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Is there a place for specialized open access journals?

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Can a journal in the era of digital, global communication, still be backed by a relatively small but devoted community?

Over the past three years, De Gruyter Open has launched 14 new open access journals in mathematics, all of which are addressed to very specific research communities. This has been in contrast with the main publishing trend of recent years, which was set by open access mega-journals, designed to meet the needs of authors and readers from very broad thematic backgrounds. Journals of this kind, according to a very recent estimation, publish up to 20% of all open access articles, and have become a flagship of open access publishing. On the other hand, De Gruyter Open’s journals are dedicated to “emerging” fields, which means that they have not yet peaked in momentum but currently look promising. So can new, narrow scope, open access journals become successful?

The journals were launched as a part of the Emerging Science Journals program. “The aim of the program is to create open access serials in the fields of science that will shortly become popular. So we were trying to find interesting scientific communities with high potential and offer them the possibility to set up a professional open access journal.” – describes Aleksandra Nowacka-Leverton, Product Manager of Open Access Journals at De Gruyter Open.

“The community, devoted to a specific field of research, is at the heart of this program.” – said Emily Poznanski, Assistant Product Manager at De Gruyter Open. “A journal of this kind cannot succeed if it is not backed by dedicated researchers.”

Prof. Manuel Ritoré (University of Granada, Spain), editor-in-chief of Analysis and Geometry in Metric Spaces one of the journals launched within the project, adds: “No journal can be successful without the support of the research community, but this is particularly true in the case of highly specialized serials like ours.”

The journals have emerged together with their research field so they are tailor-made. “Each journal works in a slightly different way and has a slightly different work-flow, which is developed by us in strong cooperation with the editor-in-chief, who is a member of the academic community, focusing on one, specific problem” – adds Nowacka-Leverton.

Communities need narrow scope journals

Each Emerging Science Journal has quite a narrow scope, which is not directly covered by any other venue. This creates an opportunity for these journals to become a central source of literature in their fields and to offer very appropriate audiences to the authors working in these fields. But a narrow thematic scope also brings other benefits to the authors, according to the journal editors.

Prof. Anna Fino (Università di Torino, Italy), editor in-chief of Complex Manifolds claimed that: “People working on the subject have more space in specialized journals such as ours to publish their good results and therefore more aspects of the related problems can be discussed.”

According to Nowacka-Leverton, authors working on very new problems in mathematics can expect more reliable peer review in these venues. As she told me: “Not every broad scope journal has editors who are able to find appropriate reviewers for papers dealing with some highly specialized issues. And our ESJs are backed by communities of specialists working in narrow fields, thus an author can be sure that his or her paper will be reviewed by experts. In my opinion, studies in traditional disciplines are well suited to mega-journals, but it is better to publish studies from new fields of science in specialized venues.”

High-risk operation

The journals were started in areas which were not major topics of research yet, but which had potential to be so. Thus it was a high-risk operation. “It was a kind of investment” – claimed Poznanski. “Our editors work on journal development together with the community. When a topic is becoming more popular and the community around it is growing, our job is to cooperate closely with this group of researchers and to answer to their needs.”

“In some cases high interest in some topics is just a case of temporal fashion.” – adds Nowacka-Leverton. “On the other hand, some journals that were opened for a very specific and narrow field seem to be working well at the moment because the community interested in these problems is very productive.”

Prof. Ritoré told me: “I consider that having a narrow scope is an advantage if the subject is lively and active. This is the case for Analysis and Geometry in Metric Spaces. Being the only journal dedicated to this topic has been warmly welcomed by the mathematical community.”

All discussed journals are still free for both readers and authors. De Gruyter Open plans to introduce Article Processing Charges, although the planed date for the introduction of fees and their amount is still not known.

Is there place for new narrow scope journals on the open access market?

The new open access journals in mathematics, launched as a part of the ESJ program seem quite successful today. Seven of them are already indexed by Mathematical Reviews, which is the most prestigious A&I service in mathematics. They are: Analysis and Geometry in Metric Spaces, Concrete Operators, Nanoscale Systems: Mathematical Modeling, Theory and Applications, Nonautonomous Dynamical Systems, Complex Manifolds, Geometric Flows and last but not least: Special Matrices. Another seven journals are very likely to join Mathematical Reviews in the following years, since they also have a significant publishing output. Special Matrices published 20 articles in 2014, which is a good result for a highly specialized and completely new venue, and allowed it to be applied to Thomson Reuters to be indexed in Web of Science, a database considered as the elite of journal publishing. All of this shows that neither the popular together with the other repositories, nor existing mega-journals have satisfied the need for open access publishing in mathematics.

Nowacka-Leverton sums up the output of the program: “Mathematical Reviews is a very important abstracting and indexing service in mathematics, and journals that are indexed there can already be considered a success. Being indexed in the Thomson Reuters and Scopus services is an essential goal for these journals today. However, the Emerging Science Journals are in a good position to be indexed there, because they have no competitors in their subject fields and they each have a very distinguished advisory board. So if we can keep up the high publishing volumes for the next couple of years we will have some journals indexed there. I think it is very realistic to say that some ESJ in mathematics will get an Impact Factor in 2017.”

The ESJ program in mathematics might be seen as proof that there is still a place in the open access market for new journals attracting high quality submissions. And what is even more important, that in the era of digital, global communication, a journal can still be backed by a relatively small, but devoted community.

Image credit: David Iliff, licensed under CC-BY 2.5

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