Guest Post, the first in a four-part series, by KC Lynch:

Part 1: What Authors Look for in a Publisher

It is a truth universally acknowledged that academics need to publish. Where they choose to publish is most often determined by the opinions of committee, professors, and leaders in their field. But how does a new journal get on academia’s radar?

One of TWC’s challenges is attracting diverse, international contributors. From the outside, academic publishing seems like an impenetrable mass that runs on reputation and word of mouth, and having exceptional content isn’t enough. What is needed is a multi-level approach, using both traditional methods honed by print publishing, and new technology solutions still in development. They’re not always graceful, but there are more ways to get into the hallowed halls than you might expect.

In Ithaka’s Faculty Survey 2009, over 3,000 faculty members from colleges and universities responded to the question: Which factors are most important to you in choosing a journal in which to publish? The overwhelming response (80%+) was readership within the field. Other factors, from most important to least, were publishing at no cost to the author (70%+), that measures have been taken to ensure the protection and safeguarding of the journal’s content for the long term (60%+), a highly selective editorial process (50%+), global accessibility (40%+), and free accessibility (30%).

Let’s consider each factor with regards to TWC with the goal of soliciting more high-quality submissions. Readership within the field, closely tied to reputation amongst academics, is the great white whale of scholarly publishing. It requires more than a simple solution, so we’ll come back to it later.

The fact that authors are concerned with fees for publishing is a direct response to the “author-pays” model employed by many digital journals. TWC, run entirely by volunteers, does not require contributing authors to pay to publish. Clearly, this needs to be advertised as a selling point.
It is also imperative to stress that TWC is here to stay. In the past, there was some question as to the permanence of online journals, as if the internet were a passing phase compared to the longevity of print. But nowadays, everyone who watches criminal procedurals on TV is convinced that not only is the internet here to stay, but “once you put it out there, it’s out there forever.”

This is a common misconception. In reality, websites fail all the time, and the attention span of users is less than 5 seconds. So if a page fails to load, they’ll be on to something else before you can fix the problem, and chances are they won’t be back.

The cost of such a failure is even greater for scholarly journals than for commerce sites, since the business of journals is based largely on citations. If a researcher looks up a cited article and ends up with “page not found,” the citation becomes useless, and the reputation of the journal suffers. So it’s absolutely critical that the article in question be available 24 hours a day, without fail.

TWC gives permission to libraries to copy all issues to their local servers, and use Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs), providing proxy support, to ensure the persistence of URLs.

Academia offers additional options, like Portico, a digital archive devoted to the preservation of scholarly digital content. While Portico does not replace traditional backups, it does provide services in case of trigger events, like catastrophic system failure, or cessation of publishing. Archives like Portico extend the life of digital journals beyond their run, insuring cited articles can always be found.

Another factor authors consider before choosing to publish is a journal’s highly selective editorial process. For TWC, this is another obvious draw, as its content is decided by double-blind peer review.
Last but not least are questions of accessibility. While Ithaka reports that global and free access are not as important overall to faculty as they were three years ago, they are still important factors, especially in the Social Sciences and Humanities.

TWC is an open-access (OA) online journal. Most of us know what that means, but it remains important to spell it out to avoid any criticism on the subject of academic rigor. So, let’s review: open access (OA) means that anyone, anywhere can read your content for free. It does not mean that everyone can create or manipulate content. To put it bluntly, TWC is not Wikipedia.

In addition to guaranteed quality of content, TWC, like most OA journals, allows contributing authors to retain copyright of their submissions. TWC therefore allows authors to reach a global audience without restriction to future publishing.

So in summary, there are four aspects of TWC that must be emphasized in any and all requests for submission: free to publish, a bullet-proof online presence, open access (not open content), and copyright retention.

But what about the white whale? How do we increase readership within the field, and therefore improve TWC’s reputation overall? I propose three different, if overlapping, approaches, coming up in subsequent posts: Impact Measurements, utilizing Librarians, and social networking.

[META] Attracting Contributors to TWC: Part One
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