Tuesday 20 November 2012

How to Launch an Open Access Journal

Kathryn Spiller, Head of Publishing at BioScientifica Publishing, kicked off the seminar Beyond the Rhetoric: New opportunities in open access this morning. She provided a step-by-step guide on how they launched their new open access journal, Endocrine Connections: An Interdisciplinary Open Access Journal.

BioScientifica Publishing publishes biomedical and life science journals on behalf of client societies. In 2011, their portfolio included: Journal of EndocrinologyMolecular EndocrinologyEndocrinology-Related CancerEuropean Journal of Endocrinology; and Reproduction.

Their open access policies in 2011 were:

  • All journals offer OA option - £2000
  • Half price APC if corresponding author's institution subscribes (they proactively told them)
  • Where funders mandate OA they insist on APE payment
  • 12 month embargo
  • License retains commercial rights
  • Low take up - range 2-7% of content across the portfolio

During 2011, the Society for Endocrinology and the European Society for Endocrinology strongly felt they needed to launch a new open access journal. Working with TBI Communications, they undertook a programme of market research. This included comprehensive market research of the target community; identification of a real gap in the market; identifying true USPs that are meaningful to that community; levels of significant investment; and no impact factor.

They also wanted to explore non-traditional areas such as:

  • how researchers now take on a third role: not only author and reader, but also paying customer
  • the willingness and ability to pay for OA
  • the strengths and weaknesses that an OA journal can bring.

Their primary market research objectives were:

  • to identify the gap and define the scope of the new journal
  • assess the value their brand might add to a new journal
  • define criteria for naming it and understand attitudes to key terms
  • assess factors most important to the community in deciding where to submit articles

Their secondary market research objectives were:

  • to understand awareness of - and attitudes to - OA in the community
  • to understand current costs of publishing paid by authors in the community
  • to understand the level of APC that would be acceptable and would be funded

They delivered the research to just under 50,000 names including approximately 4,000 members of both societies and there were 904 (1.8%) participants. The majority were from Europe and North America, but the rest of the world were also represented. Most respondents were based at a university or hospital and there was a good spread of researchers working in different specialisms related to endocrinology with an equal number of clinician and scientists.

Key findings: positioning
They identified a gap in the market for a broad scope journal linking endocrinology with intersecting disciplines. The two society brands had positive associations for than half of respondents, even though the majority weren't members, but the publisher brand had neutral response. The word 'endocrinology had very positive associations for most respondents, but the word 'hormone' had negative connotations!

Author preferences
The key factors influencing respondents' choice of where to publish were ranked as follows:

  1. reputation of journal
  2. impact factor
  3. relevance of publication to your work
  4. speed of publication
  5. free access to your work
  6. reptutation of associated society
  7. reputation of publishers
  8. funding body

Attitudes to OA
78% had some or good awareness of OA as a new model for publishing research articles (the lowest response was in Latin America and Asia). 44% had published in an OA journal, 26% of which had published frequently or occasionally. Of those with experience of publishing in OA, 47% strongly support the principle, but have trouble paying fees. 39% support it and are preprepared to pay reasonalbe fees. PLoS One was the most popular OA journal.

Cost of publishing
72% had experience of paying page charges and almost half of those said the average cost of page charges per paper is between $101 and $500. Over 50% of these authors fund charges from grant agencies with just over 30% funding them personally. The range of journals where people have paid to publish OA is large, as is the price range.

APC positioning
When participants were asked what a reasonable APC would be 20% said it is not acceptable to charge, 41% stated below $500, and only 11% stated over $1000. Of those who fund fees personally, 44% believe under $500 to be fair and 24% believe $501-$1000 to be fair.

Adopted model
As a results of the research they adopted an online only CC-BY licence. The full price for an APE is £700 with a launch offer of the first 200 published at half price. They are cascading articles rejected by the Societies' high impact journals and these submissions account for 50% of submissions consistently throughout the year. They are also undertaking marketing for direct submissions.


  • very short timeline of 6 months for launch
  • response to the first announcement resulted in 700+ signing up for more information
  • 3490 signed up for alerts
  • monthly enewsletter has 40% open rate
  • 58 submissions in the first six months
  • two issues of seven articles with five more articles online, in first six months
  • average receipt to accept times of 27 days

Success factors
  • user-led research to define clear gap in the market, name and scope of product
  • owned by two prestigious societies
  • being agile - from sign off to launch in six months
  • mixed model of cascaded papers and direct submissions
  • a new product that starts with our core market
  • significant investment in launch showing measurable ROI

Interestingly, only 22% of those offered a transfer have submitted when their research suggested 60% would. The acceptance rate is 25% where they had budgeted for 70%. The key lesson they have learnt is not to be afraid to take risks and invest in new products. It is a far greater risk to do nothing.

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