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Discussions about academic publication (for example, the recent Elsevier boycott, the actual cost of publication, open-access initiatives by universities and funding agencies, citation cartels, or post-publication review) are often muddled by the fact that publication practices and culture vary significantly from one discipline to the next. I would like to see some of these differences explicitly teased apart.

I'm particularly interested in exactly how publishers in different disciplines help move authors' ideas to formally published papers. Publishing in any discipline requires the combined effort of authors, publishers, editors, and reviewers, but the distribution of these efforts (and their associated costs) seems to vary from one discipline to the next.

What specific services do publishers provide to authors in your discipline? Please only one answer per discipline. (If necessary, define "discipline" as "set of researchers with the same publication practices".)

(At a deeper level, I am curious why so many people seem to associate the value, authority, and prestige of various publication venues with their publishers instead of their authors, editors, and readers. But that's not a good question for StackExchange; let's stick to the narrower factual question.)

I'll provide an answer for my own discipline.

1 Answer 1

I used to work at an academic publisher and so have some knowledge of what services are provided to all STEM fields. Social sciences should be similar, although I am less familiar with them.

Publishers provide:

  • An editorial management system ("EMS"). See this question. EMSes help the editors keep track of the status of each paper, as well as things such as the performance of reviewers, author blacklists, and so on. EMSes (at least the more powerful ones) are usually not free and charge by per paper handled.
  • Editorial office support (the "desk editor"). Desk editors are usually degree holders although not necessarily in a relevant discipline. They handle everything that might need to be done for the journal. Examples: answer author queries, liaise with Clarivate Analytics to get a journal indexed in Web of Science (see selection process and the list of deliverables), operate the EMS for editors / reviewers who can't figure out how to use it or are not interested in learning, negotiate special issues with conference organizers, choose articles to feature on the journal's website, maintaining a publishing licence from the government.
  • Acquisitions. The editorial board does a lot of this, but it's also possible a motivated desk editor or more senior editorial consultant will do some acquisition work too. Typically this involves emailing researchers and asking if they'd be interested to write on ____. They may discuss the topic with the editorial board before attempting to acquire for it. Usually editorial board approval is still required. The publisher may also attempt to invite people to join the editorial board.
  • Peer review. Some journals are set up so that the desk editor assigns a member of the board to handle the paper. Desk rejections can also be due to the desk editor, although it requires some experience on his or her part. Actually handling the peer review process also happens relatively often in my experience. Sometimes the editorial board is either not very active or that no member of the board is interested in handling the paper, whereupon someone has to do it and that someone is the desk editor (or editorial consultant). Alternatively there could be an editor assigned who doesn't do anything for two months (example), and the desk editor moves the paper forward by inviting reviewers.
  • Marketing. There're often publisher booths at major conference. One may also see insertions in these conferences. Other marketing activities include making flyers (visit your local library if you want to see what these are like), usage marketing, or things like "we just discovered gravitational waves, here're some of our papers on gravitational waves for free".
  • Copyediting & proofreading. Self-explanatory.
  • Typesetting. Most authors actually don't know LaTeX very well, if they use LaTeX at all. It is very rare that a manuscript does not require typesetting. Expressions such as "Ref (??)" or figures being placed 3 pages away from where they are referenced are quite common, as are poor quality figures or even hand-drawn ones which need to be fixed. TeX occasionally also does things like split the caption of a figure between two pages. If one has reviewed papers in one's field one should also be able to see firsthand what the typesetting does, since the paper that's sent for review has not been typeset yet.
  • Website maintenance. Self-explanatory.
  • Electronic distribution of published papers. This includes generating epub files, xml files, and DOIs.
  • Customer service. This could e.g. be librarians asking why they haven't received an issue of the journal they subscribed to (which is a reason to publish issues whenever ready and not hold papers in reserve). If print issues are necessary, they + their distribution are also handled by the publisher.