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June 06, 2019

What are the Best Journal Indexing Services for Scholar–Led Journals?

What are the best indexes and article databases for a relatively small scholar led journal to be in? This is the question I’m currently pondering, following a conversation with a prospective author who was surprised we weren’t appearing in more locations. It’s no secret that Exchanges hasn’t traditionally been indexed in many places, more’s the pity. It’s one of the reasons why I wrote the index article in the latest issue was to try and enhance the visibility, and hence esteem, of articles published with us over the years.

Since we added DOIs to articles last year, I’ve been reasonably happy we’ve been working towards making the journal and its contents more discoverable, not to mention more readily and reliably citable. That said, at the back of my mind I’ve been thinking I really need to bite the bullet at some point and start increasing the locations where our articles are currently indexed. Hence, the author who asked some, I’ll be honest rather pointed, questions about why we weren’t indexed more widely brought the matter up my priority list to tackle. However, it’s not something that’s easy to resolve, as there are various challenges around getting indexed, and there are three which I find are especially vexatious.

The Art of Hegemonic Dominance

The first relates to one of my favourite topics: the domination of the academic publishing field by a limited number of commercial actors [1]. In this ‘market place’ [2], there’s a commercial driver for publishers to ensure that their own hegemonic dominance and profitability continues. One way this can be achieved is by denying non-commercial journals entrance into the organs of esteem metrics, e.g. databases like the Web of Science or Scopus. Coincidentally these particular indexes are owned by Clarivate Analytics [3] and Elsevier [4], who between them are responsible for a not-inconsiderable volume of scholarly publication as well.

Here there’s a bit of a futile cycle, where any new journal needs to gain in significance (what I’d call ‘reputational esteem capital’) which it builds through attracting higher quality/impactful papers. Higher esteem papers themselves are drawn to be published in titles which already have the highest esteem capital possible [5]. To increase this ranking a publisher needs to have their articles more readily discovered, and hence exposed through appearance in the most regularly used indexes. However, entrance to most of these big indexes is restricted to those journals who are already ‘significant’ in terms of their content. Hence, there’s no competitive advantage for the corporate owners of journals and indexes to let small scholar-led titles enter their indexes and grow in esteem; indeed there’s every argument this would essentially act as a counter to their continued dominance. It’s the ‘No Homer’s’ Club effect all over again.

Okay, some indecent, smaller scale journals have made their way past these gatekeepers and entered the ‘hallowed’ indexes, partly because of their longevity or contents. Unlike many short-term scholar-led publications [6], Exchanges has the advantage that we’ve been published for some years now, and have a body of work which slowly but surely is gaining citations. Citations are, for the most part, the sine qua non within publishing, the basic element from which esteem capital is constructed. So, to a degree we’re slowly but surely aggregating esteem every time we publish a new volume. However, given our focus on championing early career publications, strategically this means we’re unlikely to (typically) have 4* world-class research published with us. Why? Well, it’s a tragic fact that the current configuration of academic career esteem structures compels scholars to seek publication for their most ‘impactful’ works in titles already resplendent with high-esteem. Which means even if an ECR scholar might be tempted to consider publishing their finest work with us, for the good of their own career that’s normally an unlikely occurrence.

It doesn’t mean Exchanges isn’t publishing good, quality assured pieces of research literature. However, it’s likely papers within our journal will only become significant over time as they become more commonly cited, although where the author themselves becomes far more recognised as preeminent in their field there’s a notable upswing in interest in their earlier works. Given the thousands of downloads of our most popular papers, I might conclude that many of our authors may already be well on their way to achieving this sort of status within the Academy. It’s to our benefit certainly in terms of getting over that ‘significance’ hurdle to enter some indexes, but it’s one that takes a long, long time to achieve.

