Should you launch a new journal?
Here are some key factors to consider
Philippe Terheggen, PhD
Dr. Philippe Terheggen is Senior VP of Physical Sciences II at Elsevier and governor of the Dutch Publishers Association. Originally a medical scientist, he has an international background in book and journal publishing, marketing and product innovation. His current role at Elsevier is focused on journal publishing and conferences in areas that cover chemistry, engineering, energy, climate, food security, water management, geological sciences, and a product group focused on industry titles. He is married to an immunologist and has two children.
Over the years, Dr. Philippe Terheggen has met with journal editors from around the world. One question they often ask him is, “How does Elsevier decide to launch a new journal?” In this article, originally published in Editors’ Update, he shares some of the key factors he and his colleagues consider when deciding whether to add a new title to the Elsevier collection.
Look for areas of expansion
Elsevier has journals in a number of fields that have recently experienced extraordinary growth. Just think of the environment, cities, global risk management, food and energy security and water, as well as certain areas in chemistry, engineering and chemical engineering. Journals in these fields have experienced increases in submitted articles of 20 percent, 30 percent, even 40 percent, and those deluges have generated a number of challenges. Hats off to our editors and their publishers who have tackled these challenges head-on — often while achieving faster editorial speeds and higher citations per article, too.
Our first step is always to consider whether this growth can be absorbed into an existing journal. That is the ideal scenario: existing journals provide a perfect infrastructure for new topics. In fact, the majority of new content is absorbed by existing journals. Sometimes though, we need to look outside our current titles, and one important consideration is always whether the topic is of interest to an established community or has a wider appeal.
Let me give a simple example. City planners and environmentalists are two distinct communities. Because of environmental pressures, however, both have become interested in the topic of urban climate – they just approach it from different angles. While these communities may cite each others’ articles, they don’t necessarily work together, and perhaps a new journal is just what is needed to bridge that gap. Antropocene and Sustainable Cities and Society are perfect examples of new Elsevier journals launched to serve researchers from different disciplines. In these circumstances, we may support the journal launch with a conference, like the ones we held for Algal Research and Spatial Statistics. You could say, in fact, that new journals and conferences help to support the creation of new interdisciplinary communities.
Compare that to the scenario of a community of materials engineers who come up with a new research area relevant to most of their peers: chances are high that their existing journals can provide suitable homes for this new research. And nine out of 10 times that’s what happens: an existing journal, now with expanded aims and scope, proves to be suitable for new in-community topics. Still, that can change. If a new technology or method, even from an existing community, becomes large or its relevance increases, we may need to create a new journal, as happened with Methods in Oceanography. A new journal can also prove the solution when readers show a preference for a certain editorial format (for example, rapid communications, case reports or review articles). Case Studies in Engineering Failure Analysis, Current Opinion in Chemical Engineering and Energy Strategy Reviews are recent examples of such journals.
So what sources does a publisher call on when deciding which fields are growing? We consider a wide range of factors, including:
- The discussions we have with our journal editors and other researchers.
- Market research on topics and key words.
- Cose study of citation analysis and citation maps.
- Consultation with funding bodies.
The majority of journal proposals are made by our publishers, and these are always discussed with editors and other scientists and professionals in our network. I believe that shows the important role our Publishers play in keeping a close eye on new trends.
Sometimes we receive external proposals for new journal launches from one of the 570 societies we already have a publishing relationship with. Societies seek our expertise, competencies and resources to support new journals. The reverse may also take place: we could actively seek out society alliances for new journals in areas where we have long-term relationships with learned societies or academic or professional organizations. Our collaboration with the International Water Association on new titles such as Water Resources and Industry is a prime example.
The next step
We’ve taken the decision that a new journal is necessary and the time is ripe so what happens next? There are a few different paths we can follow. If we are already well represented in that area, we may decide to launch a single journal, as we did with Sustainable Energy Technologies and Assessments end Ecosystem Services. However, in other areas – and this happened recently with the launch of Climate Risk Management, Urban Climate and Weather and Climate Extremes — we may simultaneously launch several related journals. This makes a bigger impact and allows us to send a clear message to authors and funders that there are new outlets available for their research. It also allows the journals to work together and support each other: for example, by using the article transfer service to find a more appropriate home for out-of-scope manuscripts.
Every time a new journal is launched, we work hard to ensure it is a well-considered, and hopefully balanced, solution that meets the community’s needs.
Another factor to consider is what kind of business model is appropriate for a new journal. We continue to launch journals under the subscription model, typically also including the (hybrid) open-access model. Post acceptance, these hybrid titles offer authors the option to pay for open access to his or her article. In addition, as with the previously mentioned Weather and Climate Extremes, we are also launching full gold open-access titles. Let me also state the obvious – open access content should have the same high editorial standards as any other.
As you can see, the answer to your original question is that no one size fits all. Every time a new journal is launched, we work hard to ensure it is a well-considered, and hopefully balanced, solution that meets the community’s needs.
Finally, at Elsevier, we are always very open to receiving suggestions from you and are happy to look at all topics, formats and models. If you believe there is a good case for launching a new journal in your field, please do let your publisher know.
In their 2001 paper Growth dynamics of scholarly and scientific journals, Dr. Michael Mabe (now CEO of the International Association of STM Publishers) and Dr. Mayur Amin (now Senior VP of Research & Academic Relations at Elsevier) presented results on journal growth dynamics at both the micro and macro levels, showing that journal development clearly follows researcher behavior and growth characteristics. Source: Scientometrics, Vol. 51, No. 1 (2001) 147–162.