This evening I gut an email from a new Open Access journal: Trends in Evolutionary Biology:
Trends in Evolutionary Biology, March 2009
We would like to invite you to submit your next paper to Trends in Evolutionary Biology.
Looking around, it’s evidently a new journal from some publishers who are moving into OA. But I was sceptical about how long they’ll last. Poking around their websites, it seems they are a small operation that is just starting up, but don’t seem to be doing a great job. For starters, the title is a bit too similar to one of Elsevier’s journals, Trends in Ecology & Evolution. I can see Elsevier getting upset about this, and would you really want to annoy a company involved in the arms trade, eh?
This impression was confirmed when, 57 minutes later, I got another email which started like this:
*Applications are invited for a new Editor-in-Chief of
TRENDS IN EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY*
Oh gods! They’re asking for submissions before they’ve even got an editor in chief, let alone an editorial board. This doesn’t look like a good start. If I submit now, how long will I have to wait before an editor even sees my manuscript?
Now, this does seem to be a particularly cack-handed attempt at starting a journal, but it makes me wonder – how can an OA journal successfully start? The problem for any OA journal is that it has to have a high acceptance rate in order to bring in revenue, which means it can’t target the top end of the market. BMC seem to have cracked this, largely (I suspect) by being early, and hence getting name recognition. PLoS went for a strategy of having some high-impact loss-leaders, with PLoS One arriving later to be the income generator. Their high-impact journals acted to create a recognisable brand (PloS Biology’s citation rate is equivalent to PNAS). They have also worked hard to create added value – comments on papers, and blogs, for example.
Neither of these strategies is bound to work: it’s impossible to be early now, and the high end of the journal market is difficult to break into without a lot of resources. So what other approaches are there? An active and well-known editorial board would help, basically hustling scientists into submitting (start with some big names, so that people see the journal has support). This might be difficult with a low-impact journal, though. Another alternative would be to have a society back the journal, e.g. ESEB. This would give a stamp of approval, suggesting that the journal is here to stay.
Another possibility might be to target conference proceedings. How well this works, I don’t know, and it might depend on the traditions of the field. In the areas I work in, these special issues aren’t common.
I wonder how else one would go about promoting a low-impact journal. By its very nature, it seems difficult – you’re not offering a lot of scientific social capital for publishing there, so what is there instead? Especially now there are plenty of other OA journals available.