Disciplinarily and Suitability

The second big challenge is more prosaic and concerns the disciplinary fit of journals to particular indexes. The author who promoted my thinking asked specifically about one index which was valued within their particular field. I went away to have a look at this and discovered it only indexed around 160 titles, all of which were clearly a close disciplinary fit. I suspect, unlike the major commercial indexes, that these indexes which are often run by learned societies and other smaller sectoral bodies, would be far less concerned with our esteem credentials. However, Given Exchanges is explicitly interdisciplinary in terms of our content my strong suspicion is they’d be less happy to incorporate us because we’re not seen as a core, niche title for any discipline [7]. It tends (although not exclusively) to be the bigger, corporate indexes which are multidisciplinary. Hence, frustratingly our core mission to champion and promote research from all disciplinary traditions counts against us and our inclusion here.

Mechanistic Challenges

The third and final challenge is simply one of practicality and limited time resource. There are a LOT of indexes out there. It would, practically speaking, be a full time job to approach all of these and jump through their various hoops to try and garner entrance. Having glanced at a few of them, even finding a page which explains HOW you can propose your journal for consideration is somewhat obfuscated. I suspect, as discussed in the previous paragraphs, many of these indexes would decline to include us for reasons of esteem or disciplinarity.

Consequently, this could mean a whole lot of work for very little progress or achievement. It might seem like a more minor challenge, but given my role as Editor-in-Chief of Exchanges has a myriad of other responsibilities associated with it, I’m not sure how much time I could devote to this quest. As the only employed member of staff for dedicated to Exchanges, it’s not a task I could easily hand off to another member of the Editorial Board. I suspect they’d not be too keen to take it on either, and they do a whole lot of work for me already without a great deal of recompense.

Carry on Indexing

All of which makes me happy that I took the opportunity this week to discuss indexing Exchanges with our Warwick Library Scholarly Communications team. This team provides our back-office and tech support for Exchanges platform, but I’ve increasingly been hoping we can work more closely together on topics of mutual interest. Not simply those for the library and Exchanges, but also for matters of concern for the other journals variously published within the ‘Warwick Journals Family’ [8].

They’ve agreed to help with the practical approaches (hurray) and myself and the Board have been tasked with coming up with a wish list of indexes for them to target on our behalf. Which is what I’ll be drawing together over the next few weeks. Naturally, given the challenges above I’m not expecting overnight success, but I’m hopeful that with a few more indexes tracking our contents that Exchanges can continue to build on its previous successfully published content and increase our esteem in capital. In this way, maybe just maybe, one day we might even get one of the major indexes to take another look at us.

If any of our readers have thoughts, suggestions or advice to share on the subtle art of getting your journal index, as always, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Further Reading

Scholastica, 2017. Scholastica Blog, 21 June. https://blog.scholasticahq.com/post/index-types-for-academic-journal/

Endnotes

[1] Cf. my professional publications and thesis, which modesty prevents me linking to here.

[2] Ideologically I reject the idea of academic publishing being configured or perceived as a market. Sadly this commodification based ideal represents the common argot when one starts considering the competitive aspect the academic domain has acquired.

[3] Owner of (among other concerns) Thompson Reuters media empire

[4] One of the ‘Big Four’ academic publishers and owners of a sizable chunk of scholarly publishing and research management real-estate

[5] I’m talking here of the Journal Impact Factor (JIF), created by Garfield as a metric of ‘significance’ for a journal. Not all journals are graced with a JIF, as they need to be ‘significant’ enough to appear in the Journal Citation Reports. Once again, the futile cycle and exclusionary practices of the academic publishing field are maintained.

[6] Many scholar-led journals which arise, often from a particular cohort of scholars and PGR students, which publish one or two issues before disappearing into obscurity once the reality of sustainable publication practices arise. Quality contents sure, but they’re not around long enough to start building esteem over time.

[7] Unproven, but anecdotally from past editors, I’ve heard that we’ve had limited to zero success previously with other indexers.

[8] It’s a side topic, but I think the Warwick Journals Family are a group of people locally who could work together and share experience a far more systematic and regular way. One more of those tasks I’ve got on the back burner at the moment, as I’ve yet to establish the best way to configure a meeting.


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.


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