What do journal publishers actually do?
Over the years authors have asked me, what do publishers do? How do the likes of Springer Nature, Frontiers, Wiley or Elsevier actually add any value to my manuscript? Why should we publish in an academic journal? I’m going to try to be brutally honest in answering these questions and my answers might not make me very popular, but here goes!
Academic Journals: The Author’s Perspective
From the author’s perspective, it might not look like the publisher does an awful lot. Let’s imagine we have an author here with us, we’ll call him Bob. Bob submits his manuscript and waits for what feels like forever to hear news about the next steps. If Bob is lucky, the publisher’s peer review system will give him some sort of indication as to the status of his manuscript. Finally, Bob hears that his manuscript has been through peer review and the peer reviewers have asked for revisions. Bob then spends his precious time (that he could be spending with his family or on his current research) revising his manuscript, checking it scrupulously and resubmitting it. Then the waiting. Bob is forever waiting… When at last, it’s accepted for publication! So ensues rounds of author proofs and then eventually Bob’s article is published. After all of this, Bob then must log onto his much-neglected Twitter account and hope that his lonely Tweet will be enough for people to see the article and actually read it. Luckily, if the article has been published Open Access then it’s worth the effort of self-promotion, but if it’s published under a Subscription model, only those with a subscription to the journal will be able to even read it. Sounds exhausting, right?
In our story about Bob, where is the role of the publisher? Bob sees the technology the publisher offers during the submission, peer review and production processes. He might have an occasional interaction with the publisher during peer review if the formatting of his manuscript needs altering, or if he encounters any bugs in the platform. He will also likely have some interaction with the copyeditor working on his manuscript in production. Essentially, the people aspect of the publishing process is somewhat lacking for our author Bob. Bob sees the technology, Bob sees the editors and reviewers volunteering their time, but Bob doesn’t see what is happening behind the scenes. Therefore, Bob is sometimes critical about publishers, their value and what they do. Bob thinks that it might be easier to just self-publish his article somewhere online. To all the “Bobs” out there reading this, please trust your publishers! An awful lot happens behind the scenes that keeps that journal afloat and gives you and your funder value for money.