What would it take to make a noncorporate journal work from an editor’s perspective?

Let’s suppose, hypothetically, that the Elsevier boycott succeeds in decreasing the importance of many major mathematical journals. Let’s also assume that the basics of the journal system still remain unchanged — academics need to get their work certified by acceptance in journals, acceptance which demonstrates that their work is correct and reaches some particular level of importance.

Then we will need a lot of new journals, or new publishers for old journals if more editorial boards jump ship. And those journals will need editors.

I would love to hear from people with editorial experience what it would take make editing for those journals appealing and survivable. I think that many of us have been tentatively thinking of creating better journals, but are intimidated by our lack of knowledge of the effort required. I see that many leaders of the boycott movement are editors at nonprofit journals: Danny Calegari at Compositio, Henry Cohn at SIDMA, Matt Emerton at Selecta, Terry Tao at JAMS and so forth. (By the way, it is incredibly intimidating digging through you folks’ CV’s!) I think it would provide a wonderful anchor of reality to this conversation, to hear from experienced people about what it would take to get a journal going without a corporate owner.

This is the most obnoxious of all blogspots — the one that asks an already busy person to do more work. But, if any editors out there feel up to it, I think it would be a great help.


9 thoughts on “What would it take to make a noncorporate journal work from an editor’s perspective?

  1. Unless you know something I don’t, Selecta is a Springer (Birkhauser) journal…I’m not sure how it qualifies as “nonprofit.”

  2. I am an editor at 3 journals, Compositio (mentioned above, I’ll leave it out of this discussion), and two others, one “corporate”, and one “noncorporate”; let’s call them journal C and journal N. In my experience as an editor, the biggest difference in work (and it’s a big difference) is associated with the software: the editorial tool needed to administer the paper, send it to referees, move it through the system, etc. In this case, the editorial tool at N is very easy to use: well-written, a nice interface, automates most of the essential editorial functions, streamlines communication with authors, referees and other editors, and gives the option to easily do almost everything I would want to do. By contrast, the editorial tool at C is dreadful beyond belief. Everything is difficult to do, and many things are impossible. So even though I am involved in the editorial process for many more papers for N than for C, it involves less absolute work (or maybe it just feels that way?)

    The editorial tool used at journal N was developed in house, and I can believe that writing it was a serious amount of work. They are prepared to license it, for a nontrivial annual fee (I’ve been quoted ~$1500 per annum). This is a reasonable price, but the software might not be appropriate for every journal (I don’t have a sense of how customizable it is), and presumably that fee doesn’t include much support beyond bug fixes. I don’t know if any kind of open source mathematical journal editorial tool exists – one that can be customized easily, and comes with “community support” – but I can believe that creating one might end up being of great value to the mathematical community. I am naively guessing that it might involve an amount of work comparable to developing the “MathOverflow” site from scratch (am I right that that site made a big use of preexisting software for StackOverflow?)

  3. I agree with Danny that for a regular editor (as opposed to a managing editor), the quality of editorial software is perhaps the most important factor in making editorial life pleasant (assuming, of course, that one’s journal is already reputable and not, for instance, currently being boycotted by a significant segment of the community).

    MSP’s editflow is the editorial tool I like the most. I know that they’ve licensed it to the AMS and LMS, and would presumably be happy to license it elsewhere as well, though I don’t think it is open source.

  4. Danny is also talking about EditFlow (seeing as how he’s an editor at G&T, published by MSP, the people who created EditFlow…). $1500/year is also what I heard from Rob about typical licensing fees.

    When the LMS came on board with MSP, they paid a fairly large (tens of thousands?) amount of money to have significant customizations made to EditFlow. The one example Rob gave me was that in the UK, it might well be legally impossible to deny persistent requests from an author to see referee reports, and thus that automatically deleting referee reports at the earliest opportunity was important to them.

  5. As anon notes above, Selecta is published by Springer, hence is not non-profit.

    At least at my end, there is no software involved in editing Selecta. Rather, there is an administrative staff member who contacts me with submissions, prompts me to assign referees, communicates with the referees on my behalf, and generally keeps the whole process moving.

  6. I am not an editor of any journal. But I have heard very good reports about the ease-of-use (for editors) of the open-source software Open Journal Systems (http://pkp.sfu.ca/?q=ojs). It is well established stable software. Some mathematical journals that use it are listed here on this blog by Scott Morrison.

  7. We’ve been running a highly successful herpetology journal for 6 years. We’ve been featured as a model of future publishing in Chronicle of higher education. It costs us about $100 / yr to run it and there are no costs whatsoever to authors or readers. I can show you how to do it, as I was a co-founder. This summer, we finally get our first impact factor, which is a measure of our success despite the inherent flaws in ranking journals etc. All you need to start your journal is about 7 colleagues willing to put in the time. Two of them should be big names to offer guidance, the others need
    Only be respected and willing to do the work. You need one person that knows how to use Dreamweaver. Other that that, the only thing you need to do is contact me. Check out our journal at http://www.herpconbio.org. Viva la révolution!

  8. Hi Raymond,

    I just looked at your journal and am very impressed. I know nothing of herpetology, but here are a number of things I liked and wish I saw more often in mathematics journals:

    Clean and attractive web design.

    Each article as a freely downloadable PDF, with no awkward clickthrough screens.

    Detailed and clear directions for authors.

    Public praise for reviewers.

    I also note that herpetologists seem to be clear writers. I think I understood every word in the abstract of A backpack method for attaching GPS transmitters to bluetongue lizards, something which I can say about too few papers in my own field :-).

    What software do you use for document management?

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