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October 16, 2018

The Challenges of Enhancing Scholar–Led Journal Visibility to Disparate Audiences

While we move towards the publication of the next issue of Exchanges, today I’ve been doing some background work with my Editorial Board looking towards the future. At its core is something dear to my heart as the Senior (EIC) Editor, which is considering ways to better market and promote the journal. I know for some the idea that we have to market academic scholarship leaves a rather nasty ideological taste in the learned mouth; it does in mine certainly. Nevertheless, academic publishing, even scholarly-led initiatives, operates in a domain of realpolitik; although you’ll excuse me if I’ll continue to cleave to my zeal and vision for a greater agency over publishing for the academy as a result.

The issue we face though for a currently, small and not especially well-known title like Exchanges, is we need to raise the visibility of the title, its mission and the scholarship it publishes. This is not an uncommon challenge for scholar-led titles and is exacerbated by the protectionist policies of the commercially owned key research publication indexes. I’m grateful at the very least that we appear in the DOAJ. Addressing this visibility challenge, means we need to work out ways of reaching out to hitherto unaware members of our various target audiences. In this respect, prospective authors without a doubt are a key demographic, but so too are potential members of our peer reviewer and reader communities. Alongside these there are certainly other audiences we could and should be also marketing to, although currently I’m most concerned with engaging these three most pressingly. Why? Well, without authors we have no content, without reviewers we have no quality assurance and without readers…well, there’s the existential threat writ large. Hence, this is why these are the groups I’m most concerned about making more aware of us.

So, one thing I’ve been doing recently is working out where Exchanges stands in terms of outreach: a term I’m perhaps more ideologically comfortable with than ‘marketing’, as it smacks more of activism than it does or corporatism. What I’ve isolated in my exercise is there’s a surprising range of things which myself, and members of the Editorial Board, have been doing over the past six months [1] to raise the journal’s visibility. Personal appearances at conferences and training events, developing a social media presence [2], redeveloping the website materials, considering approaches to developing ancillary and complementary media content, alongside producing the more traditional posters and flyers. Interestingly, I think my audit of marketing efforts has also revealed a tendency in the tenancy of prior Senior Editors towards unstructured, serendipitous and arguably ad-hoc promotional approaches. I may be incorrect in the assumption, but I’ve not uncovered evidence since the early years of any sustained coordinated activity. Former Senior Editors feel free to enlighten me here!

Yet, while what we have in development is all well and good it suggests two problematics need addressing with respect to audience outreach. Firstly, within the marketing mix we’ve adopted, are there other lucrative activities, opportunities or avenues which have yet to be explored? Secondly there is the question of how effective any of this marketing has been? The former question is one I’ve put to my Editorial Board, but naturally it's also something I’d more than welcome comments on here too.

In terms of the latter issue, this is something I’ve been working on establishing pretty much since I came on board, and certainly I’ve managed to make a handful of personal appearances at events and conferences to talk about the title. However, while these have been quite engaging and effective, they have been a touch Warwick centric. Given our global agenda for Exchanges, short of embarking on a 'Grand World Tour' to promote the title, they’re perhaps not the most cost or time effective promotional approach [3].

Hence, I’m hopeful that through myself and the Board adopting a more systematic approach through reviewing what we’re doing to promote Exchanges, that we’ll be able to answer these two questions more clearly. Naturally, with the added advantage of increasing the title’s visibility among our core audiences further, to everyone’s benefit! Watch this blog for more news as we move into the next phase of bringing the world to Exchange’s door.

[1] And doubtlessly before, but my journey with Exchanges started back in April, so please excuse the slight temporal myopia.

[2] Yes, of which this blog is a facet. So too is our twitter account (@ExchangesIAS), which you really should be following.

[3] Although I stand by my maxims of ‘ABM’ (always be marketing) and ‘Anywhere, any place, any time’, if people do want to hear about Exchanges from me in person. I'll keep the IAS VOTL on standby.


August 21, 2018

Where in the World…?

