Making Journal Issues Larger


The European Journal of Philosophy has announced it is increasing the size of its issues. Joseph Schear (Oxford), the journal’s editor, writes:

For the last several years, we have been suffering from a substantial backlog, in part owing to an increase in the number of high-quality submissions. Fortunately, we have just been given a 50% increase in our page budget. So now, rather than having to wait until 2020 for one’s accepted article to appear in print, we’ll be back in a healthy state by early 2016. 

Though I had already posted this news in the Heap of Links (see right side bar), I thought this particular strategy for shortening the time between acceptance and publication might be worth discussing more generally. Have other journals adopted this strategy? Should they? Which other journals are suffering from comparable backlogs?

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Richard Yetter Chappell
5 years ago

It does seem a good idea. Certainly better than shutting down for half the year, as Nous and PPR do. If print costs are an issue, why not transition to online only? (Could switch to an open-access publisher at the same time, and kill two birds with one stone.)Report

Brian Weatherson
Reply to  Richard Yetter Chappell
5 years ago

It turns out that typesetting is just as much of a cost as putting ink on paper, at least the way that journals are currently being put together. And switching to online only doesn’t immediately help with that. There are a few things that could be done to get around this bottleneck, but none of them are particularly happy. A journal could:

1) Make its template (presumably in LaTeX, or some other professional-quality publishing software) publicly available, and require authors to prepare final submissions using it, or
2) Use a template that can convert any author submission to a published article with little time or effort, presumably at a huge cost in terms of visual appearance.

The first would require people who weren’t familiar with whatever software the journal chose to either learn a bunch of new skills, or pay money to people who had them. In effect, the journal would be outsourcing the prepublication cost to the authors; it’s a small version of pay-to-publish. I believe this is what a lot of sciences already do, but it seems problematic in philosophy.

The second would produce really ugly articles, and rather useless websites. And, although you might not think this is a cost, it would rule out the kind of highly linked PDFs that current journals are producing, with, e.g., many of the citations containing hyperlinks to the cited articles.

I’ve always thought that the publishing costs should be drastically reducible by getting rid of paper, but I think in the quantities we’re talking about in philosophy, the paper isn’t the real cost.Report

Sine nomine
Sine nomine
Reply to  Brian Weatherson
5 years ago

If you use a professional type-setter, sure. But you could easily pay a grad student editorial assistant $20/article to do it, or $20/hour, whichever is higher. (Many grad students I know have the relevant skills already.) I’m betting the cost of putting an issue in ink is more than $200.Report

Shen-yi Liao
Reply to  Brian Weatherson
5 years ago

I’m not sure that’s the right contrast here. From the situation at EJP, it seems like articles are still being typeset, but they just sit in Onlne First / Early View / whateveryouwannacallit for two years before being assigned page numbers in an issue. As a casual observer, that seems to be happening to, say, PPR and Nous too.

This two stage process, I’d argue, actually increases the typesetting kind of administrative cost. Every article has to be typeset twice, given metadata twice, uploaded twice, etc. So moving to increasing page numbers, whether that’s online or in print, would seem to help to reduce the admin costs too.Report

Dennis Whitcomb
Reply to  Brian Weatherson
5 years ago

A more radical solution: get rid of typesetting completely, publishing papers as-is once they are accepted, where acceptance carries at most very minimal formatting restrictions such as “has a title and an abstract, and has references formatted in a way the referee can understand”. That’s how we all read works in progress anyway, and it doesn’t seem to slow us down.Report

APC
APC
Reply to  Brian Weatherson
5 years ago

“I believe this is what a lot of sciences already do, but it seems problematic in philosophy.” Why problematic? I suppose requiring people to typeset in LaTeX might be too much, but what about using Markdown? For most people, the cost of writing in Markdown would be minimal, especially since one can very easily get close to a WYSIWYG system that way.Report

Jonathan Weisberg
Jonathan Weisberg
Reply to  APC
5 years ago
Kenny
Kenny
Reply to  APC
5 years ago

I think the claim is not that requiring people to use a nice format is what the sciences do, but that requiring people to pay money in order to get a published paper is what the sciences do. You and I may be happy using LaTeX, and learning Markdown, but there are a whole lot of people for whom learning a whole new publishing system (even if everyone tells you it’s really easy!) is going to sound like too much hassle, and they’ll just switch to other journals, or pay a student to learn it for them.Report

Kevin Vallier
Kevin Vallier
5 years ago

I agree with Richard, but I suspect some journals limit their issue sizes for non-financial reasons. I’ve spoken with two philosophy journal editors who are happy to publish a small number of articles in order to get the cream of the crop. I think this is done partly in order to maintain a journal’s relative high standing. Since a journal’s relative standing is based on beliefs about article quality, article quality itself is a partly positional good, and competition in positional goods can be socially wasteful. I would argue that status competition among top journals is destructive because its leads journals to rack up more false negatives (failures to publish good stuff) than false positives (publishing bad stuff). False positives probably hit relative social standing much more than false negatives simply due to availability bias. “Ethics published some real crap this issue.” is probably said ten times as much as, “I heard about this really fine article that Ethics wouldn’t publish.” I think the culture of analytic philosophy probably exacerbates the problem. We should focus more on celebrating good pieces than trashing bad pieces, and we should trash journals less for publishing not-so-good-stuff and stuff we don’t like.

Another destructive consequence of status competition is that really good articles are constantly making their way through top journals trying to find a home, which increases journal workloads and, accordingly, wait times. The “velocity” of good submissions could be reduced while maintaining relative standing if top journals jointly extended their journal issue sizes (assuming the volume of good submissions would not increase in response). But that degree of social coordination is hard to pull off.Report

recent grad
recent grad
5 years ago

I think this is a good development, at least for the short-term. But there’s already so much published in philosophy and so much pressure to publish, especially for younger folks. I can’t help but think that if increasing journal space becomes a trend, then it is only going to exacerbate the publish-or-perish nature of academic philosophy. And we all know the downsides of that. This is of course speculative and I’m more than happy to be corrected.Report

Tom Hurka
Tom Hurka
5 years ago

Larger journal issues may be better for authors, but are they better for readers? An issue with just a few articles invites you to browse; one with a huge number of pages does the opposite.Report

Jonathan Weisberg
Jonathan Weisberg
Reply to  Tom Hurka
5 years ago

This raises the interesting question how common browsing is these days. Browsing isn’t something I’ve had the temporal luxury for since grad school; being a very inefficient reader, I generally read just what I need for my teaching and writing. Do others browse? If so, do you browse by journal issue, or some other way (e.g. by topic on PhilPapers)?Report

Steven French
Steven French
5 years ago

The BJPS has faced a similar issue as EJP and has also increased its ‘page budget’, although not by nearly as much. I see us as being in a trad-digital transitional period – once the remaining few print subscribers die away (perhaps literally!) I can see us shifting completely to on-line access. Perhaps we’ll still keep the issue format – as an editor I like being able to put an issue together, balancing papers from various sub-fields etc. – but of course readers can already ‘browse’ the advanced access facility, or dip into the journal in response to alerts on Twitter etc.Report