Annual Meeting Reports

Joint Publications Among Societies— Opportunities and Challenges

Kenneth Heideman and Morna Conway shared with the audience their experiences in and lessons learned from working with joint publications among societies. Heideman introduced the topic by reviewing the origins of the journal Earth Interactions, which was launched in the 1990s by five professional organizations. The interdisciplinary nature of this subject matter defined the need for multiple participants. Over the years, the journal evolved among three partners (the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, and the Association of American Geographers) and defined the work agreement among the partners in a memorandum of understanding (MOU). The MOU specified the following processes: selection of the editor-in-chief, peer review, postacceptance editing, and disbursement of revenues. An 80–10–10 split of the proceeds was agreed on by the organizations. The sole organization conducting the peer review of submitted manuscripts received 80% of the proceeds and the other two organizations promoting and marketing the journal received an equal share of the balance of the proceeds.

A joint journal can form in two scenarios. In one, a journal begins as a new collaboration between two or more organizations. In the other, an existing journal becomes a joint publication. In either case, it is essential that organizations continue discussion, establish clear expectations from the beginning, have a process to resolve differences, and understand that collaborations can change and might need to end.

Conway discussed a series of questions that publishers should ask when considering a joint venture.

What makes for a successful collaboration?

A successful collaboration results from mutual self-interest, perception of reciprocity and equal benefit from the project, joint ownership, fair dealing, transparent communication, equal say (in policy, strategy, editorial direction, and operations), and financial parity. It is important, if the journal is owned by a commercial publisher and “sponsored” by a society, that the publisher strike an agreement that gives the society reasonable compensation, editorial control, and input into strategic development of the journal so that the society feels ownership; otherwise, the relationship will probably disintegrate.

Why collaborate?

Societies collaborate for several reasons: for example, to attract content from related but distinct disciplines or professions, to access a larger audience of authors and readers than a single society can, to engage in joint marketing, and to compete effectively with other societies and journals.

What can go wrong?

Some factors that can stress a partnership include concerns about ownership when the journal is not owned equally; poorly defined lines of communication, decision-making authority, or governance; insufficient time and effort to develop a collaborative relationship; financial disparities in income or expense; imbalance in editorial direction (for example, disagreements about appointments of editors); and overlapping memberships (who pays for which subscription?).

Conway described some cases that illustrated success and failures in joint publications among societies. Summaries of these cases follow.

Case one: a highly successful collaboration

A journal was conceived, co-owned and launched by two societies—one clinical and the other surgical. They had one contract with the publisher, and they divided the revenue equally. The editor-in-chief was selected in an open competition every 5 years. The two societies had established a collaborative experience on the basis of their joint annual meetings.

Case two: a toxic relationship

A large society of researchers and practitioners invited a small society of surgeons to sponsor a specialty-focused journal that was owned by the large society. However, the large society refused to pay royalties to the small society or to transfer ownership to it. The small society decided to start its own journal on expiration of the contract.

Case three: another failed relationship

An association owned a journal and invited a small society to develop content in a niche field of its specialty. The owner of the journal paid royalties on commercial sales but not on institutional subscriptions. Commercial sales plunged in the economic downturn immediately after signing of the contract. This case illustrates the need to read the small print in the contract and to understand what a “royalty” is based on.

Case four: an acrimonious divorce

Two journals shared a title that was owned by one journal and licensed to the other. They had a long-term collaboration for marketing and sales. The owner decided to revoke the other journal’s license to use the title. The licensee had to change the name of the journal, and the separation process was expensive and difficult. In this instance, the party with the power over the title changed the rules, and no amount of negotiation could prevent the negative outcome.

Case five: foundation in search of a journal

A major foundation that funds research for a specific disease wanted an official journal. The foundation sought potential partners and found only one suitable journal, but the journal was not interested in a joint venture. The foundation proceeded to the successful launch of its own open-access journal, which it fully owns.

The lessons learned from those experiences with joint publications among societies include these: Success depends on equality, transparency, and shared vision; failure derives from an imbalance of power in the relationship; and if a collaboration is not in the cards, societies should consider launching their own open-access journals because there is much less financial risk with open access than with hybrid or subscription-based journals.