Over the weekend I had a brief discussion with the other Dr Johnson in my house, who was asking me various questions about Exchanges, its metrics and readership. Okay, truth be told I started the conversation by wondering aloud about various aspects of our multiple audiences [1], as it’s a topic never too far from my mind, even on a road trip to the far south of the UK. I should mention, Mrs the Dr Johnson is a remote-sensing satellite and environmental monitoring specialist at another Midlands university, and I suspect tends to perceive the world through a geographic lens. Hence the construction of her question and interest. I’ll confess it wasn’t something I could immediately answer while driving down the M40, beyond making an assumption that our to-date core audience was located in and around Warwick, and perhaps Monash, given our concentration of editors and authors from those locations.

GA Map of the WorldAs I’ve discussed before, one of my (many) ambitions for Exchanges is to broaden the range of its audiences [2], and thinking about what we can find about the current audiences isn’t a bad place to start. I’ve two principal tools at my disposal for gathering this sort of data: Google Analytics (GA) and the Open Journal System’s (OJS) inbuilt statistics generator. The former looks a lot slicker and can churn out some pretty illuminating graphics at the click of a mouse, the latter’s UI and outputs are a lot more ‘web 1.0’ - in that creating a custom report is not a facile exercise and the platform spits out reams of largely unformatted, hard, numerical data. Both tools have their places in my working practices, for example at times it’s handy to have access and manipulate raw data, and GA doesn’t make scraping that in its entirety quite as easy. Conversely, when I need an illustrative graphic in short order for a presentation or report, GA is the tool I turn to.

The $64,000 question: does their data correlate? The answer is yes…and no. Broadly there’s some alignment, but the figures each one has presented me with are reasonably different in exact value if similar in relative magnitude. Given the issues with generating comparable data over the same period [3] it comes as no surprise to me that variance in ranking beyond the ‘big three’ UK, USA and Australia [4] exists. Perhaps more interesting are those countries which appear in one but not the other analytical tool’s top 10.

Geographic Ranking by Accesses to Exchanges (2013-2018)

Google Analytics Open Journal Systems
1 United Kingdom United States
2 United States United Kingdom
3 Australia Australia
4 India Vietnam
5 Canada France
6 Vietnam Russia
7 Germany Germany
8 South Korea South Korea
9 Philippines India
10 Italy Italy

(countries appearing in both lists highlighted)


This might suggest, given GA has been running for less time than OJS’ current platform, that Canada and the Philippines are new and expanding audiences for Exchanges, with France and Russia diminishing. However, the precision in the time spans over which this data was gathered are both too limited to make such sweeping conclusions [5]. It is pleasing to see some non-Anglophone usage though in both charts, especially considering our sole language of publication is English.

Anyway, no matter the deeper implications of this very light touch look at Exchanges’ user statistics, I think I’ve at least answered part of Mrs Dr Johnson’s question about from where in the world our usage has originated. Naturally, this beggars another question which I can’t immediately answer: where SHOULD our audiences for the journal be coming from? As always, answers in the comments below please…

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Endnotes

[1] Readers, authors, potential authors, stakeholders and more…I’m still work on defining these

[2] Does the ISS have an ISP I can track? If it has, another mission is to get this journal read in orbit!

[3] These issues are multiple. For examples, with OJS, when we moved to the newer version last year this, regrettably, seemed to ‘reset’ the statistics for the platform. We’ve a back record of these, but it’s no longer possible run off a complete set since the journal began. Likewise with Google Analytics, we’ve not had this running the whole time the platform has been up, so there’s going to be a temporal discrepancy there too. Added to that neither platform counts or creates its statistics in the same way, without a LOT of lengthy post-processing and normalisation, for normal usage there are always going to be disagreements on the ‘exact’ magnitude of visitations. Just one of the reasons as a qualitative researcher, I tend to maintain a certain analytical cynicism wherever ‘statistics’ are used to justify something: there’s always likely flaws, assumptions and simplifications in the underlying data acquisition methods!

[4] These make up 58.4% (GA) or 77.7% (OJS) of all usage

[5] It is possible I could make the data collection time frames marry better, but I’m still developing an understanding on how OJS works ‘under the hood’ in this respect. Something to return to at a later date, perhaps.


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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