Starting a new Journal – by Ben Booth

July 20, 2023

Getting Published

Academic publishers are certainly open to proposals for new journals, but are also mindful of the difficulties in establishing a publication which will be successful over the long term. So what are the factors you should be mindful of when proposing a new journal?  Ben Booth, Publisher, Academic Law at Edward Elgar, considers the challenges and opportunities of starting a new journal.

The landscape of academic publishing is constantly changing. With new formats and opportunities created by digital technology, and the pressures put upon academics by both funding bodies and assessment exercises, there is a need – more than ever, some might say – to consider not just what you write but where you write it. One aspect of this is, of course, to work with an experienced international publisher who can ensure that your work is published to a high professional standard and disseminated effectively throughout the world. But assuming this to be the case, authors must still weigh up opportunities to contribute a piece to the latest cutting-edge Research Handbook, develop ideas into a fully-fledged monograph, or engage with the forum created by a specialised journal. All have their place.

The very nature of research means that ideas are always in flux. And it is often when addressing new questions, looking at the interaction between neighbouring topics, or bringing together perspectives from different disciplines that the most lively debates can be found. Of course, this poses no problem if you decide to propose a new book project, which can be carefully tailored. But it is a different matter with journals. When submitting a particular article, an author may shortlist a number of potential journals whose broad scope would cover the topic in question. But occasionally it may become apparent that a new forum is really needed to foster debate on an emerging topic.

The Market

The first question to ask is: do we really need a new journal? It’s conceivable that a would-be editor may have other motivations for wanting to establish a new journal, but unless it’s really needed then it won’t thrive. A publisher will be looking for a strong theme, with a clear focus and sense of purpose. Providing analysis of competing journals will help to demonstrate that they do not already cover this ground. Equally, giving evidence of a likely readership – such as relevant networks or societies – helps to build a business case. In fact, linking a new journal closely to a strong network of scholars (or even a formal society) can be pivotal not only in reaching likely readers but also attracting potential contributors. Finally, bear in mind that the publisher will consider the strategic fit of a new journal with their ongoing programme. This is just as they would with a book proposal, but given the long-term commitment to a journal, the strategic element becomes even more critical. (For more insight into how publishers evaluate book proposals, see past blog posts by my colleagues – details below.)

Editorial plans

Before committing to a new journal, a publisher will want to be convinced that the prospective editors have the determination, vision, and leadership to sustain a high-quality publication over a number of years. In addition to seeing evidence of their track records, the publisher will want to see a fair amount of detail on their plans. For example, it is often a good idea to sketch out several years’ worth of themed issues around which articles can be commissioned, and perhaps to draft plans for a strong launch issue with pro-actively commissioned pieces which will set the tone and agenda for the future. The publisher will be keen to know that the editors have the network and contacts to first establish a high-quality editorial board, and then to continue to attract good submissions. It will also be essential for the editors to articulate how they plan to handle the tasks involved – most especially, the review process. Both high editorial standards and good practical management skills are needed.

Understanding the landscape

A new journal is a long-term commitment, and the publisher will expect to see that the would-be editors are equipped to deal with some of the challenges they may face. From the outset the publisher will be thinking in terms of a 5-7 year plan, during which they will be investing both finance and expertise. In return, they will be looking for steady growth, commitment, and long-term security. Editors must show that their plans are built on realistic assumptions – for example, not underestimating the difficulty in persuading cash-strapped libraries to take out subscriptions, or the patience and care needed to earn a listing in a top citation index.

There is no doubt that launching a new journal is a challenge, but if it is approached with care then it can be a very rewarding experience and have the potential to make a lasting contribution to the literature in that field. Perhaps it is not for the faint-hearted, but for prospective editors with a passion for their subject, a vision for their new publication, and a determination to succeed then it can present a unique opportunity.

Further reading:

Some of the insight into what makes a good book proposal (and especially a good edited book) can help in thinking through a journal proposal. See the following blog posts:

Ben Booth Ben Booth is Publisher, Academic Law at Edward Elgar Publishing, with a responsibility for Public International Law, Human Rights, Environmental Law, European Law, and Law & Economics.  He oversees the Journal of Human Rights and the Environment.

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