Relationships with Journal Editors

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The AAUP Business Handbook >> Part Five: Journals



Journals publishing arrangements - whether in the form of formal contracts or informal understandings - vary considerably as to how much financial aid, if any, is provided by the publisher to the editorial office, and also as to how much of the editing and pre-production work is expected to be done in the editorial office. (And sometimes, but not always, the two are linked.) The amount of reporting on financial matters to editors also varies a good deal. Editors are rarely compensated directly by university presses, but they do often get release time from teaching from their own universities.

Financial Support for Editorial Offices

The amount of financial support provided by a press to the editorial office often depends less on how much work is done in the editorial office (and how well that work is done) than on how much revenue the journal generates relative to its other direct expenses: a journal with a solid subscriber base can generally afford to pay for some editorial office expenses, and a few journals generate so much surplus revenue that generosity verging on lavishness toward the editorial office may be necessary in order to forestall loud complaints that the press is taking advantage of the journal.

Editorial office support can take any form, from provision of office stationery to provision of a large travel allowance. Depending on the journal's circumstances, the press might pay only for a part-time graduate assistant in the editorial office; or it might pay the salary of an editorial secretary; or it might even hire an entire editorial staff, with a managing editor and several editorial assistants.

Variations in support may also depend on how valuable the journal is for nonfinancial reasons to the publisher and on how stable the publisher's relationship to the journal is. Perhaps the journal is closely related to one of the press's main book-publishing areas, and a friendly relationship between the journal's editor and the press's acquisitions editors is long-standing and helpful in the acquisition of new titles; or perhaps the journal represents a foothold for the press in an area where it has long been hoping to publish. In either of these cases, editorial office support might be provided at a level that may not make sense if the proposition were examined in strictly financial terms. A large and established journal that is in a position to get competing bids from several publishers may be able to make financial support for the editorial office a key part of its contract negotiations, and thereby gain a level of support considerably greater than another journal with seemingly comparable editorial needs.

Variations in support may sometimes depend on simple tradition, which often enters the picture in the following way: A publishing arrangement dating back many years may provide some financial support for an editorial office, either off campus or on the press's campus, even though the journal's circulation is not very high. The arrangement may be permitted to continue simply because everyone involved (including the press) is satisfied with how smoothly it works, and to disrupt the traditional arrangement would cause major disruptions in the journal's operations (as well as in the good relations between the press and the editorial office).

How Much Work to Expect from an Editorial Office

When taking on a new journal, or when trying to save money on an old one, decisions have to be made about what services (such as copyediting and proofreading) can be made the responsibility of the academic editor's office and thus perhaps be funded at least in part by the academic editor's department or institution. Although it is often tempting financially, it can be damaging to a press's standards (and to those of the publishing profession), as well as expensive and aggravating in the long run, simply to agree with an editor to arrange for copyediting at the editorial end, or to use the department's desktop publishing equipment to produce camera-ready copy. All too often, the experienced eye of the publisher catches serious spelling, grammar, and style errors in material that seemed fine to an academic editor. If such material must then be cleaned up in a later stage of the production process, the result can be major delays, major costs, and major conflicts between the editor and the publisher.

On the other hand, some academic editors certainly do have the ability, and are given the staff and other resources by their universities, to produce acceptable and even excellent material. The problem then is to ensure that this quality control is maintained, and particularly that it will continue during editorial transitions. One way of creating such assurance is to have an in-house supervisor check carefully the material delivered by the editorial office before it goes on to the next stage of the production process.

Direct Payments to Journals Editors?

The editors of scholarly journals published by university presses usually are not paid salaries or stipends by their publishers. The customs do vary somewhat from field to field, depending in part on how strong the influence is of commercial publishers in that particular field - since commercial publishers do often pay key editorial staff and board members. (Thus the editors of technical, scientific, and medical journals are more likely to expect remuneration.) There are also some cases where editors do receive royalties from a journal's revenues on a contractual basis, particularly in those instances where an editor started a journal on his or her own and then agreed to turn over its publication to a press once the journal had been established.

Journals editors do work hard, in most cases, and receive little from the press for their efforts. They do receive recognition, of course, and the sense that they are making a contribution to the field. But if there are ways in which a press finds itself able to recognize their work, perhaps by providing some form of support to the editorial operation (which might be one-time support such as purchase of some piece of equipment if ongoing support is infeasible), or by allowing small favors such as extra pages for a special issue, then most presses find this well worth doing as a way of recognizing the editorial efforts.

Editors (at least those of important and well-recognized journals) also do generally receive from their departments some release time from teaching duties during the term of their editorial appointment. As general university finances grow tighter and tighter, willingness to grant release time - as well as willingness by departments to support editorial offices in other ways, such as subsidizing office mailing costs or secretarial help - seems to be diminishing. More and more, therefore, the financial arrangements between editors and publishers are becoming matters for serious negotiation rather than for "gentlemen's understandings."

Financial Reporting to Editors

Attitudes about financial reporting to editors vary from press to press, and sometimes from journal to journal. Contracts between presses and academic or professional societies ordinarily call for reporting at least once a year, and sometimes as often as once a month. These reports may go directly to the journal editor, or they may go to a financial officer of the association, but in the latter case they are likely to be available to the editor. More problematic is the case of a press-owned journal, where the financial profit and loss are those of the press, and there is no contractual obligation to provide financial information.

Some presses prefer to provide a minimum of voluntary reports, on the grounds that such reports take time to prepare and sometimes even more time to explain to an inquiring editor. Other presses have found that providing financial information to journals editors on a regular basis usually makes it easier for the editors to understand why the revenues collected by the press for their journal is needed for expenses other than those generated by their own editorial operations.

At some presses, the business office is expected to provide the journals operation with full financial recordkeeping services - including accurate breakdowns journal by journal of costs for composition, printing, copyediting, marketing, and fulfillment - on those matters that might be reported to an editor. At other presses, those records are kept by staff within the journals operation. But in either case the business manager should expect to help the journals management team to account for distribution of expenses in "general administration" and to arrive at sensible formulas for calculating overheads that can be readily explained to financially unsophisticated academic editors. (See the sections of this handbook on financial arrangements between books and journals and on allocation of overhead costs for more details on these matters.)

The AAUP Business Handbook >> Part Five: Journals

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