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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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Kent Anderson recently wrote a post over at Scholarly Kitchen entitled "A Proposed List — 60 Things Journal Publishers Do". I think this list needs a little mythbusting: I agree with some of the points, think others need qualifying and that others are just hands-down false. So here's my rundown:

I also want to add a qualifier: "things publishers do" isn't really good enough. It should be: "things that only publishers can do" or "things publishers do, that researchers don't or can't". I have marked as "false" those aspects that apply to any business, rather than actually contributing to what publishers do. If somebody came up to you, trying to sell you their service, and they said: "what we can do for you is to manage our sales force and have our own prestigious offices", there would be nothing for you to buy, so I'm really not counting those.

In fact, most of these points, in my take, are "True, but...": they've been presented here in such a way that, yes, publishers do them, but they are perhaps either not needed or are spun in such a way as to inflate their importance.


Number True/False Researchers do already? Researchers could do? Qualifying remarks
1 True Yes Yes Detecting our needs. I think we already know this (or what would they be detecting?). This could uncharitably be re-worked as: "figuring out what will make us money" and nobody ever paid for that before
2 True No Yes Not hard. ISSN assignment is free.
3 True No No I think we should be moving away from article brand and instead focusing on article-level branding.
4 True No No I'm sceptical on this. I think journal reputation is actually a proxy measure (one short of financial abstraction) for academic capital, not the effort of the publisher.
5 True (with qualification) No No I think the costs are highly inflated in most publisher estimations. The actual costs of running an online Open Access journal, minus staff time, are small. If you want to factor in staff, then sure, but these could be relocated in-house and thus avoid the profit motive in publishing.
6 True No Yes Yes, infrastructures require setup and maintenance, but it's hardly rocket science, as I showed in my recent OA guide.
7 True Yes Yes We can all write a CFP...
8 True Yes Yes Academics actually already know how to reject submissions...
9 True Yes Yes Likewise, we can accept papers...
10 True Yes Yes No qualms, except that we can do this also.
11 True No Yes OK: definitely some scope for work on this. Think publishers have the edge here.
12 False No No I think this is pure PR-speak. This is true in one sense: most journals do this. However, most authors I suspect would prefer, certainly in my case, that they didn't! The copyright transfer terms for most publishers are barbaric and clearly only designed to restrict dissemination and further their business model. Marking as false for this reason
13 True No Yes Knowing the right people to edit and review a journal; scholars do this in our own disciplines
14 True (to some degree) No Yes I've never seen a public acknowledgement of my help as a reviewer. I've further only had communication when they wanted a review.
15 True/False No Yes Very little "training" takes place and it's mostly "read the help docs". OJS provides such help documentation already, for free. That's the false part. Where I agree is that asking the right questions leads to good responses and publishers do this.
16 True No Yes This is too far from my discipline to really comment, so I'll concede this one.
17 True No Yes As per 16
18 True No Yes OK, so publishers do train editors, but it's only from experience. An editor could then train another editor. You can see where I'm going with this
19 True No Yes Anybody who's run a scholar-publisher enterprise knows that we need meetings...
20 True No Yes Again, OJS provides a very good structure to cope with variations in peer review process.
21 True No Yes Publishers do this, but free journal software also provides most of what's needed to keep up to date in this area
22 True No Yes This falls under many of the same "author declaration" type material. You need to write the agreement once and make sure that authors sign it
23 True No Yes A good editor is hard to find. Again, it seems to me that much of this is only opaque because it is outside the academy and once the knowledge is in-house, this changes
24 True No Yes I have no experience of this, but I note that it's only "some high-end journals" that provide this facility. No illustrators for you plebs!
25 True No Yes No qualms with this one, but I do query how frequently this occurs beyond normal proofreading
26 True No Yes As per 25
27 True No Yes There is a lot to layout editing that is technical. It is feasible to work it out, but, as I've detailed, it's not a trivial process. Definitely publisher value here
28 True No Yes As per 27
29 True/False No Yes I'm sure some do deploy this. Others, though, completely rely on author tagging
30 True No Yes As the original notes, this is absolutely trivial.
31 True No Yes Seriously. Don't try and game Google. It's such a waste of time. Just make good content and it will be ranked according to its worth
32 False No Yes Maybe true in some areas, but I haven't seen this in a long while. Rapid publication = a year and a half wait in the humanities
33 True No Yes Publishers publish? Really? Never knew that... (!)
34 True No Yes As journals move online, I think print will become obsolete for this format
35 True No Yes See 34
36 True, but... No Yes It seems to me that most publisher-media relations are about publishers covering their own backs and pushing their brand, rarely about pushing for an author's own brand
37 True No Yes We can all work a Facebook and Twitter account. Some publishers do this very badly, also!
38 False No Yes Hosting platforms are only expensive because publishers are using proprietary systems, rather than improving open source efforts for their own, and other people's, purposes. OJS costs $0
39 True No Yes OK, yes, you do this. Patching isn't that fun
40 True sometimes No Yes Most journals I read don't have comments. I also debate the value of comments, the web is a distributed system, so go write somewhere else
41 True No Yes
42 True No Yes A good publisher watches for these things. I wonder how many fall in that "good" category...
43 False No Yes Well, it's true, but this is no different to running any other company, so can hardly count in this debate!
44 True No Yes Yes, information security is important. Does also apply to any company keeping any records, though
45 True No Yes As per 44
46 True No Perhaps OK, I wouldn't like to respond to legal action and I'm glad someone can do this.
47 False No Yes Marked as false because, as with other entries on this list, this applies to *any* company, not just publishers
48 True, but rationale false No Yes Actually, what about a non-profit, OA business model? "Whatever your business model" is too broad. A non-commercial system doesn't need to do this
49 False No Yes See 48 and others for generic business practice
50 True No Yes If non-commercial, may not apply
51 True No Yes See 50
52 True, but... No Yes See 50
53 False No Yes As per all generic business practice, having somewhere to exist is not enough in this game. Trying to justify prices on the fact that you're expected to have prestigious offices? Bah.
54 True No Yes Scholars also have to keep on top of developments, though
55 True, but... No Yes Again, this seems more of an effort that is required to make sure publishers tap markets for profit, rather than being crucial to scholarly communication
56 True, but... No Yes See 50
57 True, but... No Yes See 50
58 True, but... No Yes See 50
59 True No Yes
60 True No Yes There is a lot to layout editing that is technical. It is feasible to work it out, but, as I've detailed, it's not a trivial process. Definitely publisher value here