This another post from the stable of 'Martin's great business ideas that never get taken up, and which he never progresses.'
One of the themes in my digital scholarship book is that of alternatives – new technology driven approaches give us alternatives when previously we had none: we can join in a conference remotely, we can choose which medium we wish to convey our message in, we can make our outputs as detailed or as general as we like and we can chat about professional interests, sport, politics, film, or whatever we like all in the same space.
Looking at academic publishing, it strikes me that this rather odd model (as so well parodied by David Wiley in the Trucker's Parable) persists precisely because of the lack of alternatives. In order to disseminate research the only option available was the printed journal. So we had to sign up to it, and then the journal article became a measure of reputation so it became the means by which promotion committees determined an individual's case, meaning there was even less alternative.
The second of these problems, the tie-in with tenure, still persists but the first has been eroded by the advent of the read/write web. The journal's monopoly on research dissemination has been broken. But this doesn't mean we need to discard the academic journal, it is still likely that the peer-review process will be one of the scholarly approaches we wish to retain. It does mean the journal has to adapt though.
And many are doing just this, PLoS being a great example. Here are some of the factors authors might want to bear in mind when looking for a journal to publish in, and if these can't be met, then maybe they should consider going down the blogging or alternative route:
- Open access – does the journal have an open access policy? (If not, ask them why).
- Green or Gold – if it is open access, does it operate a Gold OA policy (the journal is open, and the author pays) or Green (the journal isn't OA, but the author can self-archive).
- Fee – if it is Gold OA, what is the fee?
- Embargo – if it is Green OA, is there an embargo before the author can self-archive
- Rights – does the author or the publisher retain the rights?
- Average publication time – what is the average time between submission and publication?
- Rejection rate – what percentage of submissions are rejected?
- Review policy – is it open, blind, double-blind reviewed?
- Added value – what extras does the journal provide, eg metrics on access, tracking blog references, promotion
- Impact factor – if you must…
When you look at these factors they begin to resemble the choices you select for car insurance or similar. The significance of each might be more or less for any individual, eg. if you have a very current piece, then publication delay becomes very important.
I don't think all of this data is readily available, but certainly a lot of it is. You could image a site then that allows you to select the broad area of interest, and then work through these various options, allowing you to determine which journal meets your requirements. I would propose that the existence of such a tool would itself make journals begin to compete on some of these factors, and thus improve choice.
Maybe such a tool already exists, if not, who will join/fund me in building one. Come on, let's make these journals work for our publications!