Tell us a little about your role and background?
I am the Publishing Director of the Nature journals and am responsible for the publishing activities of our subscription-based Nature journals. Like many of my colleagues, I started my career in academia and my PhD is in neurophysiology. I have worked in STM publishing since 2000, first as an editor (at The Lancet) and then as a publisher (at Nature Research). I’ve been fortunate to work for two publishing houses that both care deeply about science and scientists.
Can you tell us about the drive behind launching new Nature-branded journals?
Our primary goal is to produce journals that the scientific community values, both as readers and authors. We can measure value in many ways, but for me one of the most important indicators for a new journal is the number of submissions it receives. In that regard, the journals that we’ve launched over the past few years have been our most successful ever; the journals have been receiving large numbers of very good papers as soon as we open the doors.
Perhaps that’s not surprising. After all, researchers working in the fields of microbiology, ecology and evolutionary biology have been asking us to launch a journal to serve their needs for many years. However, we also aim to create innovative journals that span both the natural and social sciences to help researchers address some of the biggest challenges that are facing global society. We started that approach in 2011 when we launched Nature Climate Change. More recent “grand challenge” launches include Nature Energy (2016), Nature Human Behaviour (2017) and Nature Sustainability (2018).
Why are Nature journals expensive?
Nature journals have an unusual editorial model: all of our PhD trained editors are full-time members of staff. Each journal has at least 4 editors working on it; some journals have many more. In addition, we pride ourselves on the high production quality of our journals, which is the result of the hard work of our dedicated art and production editors. These in-house teams are a key reason why Nature journals are such high quality, but as a result the overhead costs of Nature journals are considerably higher than on most journals. Furthermore, all Nature journals are highly selective and publish, on average, only 7% of the papers they receive. The selection process needs to be done with great care; our editors spend a lot of time reading and assessing manuscripts that are never published in our pages.
How do you balance community need with what some perceive to be the over saturation of the journals market, and its impact on library budgets?
Every year many publishers launch new journals, but those journals would fail if academic output did not continue to increase year-on-year. It’s important to remember that the Nature Research portfolio of journals is small and has grown gradually over the last 25 years; we publish fewer than 50 journals out of 20,000+ that are published each year.
What do you see as the next big development in the STM publishing landscape?
Academic publishing is a conservative endeavour and there’s far too much hype about “big developments” that may be imminent — evolution is more likely than revolution. At the heart of STM publishing is the scientific paper, which is essentially a form of story telling. Human beings are inveterate story tellers and I can't see that format changing radically in the near future. However, I think it's likely that scientists will increasingly choose to publish smaller units of their research output, whether that's data descriptors or underlying datasets. Publishers will need to create solutions that make new forms of publishing as simple and useful as possible.