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Dennis Couwenberg: Toll access would be damaging to Nanophotonics

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Nanophotonics, the journal co-published by De Gruyter Open, received its first Impact Factor of 5,686 this year and became the 6th most influential journal in Optics, within a few years after its launch. Openness and good communication with the scientific community were key to the journal’s success. “We weren’t introducing open access to the field of Optics, we were just following the trend and demand” – says Dennis Couwenberg, Publishing Editor of the journal.

Nanophotonics might be new, but it is already an established journal. Congratulations on your success. What’s the story behind the journal? Why did you decide to launch it?

The journal concept came about six years ago when the pioneering scientists in the field of nanophotonics observed that a high impact factor journal – specifically focused on Nanophotonics – would be of great value to the scientific community. This field was not yet covered by the existing journals in the field of Optics. These scientists were at the same time the leaders in the subject, and were willing to be a part of the editorial board and to support the journal. So that was already a clear indicator for success. I simply had to listen to them. Together with Alexander Grossman, who was at the time the Vice President for Publishing at De Gruyter, we started co-publishing this journal and launched it as a joint effort between De Gruyter and my small publishing company called Science Wise publishing.

Federico Capasso, a Harvard professor, was one of the main initiators of the journal, becoming the founding editor and accepting the position of Editor-in-Chief . His prominence has had a huge influence on the journal’s early recognition. We attracted a lot of renowned scientists as editors. I think that these elements were the two most important factors in the initial phase – there was a clear demand from the scientific community for a journal with high impact (Nanophotonics was then still a small field, but it had huge potential to grow from fundamental science to applications), and that we had the best scientists in the field on board. That is how it started.

The journal was initially a subscription-based venue. But you quickly transformed it into an open access model. Why?

The journal has never really published any toll access content. The content that we were publishing was freely available on-line from the very beginning. However, we did not call it open access. Free access was a part of a marketing plan to create visibility to the journal’s content. Come the third year and the journal was about to be published in a conventional way, but we were all clear that the best move to go forward would be to make it open access. Now, the journal is published in the open access model under a Creative Commons license. I strongly believe that it is what helped the journal to succeed.

Federico Capasso, the current Managing Editor, Volker Sorger and I believed that open access would create more visibility as the trend within this specific scientific community is towards more openness. Open Access allows more people to read the journal’s content and more people to cite it (for more information about open access citation advantage have a look here). Not only does it influence the journal’s visibility, but it can also increase its Impact Factor.

I believe that openness positively influenced the journal, especially at the very beginning. We only had limited marketing options and I think it would have been very challenging to get subscriptions for a new, unknown journal. Only a limited number of scientists would have been able to find even the best of our articles if they had not been opened. I believe that openness will also impact the growth of the journal’s importance, but it is hard to say how strong this influence will be, since there are many other factors that play a role.

Having said that, the main push for Open Access was to stay loyal to the current interest/trend of the majority of this scientific community, which is used to other open access journals such as Optics Express and uses ArXiv and other online platforms that offer a free service to scientists to upload their research papers and read others for free.

When I was living in Berlin, I observed a big trend towards open access, especially from the high energy physics and particle physics community. They were fed up with high journal prices and there was a general feeling of unfairness when paying money to read their own papers and those of their peers. It was also then that the European committee got involved and created legislation to push Open Access. When it comes to novel means of science communication, the physics community has been the trend setter. Having created the World Wide Web, Arxiv and such, this community is on the frontiers of pushing towards openness, using new technology to create more visibility. So it is not that we are introducing open access to the field of Optics, we are just following the trend and demand. It would have been damaging for a new journal to go against the trend.

Nanophotonics received its first Impact Factor of 5,686 this year and became the 6th most influential journal in Optics. This is a truly impressive result. In your opinion, what is the main factor behind achieving such a result?

The push of the founding editor Federico Capasso and the other great scientists, who joined our editorial board, was a really important factor. It gave trust and value to the journal when neither the journal’s name nor the publishing company De Gruyter was well known in the international community of physicists. Content wise we are also focused on inviting well known scientists to write review articles, which currently accounts for 90% of the journal’s content. I think there is also a personal element. We made it our custom to personally invite scientists at their universities and meet them at conferences to discuss what topic for an educational review or overview article would be beneficial for the community and what they would like to write.

