It’s 1996. HTML and HTTP have recently been invented. Internet is just starting to pick up pace. People are still not so comfortable reading off their computers. Imagine starting a web-only open access journal in this environment.
Sounds tough? David J Solomon did just that with his journal, Medical Education Online — a peer-reviewed, open access, electronic journal in health professional education.
“I was intrigued with the idea of electronic journals and the concept of making scholarship freely available. In 1995 starting a new online journal just seemed like an interesting experiment…I asked several colleagues around the country to write articles for an initial issue to get the journal off the ground. While about eight agreed, only three actually completed their articles. Along with an editorial of my own, we launched the journal in April 1996 with these three articles.” writes Solomon.
Launching an open access (OA) journal back then was definitely difficult, but it is only just a little less so today. In this article, we will discuss the essentials you, as an aspiring publisher, will have to take care of to get your journal off the ground.
Do The Groundwork
Find a niche
Starting an open access journal that already has significant competition does not make great sense, academically or for business. Find a subject that is not being currently addressed by existing journals or one that has no electronic counterpart. Essentially, find a gap and fill it.
Define your content strategy
Having defined the niche topic for your journal, move on to your content strategy. What kind of content will you publish? Will they be only research articles or will you also include book reviews, interviews, editorials, conference proceedings?
Create an editorial board
Recruiting members for your open access journal’s editorial board should be one of the first actions you take. They should be leaders in their fields or, at least, respected and recognizable names. A strong editorial board is the biggest measure of a new online journal. It lends credibility and is instrumental in attracting submissions and reviewers.
Some tips to help you get started:
- Reach out directly to established scholars in your field. Create a dream editorial and advisory board and then reach out to all those who make the cut. Karina Quinn, who started the open access (OA) journal Writing from Below, writes about building her advisory committee: “If there’s an academic in your field whose work you admire, approach them. I think we were only turned down by three or four people–everyone else came back immediately with an “Of course! I’d be honored”.
- Start with a small group on the board who can then recommend other members, and these new members can then recommend more members and so on.
- Reach out to your institution’s departmental faculty, ask around for recommendations, talk about the problem you are trying to solve with your journal to as many people as you can.
Ideally, if you’ve done a good job with the niche and your open access journal really does address a great unaddressed need or fills an existing gap, it’ll be easier for you to get prominent people to say yes.
Define how often you will publish your open access (OA) journal. In the beginning, when it is more difficult to get good quality submissions, publish fewer issues, two or four a year. With growth in reputation over time, the quality and number of submissions you receive will increase and you can then increase the periodicity.
Starting and running a journal can be expensive. Many open access journals work with a dedicated team of volunteers and cost-effective workflows to minimize expenses. Article processing fees, membership fees, donations, partnerships, institutional funding, sponsorships, and advertising are different ways to raise funds and revenues that help you grow your journal.
You need to apply to an ISSN provider in your country for your journal’s ISSN number. It typically takes two months or less to get your assigned number. It’s easy to get the ISSN number free of charge and is important for your journal’s reputation and marketing.
You should also assign DOIs to your articles. DOIs are unique strings used to identify articles. They ensure that articles remain permanently active even if the journal folds. DOIs are easy to assign with OJS, a journal management system we will be talking about later in this article. The DOI registration agencies are listed on the DOI website and registration can take up to 3 months.
Do your research
Don’t dive headfirst. There is a lot of help and resources available today to help you launch your open access journal — explore these extensively. Approach your institution’s library, other publishers or online publisher groups, read instruction manuals and do online research to ensure that you are making informed decisions at every step of the way. In this respect, the fact that you are reading this article shows that you are on the right track!
Set up a team
You’ll need manpower to sustain your journal operations. Think about the roles you will need to fill. Generally, most small, new open access journals operate with a team of volunteers and the chief editor to keep costs low.
Create a workflow
Without an efficient workflow, your journal will be a victim of interminable delays and errors. Define a workflow right at the start. This workflow should be comprehensive and detail who in your team will do what, when and how.
Here’s a list of things that need to be pre-defined:
- Protocols (style guides, standards, policies, templates, etc.): The style guide you use will depend on your journal’s area of interest. ACS, APA, Chicago, and MLA are some of the commonly used ones.
- Overall Timeline (including periodicity, call for submissions and the consequent schedule): When just starting out, it will take your journal quite some time before good quality research papers start coming in. With a biannual or quarterly schedule, you will be able to attract sufficient submissions to roll out your initial issues on time.
- Peer review process and timeline: You need to set a timeline for reviewers and when they should send in their feedback for the papers by. We will talk more about peer review in the next section.
- Editorial process and timeline: Once approved, articles undergo proofreading, copy-editing, and typesetting processes. Typesetting can be done in-house, but is generally outsourced and can take anywhere from a few days to a week per article. So, factor that in as well.
- Publishing and distribution process and timeline: If your open access (OA) journal will be web-only then you need to factor in conversion to HTML, in addition to PDF. You should also convert articles to JATS XML to improve visibility in search engines and Google Scholar. Print timelines will be longer to account for printing and offline distribution.
Many open access publishers vouch for Open Journal Systems (OJS) — a free, open source journal management and publishing system developed by the Public Knowledge Project. It is a great way to streamline your workflow.
Quality Standards & Peer Review
Peer review is what defines quality standards. But, always emphasize on quality, research methodology, ethics and impactful findings in your author guidelines.
As for peer review, it goes without saying that it is indispensable for any credible open access journal. Ideally, each article should undergo double-blind peer review by at least two reviewers. New reviewers tend to be more generous, so editors should be cautious and include more experienced reviewers in the mix.
The peer review process is infamous for causing delays, therefore a defined timeline, as mentioned above, along with deadlines and a buffer period for late reviewers is essential. The timely management of the peer review process indicates the respect the journal has for the author’s work, making it likelier that they’d submit again.
However, building a team of reviewers is no easy task. Reaching out directly to good researchers, inviting interested reviewers to reach out to you via your website and requesting referrals from existing members are some of the ways to increase your reviewer network.
Design and Marketing
Most publishers when starting a new open access journal tend to leave design and marketing on the backburner. However, these are integral parts of any journal’s success and should be addressed from day 1.
The different design aspects include:
- The typeset format and style guidelines
- Journal design (Web and Print versions)
- Website design
- Marketing collateral design
You can hire someone full time or outsource the designing. The more professional your journal looks, the better the impression it creates.
Your marketing will depend on who your target audience is, but the bare essentials include:
- A website: Again, can be outsourced or done in-house. OJS has some plugins that can help here.
- Indexing: You will need your ISSN and DOI here. Indexing your open access journal’s articles will increase discoverability.
- Generate and publish article XML: This will make your articles visible on search engines and Google Scholar.
- Some form of direct marketing: You will have to do some form of direct marketing in the beginning to attract submissions. These can include direct email, Listservs, announcement lists, etc.
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