Annual Meeting Reports

Look Before You Leap: The Transition from Self-Publishing to Contract Publishing

This session covered the transition to contract publishing from self-publishing and commercial publishing.

Judy Connors, associate director of editorial services for DIA Therapeutic Innovation & Regulatory Science, opened the session by providing some history to describe the position in which DIA, a neutral, nonprofit, global membership-driven association, and its peer-reviewed journal, the Drug Information Journal (DIJ), found themselves in June 2011. Six of the nine employees associated with the journal were due to retire, there was a backlog of 175 manuscripts, the journal had just hired a new editor-in-chief, and a technology upgrade was overdue without the resources and skill set available to achieve it. For DIA, this “perfect storm” made the decision to contract with a commercial publisher a logical move.

The process began with an analysis of which tasks were being performed by inhouse staff and which could be offloaded to or provided by a new partner. Things to think about were resources, personnel, ease of manuscript processing, revenue sources, turnaround time, record maintenance, and the migration from paper to digital content. Benefits included more functionality with fewer people, an increase in manuscript submissions from 121 in 2011 to 190 in 2012, a decrease in acceptance rate from 95% in 2011 to 67% in 2012, a reduction in the time from submission to final decision, and the change from a manual workflow to a fully electronic system. Organizing the editorial office and establishing a work process to accommodate the move took 6 months. In January 2012, the DIJ changed from a 47-year-old self-published journal to a commercially published one with an in-house staff of two. A successful firstyear partnership resulted in the launch of a new journal, Therapeutic Innovation & Regulatory Science, in January 2013.

A similar case study with some notable differences was related by Tanda Jaipean. She described the Journal of Histochemistry and Cytochemistry (JHC), for which she serves as managing editor, as a society-owned, self-published niche journal that has 200–300 submissions per year and an established electronic workflow.

After the switch to a commercial publisher, JHC retained control of content, instructions to authors, production fees, layout, and issue approval. There was a decrease in office staff and a big change in office workflow and structure. Jaipean pointed out that the publisher took on many tasks formerly performed by journal staff members, but retained staff members became responsible for exercising diligent oversight. She recommends keeping existing staff for 6–12 months after such a change. She also recommends that a journal keep its manuscript-submission and peer-review systems if they are meeting all current needs and the contract permits doing so. Time-consuming aspects of the transition included data transfer, reconfiguring the peer-review system, and implementing a new style guide. JHC gave up control over workflow and flexibility in schedule deadlines but was able to optimize the commercial publisher’s in-house staff and offload copyediting, issue layout, and author billing and to leverage new technology.

In marketing, gains were made in global support for the brand, corporate efficiencies in handling data, and access to professional marketing staff; there were concerns about ensuring the journal brand and measuring success. In sales, there were gains in global support for sales, increased visibility to consortia and stand-alone institutions, and access to corporate libraries; and there were concerns about access to sales and subscription revenue data and about having the commercial publisher determine pricing.

The session wrapped up with Courtney Pugh, publishing editor at SAGE, covering what both parties should expect during a transition. For starters, the expectation should be responsiveness and good communication, followed by strategic vision, vigorous trouble shooting, and managing needs versus desires. Commercial publishers’ responsibilities are typically editorial management support, production, online hosting, marketing, public relations, fulfillment, renewals, reporting, sales, industry knowledge and contacts, and education about trends in the industry. Pugh recommended signing contracts in time to use the next year’s price list (publisher timeframes may vary) and added that it will take a full year or volume for things to “settle in”. Most importantly, she noted that it is important to remain calm throughout the process and “take a breath”—new relationships, workflows, and personalities are big changes for both parties.

This was a valuable session for those interested in learning about the situational decision making that goes into moving from self-publishing to contract publishing.