June 21, 2018

Developing Audiences

PGR ShowcaseI spent most of yesterday attending the Post-Graduate Researcher Showcase event, not particularly to view posters or hear about research, but rather to try and raise Exchanges profile as a publication destination. I had a few interesting conversations, but I remain in two minds about whether the event provided an appropriate ROI from my attendance. Doubtless, time will tell if we have any submissions from attendees, although given the increasing decoupling of Exchanges from the ‘Warwick’ brand, appealing for local author submissions represents an arguable retrograde step for engaging with our audiences. The free lunch was very nice though, and I was quite flattered to be invited in the first place.

That said, time away from my computer with only a pen and paper to hand, gave me an opportunity to do some reflecting about Exchanges’ audience [1]. I’ve been thinking our audience and readership pretty much from before I started working on the journal, and I’ll confess some recent conversations I’ve had, have very much brought this into focus. Partly, my current thinking stems from a very interesting conversation I had on Monday night with my former PhD Director of Studies [2], but discussions with some of the PGR showcase delegates have also contributed. Guess it was worth me being there!

During my talk with my ex-Director, I explained about Exchanges, what the journal has been, how it came about, the behind the scenes operations, along with the kinds of articles we publish, topped off with a broad brush overview of our mission and intent. His first reaction, after one of his characteristically long, inscrutable silences, was to ask:

But who would read a journal like that?

I think it is a fair point, well made. Many scholars have an observable tendency to read the same journals on a regular basis, often those which they themselves and their recognised peers publish in. True, they will go off-piste as the result of, say, a literature search, automated alert or following a conference interaction, but their intellectual grazing habitus [3] tends to be conservative in construction. Certainly, in my own earlier research, this conservatism was a recognisable trait, with respect to adoption of open-access praxis and journal interaction [4]. Indeed, likely where scholars do seek out other papers, chances are they go directly to their item of interest (article level access) and are less likely to consume or even be aware of the rest of that issue’s articles (journal level access) [5]. Moreover, given Exchanges is an explicitly interdisciplinary title, and scholars arguably less concerned with reading papers outside their field, a consideration emerges that in terms of developing a greater audience for the title, Exchanges faces an uphill battle.

All of which brings my back to my colleague’s question, which I’d expand from considerations of only ‘readers’ to include ‘contributors’ as authors or reviewers alike. Yes, Exchanges has survived for 5 commendable years within a publication field which continues to proliferate new journals, and markedly many similarly scholar-led titles. I’m intellectually opposed to considering publishing as a ‘marketplace’ construct, as this represents a concept too besmirched by the ideological baggage of capitalism. That aside, objective pragmatism still suggests the title operates within a non-fiscally constructed competitive environment. Within such an environment, and when accounting for our growth aspirations, our accrued intellectual esteem capital and ECR targeted USP may not be sufficiently attractive to continue operating in our traditional mode.

Simply put, we have no extant privilege or authority to expect contributors and readers to come to us. And a journal with no audience, no readers or contributors, quite simply represents an untenable scholarly endeavour.

You can, perhaps, begin to see now why the question of audience is one which concerns me as Exchanges’ Editor-in-Chief. I believe there is work to be done, both from exploring what the literature can tell us about developing a journal’s niche, but also in understanding who our audiences might be. I suspect the audience, such as it is for Exchanges today, is not the sole community whom we’d ideally embrace moving into the future.

Thus, in answering these conundrums, there are questions which our prior audiences can help answer, alongside explorations of potential or aspirational future scholarly reader and contributor communities too. I strongly suspect there are also linked topics to examine concerning the knotty questions of metrics and impact, which clearly resonate with questions around readership and contributor audiences. I would hope there are some exciting revelations which may emerge from this effort, and hence it’s a task I’ll be working on for the coming few months alongside the production of the future issues.

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[1] It also provided some time to work on some data protection planning as well, but I’m not sure the readers of this blog would be that thrilled by that segment of thought.

[2] We were supposedly planning our next paper and also a conference presentation for later this year.

[3] Bourdieu, P., 1993. The Field of Cultural Production. Cambridge: Polity Press

[4] See Chapter 7: Johnson, G.J., 2017. Through struggle and indifference: the UK academy's engagement with the open intellectual commons. PhD, Nottingham Trent University.

[5] Anecdotal, perhaps, but I’m making this assumption, based on two decades of observations from working with scholars and research students within academic support roles, and my own research interactions.


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