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While there are more journals taking the plunge to publish online-only, today many are still debating whether or not to make the switch because they wonder how it will affect their reputation and reading experience. Some editors question if their online-only journal will have the same clout as its print counterpart did in the eyes of authors and the tenure and grant committees to which they apply, and they question if readers will enjoy the digital experience as much as print. Despite those still questioning this Web 2.0 transition, there are journals that have been successfully publishing solely online for quite some time now that have reaped many benefits as a result.

Among the early online-only journals was Journal of Behavioral and Applied Management (JBAM), the academic publication of the Institute of Behavioral and Applied Management (IBAM). JBAM launched as an online-only, open access (OA) journal in 1999, long before the online publishing and OA movements were as prevalent as they are today. Marcel Minutolo, associate editor of JBAM, said the journal’s founders made it their mission to make it available to as many scholars as possible. They chose to publish online-only to ensure the journal would be easily discoverable from anywhere in the world and to keep production costs low so that they could make it open access. JBAM has always followed the Gold open access model, making articles free to read immediately upon publication.

“The intent behind the board of IBAM was to disseminate the journal’s research as broadly as possible,” said Minutolo. “We want to minimize as many barriers to access to our articles as we can.”

Early in his career, Minutolo admits that he wasn’t sure about online-only journal publishing. Like other scholars, he wondered if online-only journals would carry the same influence as their print equivalents and if readers would like them.

“I will admit there was a certain point in my life where I wasn’t sure about online content. There was a point in time when open access and online-only journals were not perceived well, and there were some schools that would not consider an online-only journal as a legitimate outlet for their research.”

In time Minutolo said his viewpoint completely shifted. He said now, he has no qualms with online-only publishing.

“I don’t worry about online versus print publishing any more. I think the universities that used to think that way are research-only institutions, and even they have changed their minds,” said Minutolo.

As editor of JBAM Minutolo now sees online-only publishing as an opportunity to make content more open and engaging and to keep journal costs lower than print.

Possibilities as an online-only journal

For Minutolo, one of the best aspects of online journal publishing compared to print is the flexibility of the online model and the greater ease it affords in the editorial and production processes.

“There are so many challenges in printing that we can avoid online. For example, if we put out a new issue and notice an error we can just change it instantly and at no cost, whereas if we had a print issue we’d have to either let that mistake slide or redo the whole thing.”

In addition to avoiding printing woes, Minutolo said he’s excited to be a part of an online-only journal because it opens many avenues to make content more discoverable. Rather than printing journal copies and hoping scholars will find them in their library stacks, online-only journals can enhance their content to make it appear in relevant scholarly searches.

“One of the things that I am exploring now is Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs). I want to move to having a DOI for all our articles, because the metadata that’s housed in it will make it easier for repositories and search engines to find our articles, which of course will improve our impact and reach. I think we will see, as more journals embrace online publishing, that the speed at which research development takes place will be much faster because scholars will be able to find new research sooner.”

Looking to the future of online-only journal publishing, Minutolo said the shift he’s seen some journals make from publishing PDFs online to publishing articles in HTML could also afford online journals more opportunities to resurface related content.

“As we make these types of features more broadly available in our online content it will help researchers cross reference content more easily. What would be really nice is to get to a point where we move beyond citation counts as the chief measure of the impact of an article, because this model can be flawed - all citations aren’t positive.”

Of course, Minutolo said online-only publishing is not without its hiccups. For JBAM, their greatest challenge was initially handling updates to the journal’s website.

“When the journal first came out we were putting all of our issues on our own website, which one of our board members was building and maintaining for free. But, as the journal grew it got busier and it became more cumbersome to do all of that, so we were looking to migrate everything over to an easier platform. When I took over as editor, just a couple of months back, I was ecstatic to see I could do all of that through Scholastica.”

With the ability to upload new articles and issues to their journal website and make changes on their own, Minutolo said he feels much more in control of the online publishing process.

“Now I can make all of the website changes we need by myself using Scholastica. Whereas if we were to publish in print, there’s all kinds of hoops we’d have to jump through. A main benefit of online publishing, once you get the right system set up for you, is to be able to handle publishing in house and move things along quicker.”

The impact of online publishing on the OA movement

Minutolo said he also sees the transition to online-only publishing as viable way for more journals to make their content open access, or to at least substantially lower their author and reader-side fees. Having himself incurred upwards of $600 in article processing charges (APCs) for a single manuscript submission, Minutolo understands the barriers high costs place on researchers. He is confident open access publishing can reduce such expenses, despite some larger publishers’ claims to the contrary.

“I don’t understand the argument some are making that online publishing costs more. Right now we only charge the $10 per submission that Scholastica does to maintain its software. We might charge a small fee in the future to cover the cost of DOIs when we add them, but that would be minimal. In my mind publishers that charge big fees are simply doing it to make a profit.”

Remaining open access has helped JBAM reach a wider scholarly audience, including many in developing countries. Additionally, Minutolo said keeping the journal’s submission fee as low as possible helps them get a broader range of submissions which helps keep the journal more selective, with around a 20% acceptance rate.

Tips for editors looking to launch or transition to an online-only journal

To close our interview, Minutolo offered 5 helpful tidbits of advice that you can use to better manage your existing online-only journal or to make the switch to online-only publishing.

Here’s what he had to say:

  1. Don’t wait for perfect, 80% solution today is better than 100% solution tomorrow any day. Just make it happen.
  2. Reach out on listservs to find reviewers and take advantage of platforms that can help you build a reviewer database, like Scholastica - because finding reviewers is tough.
  3. Advertising in print for an online journal isn’t going to work - use social media to post your calls for submissions and reviewers and to share your latest articles.
  4. Make sure you choose a journal website platform that makes sense for you - don’t have a developer create a website for you if no one on your team knows how to update it.
  5. Embrace the internet and all of the tools out there they will make your life easier!

The Journal Editor's Definitive Guide to Digital Publishing