Editorial teams are at heart of journal sustainability and success
July 18, 2023
By Laura Hassink
Academic publishing is vital for researchers’ ability to share quality knowledge and build on each other’s work to advance outcomes for the benefit of society. The process of transforming raw research data into polished and coherent publications is complex and multifaceted, requiring the expertise of various professionals. Among these professionals, editors are critical in ensuring academic publications' quality, integrity, and impact. Editors play a crucial role by working closely with authors, managing peer review, enhancing clarity and coherence, and upholding rigorous standards. Our editors and Editorial Boards are at the heart of everything we do here at Elsevier. Every year, we recruit and train 18,000 new editors and Editorial Board members – a process enabled by our 2,000-strong in-house team with expertise in hundreds of specialist fields and a passion for supporting their scientific community across 3,000 journals.
In that context, disagreements with Editorial Boards are extremely rare. The path of scientific discovery and dialogue does not always run smoothly, and when differences of opinion arise these are mostly resolved privately and amicably. Two recent and unusual editorial disputes have crept into the public domain and have been either conflated or taken out of context in some media reports. These related to editorial succession planning, changes to journal strategy and/or scope, and issues related to access or business models. I will use this article to clarify some of these issues.
Let me take editorial succession planning first. We approach this in different ways depending on the ownership status of the journal. For Elsevier-owned journals, Elsevier is responsible for appointing editorial team members (society-owned journals are handled differently via a process that is usually managed by the society owner). When an editor's contract term expires, it is customary for the Publisher to identify potential candidates and oversee the recruitment process. Editorial succession and rotation are standard practices we have found beneficial over the years. By periodically rotating editors, we bring fresh approaches and perspectives to a journal and its community. We aim to ensure that our journals continue serving their communities effectively while providing continuity. This should not be seen as a criticism of any current editorial team but rather as a normal and healthy part of ongoing journal management and development. Once an editor is in place, they and their Board have complete editorial independence and autonomy over what that journal publishes. The editorial content discussions they reside over completely disregard business models, access, or pricing.
In a recent example of editorial succession involving Design Studies, which has been mentioned in several media articles and social media posts claiming that we exerted commercial pressure on the editors and forced the appointment of a new Editor-in-Chief. I want to express our disappointment that an incomplete version of private communications between our Publisher and the Editor-in-Chief of Design Studies has been shared publicly and out of context. The outgoing Editor-in-Chief did not agree with our decision to appoint a replacement when his own contract expired and gave us an ultimatum to reverse this decision. We did not agree to this ultimatum, and he has now resigned, along with a number of other members of the editorial team. Consequently, the incoming Editor-in-Chief will take up her role immediately, earlier than planned, and work with the remaining Editorial Board members. We are grateful to all of the outgoing editorial team members for their contributions to the journal to date and wish them well for the future.
Secondly, with regard to journal strategy and scope, it is essential to note that discussions between our Publishers and editors regarding journal strategy, aims and scope, manuscript submissions and accepted articles are separate from the process of editorial succession planning. In everything we do, editorial independence is paramount and we do not set specific targets for the number of accepted articles. However, we do engage in ongoing conversations about the balance between submitted and accepted content, the best ways to serve the journal's community, and maintaining appropriate quality levels. Sometimes we model different scenarios for further discussion with editorial teams. This was also an ongoing discussion in the case of Design Studies and will remain so with the new Editor-in-Chief going forward. We may ask editorial teams whether their journal could even better serve the global author community by adopting a fresh perspective on its aims and scope, with a view to increasing the journal’s overall market share and visibility and maximizing its global impact while also maintaining the highest standards of content quality.
Finally, with regard to issues relating to access and business models, we also approach this in different ways depending on the ownership of the journal. For society-owned journals the society would review any proposed changes in access or business models proposed by the Publisher. For Elsevier-owned journals we evaluate market trends, competitive environment, and journal positioning to confirm any opportunities to change access or business models for selected titles. Editorial teams are involved in discussions around these opportunities, and although Elsevier takes responsibility for the final decision, we endeavor to address any comments or concerns that editorial teams may have.
In a recent example involving a dispute around open access pricing at NeuroImage, the Editorial Board demanded we reduce the fee for open access publishing (article publishing charge or APC) to a lower figure. Our APC prices are formulated in line with our policy of setting our article publishing charges competitively below the market average relative to quality. In line with that policy, the APC for NeuroImage is set at a level that is lower than its nearest competitor journal which in fact has a lower quality rating according to field weighted citations. The Editorial Board wanted us to reduce further still which is simply not sustainable.
Ultimately, the editors of NeuroImage decided to resign. Whilst we regret their decision to step down, we will continue working with them for the foreseeable future to ensure all submissions already in process are handled appropriately to a final decision. In addition, Neuroimage has already implemented measures to ensure the continuation of the high service levels for authors of new submissions and appointed new editors to the journal. For completeness, pricing was not a topic in the recent discussions around Design Studies as it currently is and will remain a hybrid subscription journal.I hope that this article has been helpful and offers some more context on what are very rare issues across our journals and I would like to assure all our editorial teams that we remain fully committed to the success and development of all our journals. We acknowledge the valuable contributions that all editorial team members make towards ensuring our journals thrive and continue to serve research communities around the world. We are dedicated to maintaining respectful and professional relationships with all our editorial colleagues even when occasional disagreements may occur, and welcome feedback on any of the points discussed in this article at any time.