The Handbook of Journal Publishing
S Morris, E Barnas, D LaFrenier and M Reich, Cambridge University Press, 2013, 477pp, £20.99 (pbk), ISBN 978 1 107 65360 3
Reviewed by Anna Sharman
I have always enjoyed working on journals. As the authors of this comprehensive handbook say, it is one of the most fascinating areas of publishing, maybe 'because journals represent the cutting edge, where new findings and new ideas are first reported' and because they are 'in the vanguard of all kinds of exciting developments enabled by the web'.
This handbook comprehensively discusses every aspect of journal publishing that you can think of, and more besides. What amazed me was the sheer range of tasks that someone running a journal can get involved in. I have myself been involved in various journal tasks in addition to copy-editing and proofreading, but I have never managed a journal, so it was enlightening to read, for example, about all the alternative revenue streams that a subscription journal can profit from (such as selling subscriber lists and translation rights, permission fees, subscriptions to back issues, and many ways of charging for access). The ins and outs of starting and shutting down a journal and all the possible changes in between were also new to me (there are checklists for what to do in each circumstance).
Other topics covered include the various editorial roles; print and electronic production and fulfilment (which I always thought was a strange way of referring to delivering print copies); finance, marketing and sales, including subscription and open-access funding models; journal metrics; copyright; and ethical issues. The first chapter is an introduction to journals, and the final chapter looks to the future.
The book is aimed at those currently working in house as an editor or manager for a journal publisher. For them (or someone thinking of applying for such jobs), it will be invaluable. Its insights into how journals are produced may also be useful for freelances who work on journal material, though there is also a lot that will be irrelevant.
The authors have all worked in scholarly and professional journals for many years and are involved in the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) and/ or the Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP). Between them they have worked for all the major publishing houses. This wealth of experience shows in the comprehensiveness and authoritativeness of the handbook, but I wonder whether it is also a hindrance. Bringing in someone less steeped in how things have always been done might have helped the authors to see how quickly things are changing at the moment.
The first chapter gives an interesting historical overview. I didn't realise that most journals were run by academic societies until after the Second World War; The Lancet and Nature were among the few that were set up by commercial publishers. But '[a]fter the war there was a significant increase in government expenditure in science and technology. This resulted, naturally enough, in increased output of research articles, and the existing society journals could no longer cope … This was the period, therefore, when commercial publishers started to play a more active role.'
The chapter headed 'Editing' is very broad, and includes not just the types of editors and their roles but also editorial boards, article types and the peer review procedure. This chapter has examples of guidelines for reviewers that a journal could adopt. The 'Copy-editor' section in this chapter is a good overview of the various tasks that the copy-editor is responsible for, and also includes a very brief mention of proofreading, saying that it is important but that many publishers no longer do it, 'relying (perhaps unwisely) solely on authors'. I was disappointed not to find a discussion of the extent to which any roles could be outsourced from the publisher to external companies or freelances, except for a mention in the 'Copy-editor' section that this role is often carried out by freelances. Given that outsourcing is a major issue that affects the finances of journals and their quality, this is a strange omission.
There is an obvious problem with producing a book (with its slow production process) about a faster-moving type of publishing. The book is impressively up to date, at the moment: for example, online publishing is assumed throughout, although print production is also discussed in detail; social media are discussed in the 'Marketing' chapter; and the different types of open access are described, including mention of 'megajournals' – the new type of open-access journal (of which PLOS One is the best-known and biggest example) that has a 'lighter' style of peer review, focusing only on the soundness of the results and not their potential impact. However, I do wonder how long this book will be current. In a couple of years it could mostly be obsolete, given how fast this area of publishing is changing. As I am moving from being a copy-editor to a consultant who advises researchers on how to publish their papers, I am grateful for the chance to have read this book so soon after it came out.
I can recommend it to journal editors or managers and to anyone thinking of applying for a job in journal publishing.