Case study: Launching an open access journal

Sally Hardy, Regional Studies Association

1. Summary of the development/change and who led it 

The Regional Studies Association launched a gold open access journal – Regional Studies, Regional Science (RSRS) in November 2013. This project was led by the Chief Executive and rapidly adopted by the Board. The publisher, Routledge were supportive from the beginning seeing that this new journal would add to the Association’s portfolio of 5 journals.

2. Drivers for the development/change

  • This innovation in publishing allowed the Association to offer a flexible form of publication taking both short and long articles, offering full colour (it is online only) and accommodating articles in the form of graphics
  • Enhances opportunities for more meaningful “debates” in the journal owing to the streaming of articles so that articles are published when they are ready and do not have to adhere to publishing schedules
  • Offers both immediacy of publication and free access to all readers worldwide which has an appeal for some authors and for some types of articles
  • The journal form offered the chance to make early career mentoring available and 6 editors work with selected early career authors to craft their papers into publishable form. Many ECRs without English as their first language have used this route into publication. Papers are selected on the basis of a call for abstracts
  • Importantly this development was never seen as being income generating although the Association planned on breakeven out-turns but it was hoped that it would attract papers from new authors and new territories and it is doing this

3. Date implementation started and stage reached by December 2015

The journal was launched in November 2013 and by December 2015 has published 87 articles with 85,105 downloads. The Association remains closely engaged in the marketing of the journal using article level marketing and encouraging submission of comments and regional graphics in particular.

4. Outcomes to date

  • Strong and continuing flow of papers to the journal from both established and new authors including papers from territories where the RSA is less well established
  • High levels of downloads and high alt-metric scores (extremely high for papers where the authors engage in article level marketing)
  • RSRS has slotted into the portfolio of journals without stepping on the toes of the other journals – it attracts a wider variety of papers some of which, because of their format, would not be suitable for publication in our other journals
  • The Early Career Mentored Paper Section is attracting 20 papers a year which are selected on the basis of regular calls for abstracts and is very heavily used by ECRs who do not have English as their first language

5. Main challenges /barriers that had to be overcome and how this was achieved

This project was adopted in the knowledge that it carried risk and that it might develop in unforeseen ways. It was closely managed and required the careful selection of editors who needed not only to be experts in the field but also sympathetic and informed about the opportunities that open access publishing offers. The Association appointed two mid-career academics to lead the journal. Open access journals tend to offer quick turnaround of articles and so RSRS uses single blind refereeing (unlike the other RSA journals which are double blind) and for speed it uses a pre-appointed refereeing panel where individuals have agreed in advance to rapid turnaround of manuscripts.

6. Lessons learned/ advice to others considering similar developments

Be clear about the additional value of an open access journal. It could for example, be very useful if funding bodies in the future require publication in OA only journals. Take the time to consider the added value that an OA journal can add in terms of publishing innovations for your field. The regional graphics and early career mentored papers sections of RSRS have been popular. Think carefully about how to manage speed of processing – this is important.  The financing of OA journals needs consideration as in smaller fields they are unlikely to generate the surpluses that can come from hybrid journals. The RSA viewed RSRS as an opportunity to grow and expand its influence and reach and this has been successful. RSRS is widely read and increasingly well known and will be submitted for inclusion in the web of science in due course.