Innovating editorial practices: academic publishers at work

Research Integrity and Peer Review 5 (1) (2020)
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BackgroundTriggered by a series of controversies and diversifying expectations of editorial practices, several innovative peer review procedures and supporting technologies have been proposed. However, adoption of these new initiatives seems slow. This raises questions about the wider conditions for peer review change and about the considerations that inform decisions to innovate. We set out to study the structure of commercial publishers’ editorial process, to reveal how the benefits of peer review innovations are understood, and to describe the considerations that inform the implementation of innovations.MethodsWe carried out field visits to the editorial office of two large academic publishers housing the editorial staff of several hundreds of journals, to study their editorial process, and interviewed editors not affiliated with large publishers. Field notes were transcribed and analysed using coding software.ResultsAt the publishers we analysed, the decision-making structure seems to show both clear patterns of hierarchy and layering of the different editorial practices. While information about new initiatives circulates widely, their implementation depends on assessment of stakeholder’s wishes, impact on reputation, efficiency and implementation costs, with final decisions left to managers at the top of the internal hierarchy. Main tensions arise between commercial and substantial arguments. The editorial process is closely connected to commercial practices of creating business value, and the very specific terms in which business value is understood, such as reputation considerations and the urge to increase efficiency. Journals independent of large commercial publishers tend to have less hierarchically structured processes, report more flexibility to implement innovations, and to a greater extent decouple commercial and editorial perspectives.ConclusionOur study demonstrates that peer review innovations are partly to be understood in light of commercial considerations related to reputation, efficiency and implementations costs. These arguments extend beyond previously studied topics in publishing economics, including publishers’ choice for business or publication models and reach into the very heart of the editorial and peer review process.



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