many moons
> ago.
> It is very expensive to start journals.  And, publishers will not make
> profits on journals that are not well received, respected, and subscribed
> to. Last, but not least, is the issue of society self-publishing and
> control. A journal that is independent of a society is completely free
> from cumbersome politics that may come into play, including editorial
> appointments. In fact, the Editors of independent journals may have the
> broadest authority to accept or reject papers, without worrying about
> political considerations.
>                                 Mary Ann Liebert
>                                 President, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.
>                                 www.liebertpub.com