Another important factor is attracting Professor Volker Sorger a year ago as the new Managing Editor. He is a pioneering scientist, who really understands how the field of Nanophotonics is changing. Volker has had a really positive influence on the journal’s strategy as he has a clear vision on how to distinguish the journal from the competition and he significantly shortened the refereeing time in the editorial decision process, so we can now publish scientific papers faster.

Another important factor of the journal’s success is Tara Dorrian. She is the assistant publishing editor who took over the editorial office of the journal. When I was doing everything by myself I did not even have time to read all the emails I received and when I took a Sabbatical she was key to keeping the journal developing at a fast speed. I am sure the journal would have died without her and she remains a key strength of the editorial office and communication with the scientists.

There are many factors for the success of the journal, but I think that for publishers the most important thing is frequent personal communication with the scientists in the community.

The journal charges 1000 euro for publishing an article. How was the fee introduced? How did authors react to this fee?

The journal has only recently announced the introduction of the publication fees on-line so I cannot say now how our authors will respond. An APC of 1000 euro is not an extraordinary fee. It is actually the average in comparison to society-owned journals in this field. Other commercial publishers charge much more for open access publications in optics.

For us, publishing relevant scientific articles is the most important thing, and we are not interested in half of the journal’s content becoming filled with regular submissions. It’s about creating revenue through quality, not quantity, and I do not expect that introducing charges will influence this process in a negative way.

The journal has a relatively narrow scope. At the same time, ultra-broad scope megajournals are becoming increasingly popular among authors. Do you think that broad scope journals might be considered competition to Nanophotonics? Is a narrow scope an advantage or disadvantage for a journal?

The mega journals publication model is very interesting and it was fairly innovative when it was introduced. Although, if you publish high quality papers written by excellent scientists, the journal’s scope, publishing model or reputation of the publisher will only slightly contribute to the image of the journal. Don’t forget that most scientists don’t care about most journals on their own, the content is the most important thing, anything else is secondary to the reader. To publish results, Impact Factor, journal reputation, tradition and visibility in your specific scientific community is all that matters.

The field of Nanophotonics has grown substantially and is important enough to generate a lot of good content. There were Nobel prizes in recent years awarded to scientists active in the field and lots of society changing applications are close to being created. The field is clearly flourishing at the moment, so the relatively small scope of the journal will not influence the journal’s performance negatively.

What are the most difficult challenges the journal has to overcome now?

Visibility is key: while the journal is starting to get known in the field of experts (mostly centered around the topical field of plasmonics) it is lesser known in other areas.

With the growth of the scientific field, more competing journals with a similar high quality strategy have emerged from big societies that have big marketing budgets and well respected names in the field so we need to show how we differ from them.

The challenge here is to keep the level of scientific novelty high and to continue the focus on the wider audience in Nanophotonics, which includes the physics and applications in the fields of a) emerging materials such as 2D layered material, transparent conductive oxide, b) quantum phenomena with plasmonics, and single photon sources, c) precision optics on-chip, such as frequency comb generation, and d) untapped physical explorations with respect to photon recycling, metasurfaces and atto-Joule per bit low computation strategies..

On another level, the challenge is to create visibility and trust in the community with the current limited marketing budgets for exposure. And how to keep up with competing websites like those of NPR and the ACS that have a friendly user interface and allow for easy access and fast pdf downloads.

What are your plans for the development of the journal at the moment?

The journal is currently considering different directions for growth and development. Continue to develop expertise in the field of nanoscale optics, photonics, and plasmonics, including material integration and investigations. And to develop a competitive differentiation in the field. For instance, ACS Photonics has a chemistry and material synthesis connotation, whereas OSA Optica has not defined a particular strategy yet. Our vision is to become the flagship journal for applied science breakthroughs. Special issues and high-level review articles are one way to do so.

We are now spreading the word that we are highly ranked in the field and are attracting more papers simultaneous. The challenge is to keep our level of innovative articles high, as well as to conduct a fair and quick peer-review process.

Thank you very much!

Image: Rayonnat Gothic rose window of north transept, Notre-Dame de Paris (window was created by Jean de Chelles on the 13th century, the colors were achieved by colloids of gold nano-particles) photo by Krzysztof Mizera, licensed under CC-BY-SA 4.0, cropped.

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