Why are journal editors resigning?

It seems like every week recently we hear about new mass resignations from editorial boards. They’re dropping like flies. Of course, it’s not unusual to hear about journal editors resigning. Every now and then, it’s natural that an editor might have the odd conflict about how a journal is being run, and yet it does seem that this trend has exploded in 2023. Not only this, but we’ve seen several mass resignations. Editors are banding together and taking a stand against publishers. Now, I created my blog for those of you who might be early on in your publishing career, and I figured that some of you might be quite concerned about these resignations. Well, to put you at ease, I thought I would create a short blog post to explain why editors might be resigning (or at least attempt to explain it – I’m not an editor myself in case you’re wondering…), and explore whether there is anything that we can do as an industry to prevent further resignations in the future. 

Tell us, who resigned?

Okay, here is the hot gossip. Back in May 2023 (admittedly not so hot), 42 editors on the Editorial Board of NeuroImage, a journal published by Elsevier, resigned. Every. Last. One. Then in July, another Elsevier journal Design Studies, was hit when the entire editorial board downed tools permanently. And just recently in August, the Journal of Biogeography, a Wiley title, saw a large number of editors firstly go on strike and then eventually resign. With potentially more and more resignations on the horizon, what is causing this change and can anything be done to bring peace to struggling publisher-editor relations? 

Let’s get to the reasons…

When it comes to most break-ups, it generally boils down to a few key reasons. Let’s look at the top reason for divorce in the UK for example (cheery subject I know, but stay with me). According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2021 43.2% of divorces were due to “unreasonable behaviour”. Editors are breaking up their marriages with big publishers essentially for the same reason, they claim that the publisher is behaving unreasonably. Let’s delve into these “unreasonable” claims a little more.  

When the editors of the Open Access journal NeuroImage resigned, they had asked the publisher to reduce the Article Processing Charge from $3,450 to $2,000. Naturally, this would result in a huge decrease in profits for Elsevier. In a statement released by the editors, they stated: 

While the NeuroImage editors’ resignation serves as a significant case in point, it’s important to recognize that their actions are not isolated. The Editors of the Journal of Biogeography quoted a similar reason behind their mass resignation in August (check out the screenshot of the Editor-in-Chief’s tweet below).

The Chief Editor of the Journal of Biogeography took to Twitter to explain the reasons behind his resignation. 


The editors of Design Studies resigned for several reasons, but the one most pertinent to this blog was due to demand from the publisher for a seven-fold increase in publications”. Unreasonable behavior perhaps? Or perhaps not unexpected given the commercial nature of the publishing business? I’ll leave that question open to debate… 

What, if anything, can be done?

As editors, authors and reviewers primarily support journals that value transparency and accessible knowledge, publishers are working hard to bring transparency to their workflows. When publisher-editor marriages work, it’s a two-way street. Editors contribute their expertise, time, and so much more, while publishers find a balance between publishing quality research, considering the commercial needs of running a journal, and respecting editorial independence. I personally believe that the growing number of such mass resignations across various scientific disciplines signals a broader call for transparency, accountability, and a more equitable distribution of the costs and benefits. As an industry, we face a pivotal crossroads: either seize the reins of this movement or risk confronting vacant editorial boards and unsupported journals. 

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