Thursday 14 August 2014

Innovation versus 'very good' journals

JZUS: a 'very good' journal
We all know that the world of journals publishing is changing rapidly, and there are constant pressures for innovation and new models to be developed. The recent shortlist for the ALPSP Awards for Innovation in Publishing (winner to be announced at the conference) highlights some truly inspiring developments being introduced by publishers around the world. 

But in the race to evolve, adapt and develop, are we losing sight of what constitutes a good journal? What about the unsung heroes of the international publishing world that toil behind the scenes to improve what they do and how they do it? They may not be doing things that the industry recognises as innovative or receive the plaudits that accrue to the innovators, but their contribution to excellence in research dissemination is no less significant.

One example that recently came to my attention (and I'm sure there are many others out there, so please add them to the comments field) is the Chinese Journal of Zhejiang University-Science (JZUS). It was one of the first Chinese-based journals to introduce truly international peer reviewing systems (not something that is commonplace in many regions of the world). It was the first Chinese journal to use CrossCheck, and it makes extensive use of this to improve quality and avoid plagiarism. 

JZUS uses automated alerts to reach out to authors after publication if their articles are in the top 10 downloaded papers. It publishes articles in-press to avoid publishing delays, and identifies the ‘hot topic’ or most downloaded articles to help readers identify trends and the best articles published. It allows post-publication comments, and has added Power Point summaries of each article to help readers use its content in their own presentations (and ensure correct citation!).

Rather than aim for anonymous ‘international’ status, it is conscious of its roots, and celebrates the cultural heritage of China. Chinese cultural tokens are used to reward its reviewers, wherever in the world they are, in addition to the recent addition of Chinese language abstracts to increase usability to Chinese researchers. 

So what makes this a good journal? Partly, I believe, because it is focusing its activities on authors and readers. While it may not be developing truly innovative services, it is thinking about what they need and developing new ways of providing them.

There is nothing wrong with large European and US publishers looking for the ‘new’ and the ‘innovative’. We need experimentation to push us forward. But at the same time, we need to remember and celebrate journals that are striving to provide services to authors and readers that they want and need. This is particularly important for those publishing outside the large publishing hubs in the UK and the USA, and within organisations and cultures that don’t have access to the resources of large companies (who also form part of ALPSP’s membership). 

So let’s take a moment to hail a world (and those journals) where the development of high quality, useful, publication tools (aka journals) is taking place. All kudos to the ‘very good’ journal! And to the others that are also providing researchers with easier, more sophisticated, and more reliable access to information.

Further information on the Chinese Journal of Zhejiang University-Science publishing programme is available online

The ALPSP Awards for Innovation in Publishing will be announced at the International Conference, 10-12 September, 2014. Registration is still open, book online at

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