v27 #2 The Scholarly Publishing Scene

by | Jun 5, 2015 | 0 comments

Professional, Scholarly and Other Magazines

Column Editor:  Myer Kutz  (President, Myer Kutz Associates, Inc.)  <[email protected]>

I subscribe to half-a-dozen magazines whose print issues arrive in my mailbox.  Included are The New Yorker (I began reading it when I was an undergraduate in the late 1950s), The Nation (I began reading it in late middle age), DownBeat and Jazz Times (both cover real jazz, a passion since my teens), and the New York Review of Books (NYRB), started during the New York newspaper strike in the 1960s and in my mailbox or bought on newsstands from the outset, and the London Review of Books (LRB), which I’ve been taking for the past 10 or 15 years.

Just in case you haven’t seen them, these last two publications are tabloid size with text of most articles in four-column format.  Readership for both skews academic, I’d guess.  I base my hunch not only on the readable scholarly tone and substance of many of the articles (although “readable scholarly” may sound like an oxymoron, in my experience there are many academics in all disciplines who can write clearly and with verve), but also on the plethora of university-based advertising in the NYRB and in the case of the LRB, back-of-the-book ads for university offerings, such as short courses and conferences about writing.

A recent NYRB issue had full-page ads by university presses at Cornell, Toronto, Harvard and Princeton, plus a half-page ad by the University of California Press.  In addition, the University of North Carolina Press took over the back cover to advertise eight books, half of them on U.S.-Cuba relations, and the University of Connecticut took over the inside front cover to tout its expertise in 3D printing technology.

A recent LRB issue had ads from university presses (Princeton, Leuven and NYU), universities (NYU again, King’s College London, Essex twice, Aberystwyth, Birmingham, Birbeck, University of London, Georg-August Universitat, Cambridge twice, King’s Lynn and Winchester), plus a boatload of other learned organizations and associations.  In addition, many contributors to both publications moonlight as members of the professoriate — or is it the other way around?

After poring over the LRB’s ads, should readers feel the need, they can turn to the London Squint Clinic, whose large notice appears under medical services classifieds.  By the way, I would be remiss if I didn’t alert you to the book, They Call Me Naughty Lola: Personal Ads from the London Review of Books, compiled by David Ross, employed at the MIT Media Lab, no less.  Publishing example:  “Employed in publishing?  Me too.  Stay the hell away.  Man on the inside seeks woman on the outside who likes milling around hospitals guessing the illnesses of out-patients.  30-35. Leeds.”  And if you haven’t had enough of that, there’s a follow-up volume, Sexually, I’m More of a Switzerland: More Personal Ads from the London Review of Books.

As if all of the above weren’t enough, there are still more magazines that arrive in my mailbox.  I get three alumni magazines.  Then there are two technical magazines:  Mechanical Engineering and Plastics Engineering, which come to me monthly as a result of my membership in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE).

Publishing flagship magazines like these — both are printed on glossy stock and are colorfully illustrated — is a benefit that major technical societies provide to their members.  Some of the magazines are impressive.  The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), which bills itself as the world’s largest professional association (LinkedIn doesn’t count, of course), publishes IEEE Spectrum monthly with a circulation of over 380,000 worldwide.  The American Chemical Society (ACS), publishes Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) 51 times a year with a staff of over 50 writers and editors.  It’s the largest magazine covering the chemical industry,  Its circulation of over 127,000 is an order of magnitude larger than that of IHS’s Chemical Week, for example.

IEEE Spectrum has been in continuous publication since 1964.  (It was a successor to a magazine called Electrical Engineering.C&EN has been in continuous publication since 1923.  Mechanical Engineering, also in the top rank, is much older.  It has been in continuous publication since 1880.

According to Mechanical Engineering’s editor John Falcioni, to whom I spoke in late February, ASME’s membership bounces between 100,000 and 140,000, including 20% international, depending on members’ annual dues cycles.  The magazine’s circulation averages around 120,000 copies.  Libraries worldwide, who pay non-member rates, account for 15,000 to 20,000 copies.

Mechanical Engineering’s staff numbers just 10.  Not so many years ago, the magazine published more pages than it does now until its advertising base was reduced by the Internet alternative that hit most print publications (the ad base has been stable in recent years).

In order to engage a younger readership, Mechanical Engineering’s design was completely revamped in January 2013 to give the magazine a more contemporary look, according to Falcioni.  Graphic elements were completely changed, fonts were made more contemporary, and a different color pallet was introduced.

Falcioni told me that the front of the magazine is of particular interest to readers.  Besides his own topical column, there is a multipage section called Tech Buzz, which features numerous trends and developments of interest to ASME’s membership, including salary surveys, and a Vault page, which features articles published in the magazine decades ago but still of interest.  There’s no shortage of practitioners and academics who want to write feature articles.  Mechanical Engineering publishes 35 to 40 a year in total (fewer than used to be published due to the popularity of Tech Buzz).

Falcioni reports to the person who runs ASME’s entire technical publishing program, which includes, among other things, over two dozen scholarly journals.  An Editorial Advisory Board, comprised of just four ASME members (C&EN’s advisory board has 29 members) provides what Falcioni called “feedback” during our telephone conversation.  He noted that the magazine is “pretty independent from the volunteer structure so that the staff can publish material on a diverse number of topics.”

Until his recent untimely death, the board was in the good hands of the outstanding Bob Nickell, whom I met back in the late 1980s, when I chaired the ASME Publications Committee.  At that time, there was a dustup between the ASME president (who serves for only a single year) and the editorial staff over the magazine’s content.  Those of us who were for editorial independence prevailed with the establishment of the advisory board, which consisted for some years of my late friend Bill Begell, who ran Hemisphere, which published in the thermal sciences area.  (Bill told me that he survived the Holocaust by simply walking away from a concentration camp one day.  He was a teenager.  When I heard this story, I responded that I doubted that anything after that day could lay a glove on him.  Sadly, that wasn’t to hold true.)

Of course, society flagship magazines like the ones I’ve been talking about are available to members in digital form and with all the bells and whistles that everyone now expects.  Mechanical Engineering’s digital edition is open only to ASME members; libraries have to digitize the print edition.

In the case of C&EN, around 12% of ACS members have changed their access to the magazine from print to electronic copy, according to Wikipedia’s latest information, which may be out of date.  I haven’t bothered to find out if I can change my access to Mechanical Engineering from print to electronic.  I still like pulling issues out of my mailbox, even though I realize that I should be doing my bit to be more environmentally correct.

Except on rare occasions, I don’t read any issue of any magazine from cover to cover as soon as it arrives.  (They’re still a terrific bargain.)  So the magazines pile up in the house.  I make sure to keep the number of piles at two, not just because of the clutter factor.  I bear in mind something said by my old friend Eric Proskauer, refugee from Leipzig in the 1930s (he was another of Hitler’s unwitting gifts to America) and co-founder of Interscience, which merged with Wiley in 1962.  Interscience published the great, valuable polymer journals; Eric knew a thing or two about periodicals.  As Eric put it, a pile of unread periodicals, with dates on their covers, looks at you with reproach.  The gaze from a pile of unread books has much less urgency in it.


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