Walking in a Publisher's shoes

Researcher Nataliia Stepina steps behind the scenes at Elsevier's Materials Today offices

As Scientists, we are aware of the role Journal Editors play in the world of scientific, technical and medical (STM) publishing – those who guide the peer-review process and with whom we have immediate contact whenever they make a decision on one of our articles. Nevertheless, there are a number of other important players involved, who are often outside the spotlight. Journal Publishers are one such group of people that keep journals running behind-the-scenes. Recently, thanks to Drs. Baptiste Gault & Stewart Bland, I had a rare opportunity to get a feel, from the inside, of what a Publishers’ job is really about.

On reaching Elsevier's Oxford offices, I was welcomed by the Materials Today team. I began my two week visit by shadowing a Publisher, which enabled me to experience several aspects of the role, from day-to-day management and negotiation tasks, up to launching a new journal and organizing a conference.

Most of the Publisher's time is dedicated to managing existing journals. Publishers are directly responsible for the development, growth and success of the journal. They appoint, support and work together with the Editors to attract articles on the latest research, and accelerate and guide the process where necessary; as well as identify weak points and find the solutions to fix them. I discovered that Publishers at Elsevier look after portfolios of between ten and twenty journals; and so the work can quickly add up! Each Editor has their own style of work and expectations, and as such there is no standard way of working with Editors, each requiring an individual approach. This is where good people skills come in handy. People working in the publishing industry and Researchers can speak two different languages and having a Publisher as a translator can be very important.

The scientific world is currently shifting from clearly divided, well-established disciplines – like physics, biology, chemistry, etc. – to a number of smaller subfields, each being highly specialized. In tandem, new journals are being created, such that specialized publications can be easily found by other scientists working in similar areas. Identifying niches to be filled and launching a new journal is among the duties of Publishers. Publishers are involved every facet of the life of a journal: from its registration for an ISSN, to finding and appointing Editors, and its day-to-day running.

It is worth mentioning that we have come a long way from traditional paper-printed publications to electronic journals that are accessible all over the world in an instant. Therefore, the publishing process is significantly different today and involves a number of new approaches. Every so often some changes to the process are implemented and it is the task of the Publisher to communicate them to the Editors and Authors and put them into action.

From the summary above, the job of a Publisher might seem far from the excitement of life as a Scientist, and possibly a tad boring to the some in the scientific community; however, there are always ways to be creative. Publishers can implement their own ideas, whether it be creating a new journal, a conference or, on a smaller scale, working with Guest Editors to put together a special issue on an emerging topic of interest to the community.

My experience at Elsevier's Oxford offices showed me that being in the academic environment you acquire a number of transferable skills which are also highly useful for work as a Publisher. Moreover, the experience definitely broadened my career horizons, demonstrating STM publishing to be an attractive alternative option to research.

Read full text on ScienceDirect

DOI: 10.1016/j.mattod.2016.03.002