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If you’re working with a scholarly organization or group of researchers to run an academic-led open access (OA) journal, you’re likely approaching all areas of journal management with the same core question in mind: How can we maximize our limited time and resources to keep improving our journal and expanding its reach? In order to meet the needs of readers and grow your journal, you need to be able to produce modern articles on a budget and with limited editorial resources.

Ultimately, the success of your OA journal will depend on the publishing tools and systems you leverage to maximize your efforts. Your journal team should seek tools and services that you can easily manage and that will enable you to keep up with the evolving digital publishing landscape.

There are certain considerations OA journal teams should keep in mind when choosing which peer review and publishing tools and systems to use. In this post, we outline 3 things to consider.

Technical barriers and available support

As part of an OA journal team, you’ll likely need to set aside time for a variety of tasks related to peer review management, production, and even marketing. Most of these uses of time will be essential, but some may be avoidable. Given the breadth of tasks you face, it’s vital to identify areas that can be simplified. Journals can streamline their workflows with the right combination of online tools and services to help manage the main parts of the peer review and publishing process: accepting submissions, tracking revisions, typesetting articles, and maintaining a professional publication website.

Journals should choose tools and services based on their particular needs, knowing that not all options will work for every publication. For example, while journals with access to technical support via their organizational publisher may be able to handle journal management software and a publication website that requires local hosting, setup, and maintenance, such solutions will not be the best choice for journals with small teams that have no internal technical resources. If you’re a small journal struggling to configure journal management software or build your own website, make sure you’re thinking long term. Will you be able to feasibly scale your efforts to improve your web presence and publish more articles in the future? If the answer is - “we’re already struggling to keep up with what we have!” - then it may be time to look for a simpler technical solution. When determining which tools and services you’ll use to manage peer review and publishing at your OA journal, think about how much time the options you’re considering will require you to spend, now and in the future, either doing manual work or configuring and learning technology.

Some common pitfalls journals should avoid are:

  • Using software for peer review and/or publishing that has a high learning curve (this will often result in one or more team members becoming “power users” whom everyone relies on - when they’re unavailable or move on it can cause problems)
  • Using software that does not come with technical support, at the very least for editors (ideally seek support for reviewers and authors too so you don’t have to field technical questions)
  • Trying to do too many manual tasks, like having your editors typeset every article in Adobe InDesign (this likely won’t scale)
  • Saving up to outsource software configuration or journal website design to an external web developer but not factoring in future maintenance costs (the internet is changing your journal will need to keep up!)
  • Not considering the experience of authors, reviewers, and readers when selecting software and designing a journal website - clunky journal software and dated websites won’t attract scholars to your journal

If you’re using software, ask yourself if you can handle its technical requirements. For any area that you’re handling manually, ask yourself if you could automate that work with journal software or find an affordable service to do it for you. As a general rule, if you’re spending a good chunk of time trying to keep up with your journal tools or to manually track manuscripts and produce articles, you should consider where you can improve your process.

Real and hidden costs

Related to questions about your journal’s technical solutions are real and hidden costs. All of the journal management tools you use will have upfront costs and behind the scenes costs to think about. Upfront costs are of course the costs directly associated with a software or service. Hidden costs are the expenditures that indirectly come from the software or services you use (or don’t)– these can be easy to overlook. For example, if you’re publishing one or more OA journals through a university library and relying on the library’s internal IT team to maintain your journal management software and websites, while the system you’re using may technically be “free” the time cost of your institutional IT resources is still an expense for your organization.

OA journal publishers should be attuned to the time costs associated with the tools and services they use and whether they are taking away from their organization’s or editors’ ability to complete or start other important projects. If you have dedicated resources just for journal support, your current system may be fine, but if you’re stretching internal resources to keep up with journal needs you may find that there are greater costs associated with your system than what meets the eye. In this case, you may be better off allocating funds towards affordable peer review and publishing software that doesn’t require so much internal upkeep.

Journals should be cognizant of how their operational costs impact authors. For example, if your journal opts to use expensive peer review and publishing software or services you may have to charge relatively high article processing charges (APCs) to cover costs. If you find that your team is in this situation, it’s important to consider if a more affordable alternative could do the same job. High APCs can limit the variety and global reach of the research in your journal since many authors have limited or no access to APC funds. Ideally, you should be able to operate your journal with low APCs, submission fees, or grants or institutional subsidies.

The gap between peer review and publishing

In developing your OA journal management strategy, you’ll also need to consider the relationship between peer review and publishing. Journals can sometimes silo peer review and publishing and separately look for software and services in each area without thinking about if and how they will be able to connect. It’s important to consider how well your journal is set up to move manuscripts from decision to publication. If the software and services you’re using are completely separate you may be creating extra work for your team.

Some signs of disconnected peer review and publishing systems to try and avoid are:

  • Having to download manuscripts from one system and reupload them to another
  • Editors not being able to communicate with each other in either or both their peer review and publishing systems (ideally all communication should be stored in one place, not scattered between different systems and email)
  • Manuscripts not retaining metadata assigned to them in your peer review system when they move to publishing (editors shouldn’t have to manually add metadata stored in peer review software to published articles)

Journals should aim to centralize their peer review and publishing tools to enable editors to work faster. Integrated peer review and publishing tools can also reduce the likelihood of errors and save time costs.

Overall it’s about flexibility and forward thinking

In all of your decision making around OA journal publishing, it’s important to step back and ask: “Do we have room for growth?” The key software and service considerations we’ve discussed all stem from this question. In order to be successful, you need to set your journal on a publishing path that will enable you to keep scaling submissions, building out your editorial processes, and modernizing your online presence. The level of technical work you take on, the real and hidden costs of the tools you use (or lack thereof), and the time between your peer review and publishing process will all greatly impact your publication’s performance and development.