ATG Original: My Experience Establishing an OA STEM Publisher in Qatar – #1 Establishing a Journal

by | Sep 13, 2018 | 0 comments

Arend Kuester

By Arend Kuester

The following articles reflect on my unique publishing experience in Qatar between 2009 and 2015.  Together with Bloomsbury Publishing in London, I was hired by the Qatar Foundation to deliver an academic journal publisher in Qatar, a country with little research history, but which was nonetheless intrigued by the soft power potential of research and publishing. Intrigued by the potential possibilities of working in a new culture, I embraced the challenge and we worked hard to establish QScience as a serious journals publisher. I brought people with experience and knowledge of the publishing industry to the desert and adopted the open access model.

I am writing this brief introduction from Shanghai, where I took on – yet again full of enthusiasm – a new challenge as Director for Open Research Group at Springer Nature.  Another new culture to learn, another new challenge, now in a country with quite a lot of research history.

The articles are personal reflections, and do not represent in any way of the company I now work for – they are based entirely on past experience.  There are lessons to be learned for open access publishing from them, and it has not been easy.  I hope they are useful and look forward to comments and contacts.

We have come a long way since 2010 – when mega-journals had just started out. In the Arab world, open access was new and arrived in a culture in which authors have been accustomed to pay publishers to publish their books.  Regional differences are so important, and the realities in countries outside North America and Europe can be very different indeed.

Our industry is changing constantly.   We will need to continue to innovate in the coming years and also focus on research integrity, always ensuring that business pressures do not endanger editorial standards. I personally strongly believe that neither publisher nor governments should tell researchers how they publish their research; we publishers have to serve the needs of the individual communities which are represented by the journals we publish – whether they are large or small.

We continue to live in exciting times.

Arend Küster, Director Open Research Group, Greater China


Establishing a Journal – Part 1 of a series of 4 articles


by Arend Kuester (edited by Matthew Ismail)

Setting up an open access publisher in the developing world can be challenging, as I discovered when I founded QScience–Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Journals and Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing in Qatar between 2010 and 2016. This article will touch briefly upon some important considerations for those anticipating setting up OA journals, particularly those in the developing world.

It is important to acknowledge from the beginning that the publishing environment in the developed countries is different than it is, for instance, in Qatar. In the United States and Europe, when an established STM publisher launches a new OA journal with a well-known editor in chief and a well-connected editorial board, the venture is quite likely to succeed.

Moving to more aspirational international publishing areas, such as the Middle East, India, and these days less so China, the path to success might be very different and new publishers must consider some basic questions before they launch a new OA project. For instance:

  • Have you established the funding stream for the journal?
  • Do you know whether the funders and business backers will demand a quick return on investment?
  • Do you know whether your “home market” is accepting of the open access model and for which motivations?
  • Have you established who your core market and audience are?

While these questions may seem obvious, not every new venture has actually answered these questions effectively in the planning stage.

Impact Factor and Publishing in the Developing World

One important consideration for a new OA publisher is the attitude of local funders to the much-debated merits of the journal impact factor. Wikipedia defines impact factor thus: “The impact factor (IF) or journal impact factor (JIF) of an academic journal is a measure reflecting the yearly average number of citations to recent articles published in that journal. It is frequently used as a proxy for the relative importance of a journal within its field; journals with higher impact factors are often deemed to be more important than those with lower ones.”

There is often an incentive for authors to publish in journals with the highest impact factors, because this may help them obtain higher research budgets and more funding (including salaries). Impact factors can influence how published scientific research is evaluated and perceived– but we all are aware in the more established regions that impact factors are not uncontroversial. There are a variety of ways to artificially increase impact factors, including publishing review papers and encouraging authors who publish papers elsewhere to cite your own suite of journals. Many researchers believe that these Impact Factor cartels can damage research and its integrity.

Without going too much into detail, many researchers and publishers believe that the Impact Factor (IF), established in the 1960s, has not sufficiently changed with the times. IF favors established journals, considering newly-launched journals only after a long drawn-out process, and its method of calculating value based on the number of citations is still based on the print world. IF also only indexes English language journals, so any hope for a revival of Arabic or Chinese as the language of sciences is squashed immediately.

Because IF is so strict concerning what can be indexed, there is a considerable lag between publication of the new journal and the analysis that results in an IF–so publishers have to publish regularly at consistently high levels to eventually obtain one. Even once they gain an IF, funders in the developing world often don’t understand that IF is absolute (i.e. the IF of one journal makes no sense without understanding the IF of other journals in the field), and when funders pay researchers based on IF points this tends to be good for the Microbiologist (where there are many citations), and not so good for the Mathematician.

Whereas increasing numbers of institutions in the US and Europe have begun to disregard IF as a measuring tool, or at least to regard it as one factor among many, it’s not the same in developing countries. As I found in the Middle East, funders are mostly unwilling to question the publishing status quo. Since some measure of the effectiveness of the funded research is required, the funders use the most commonly accepted standard from the developed world, which is IF. And given that building a quality journal is a long drawn-out process under the best of conditions, it can take a new OA publisher in the developing world a long time to gain an impact factor for their new journal. It is important for publishers based in developing countries to be prepared to play the long game financially. 

Open Access Publishing and the Developing World

Open Access publishing is not always well understood in the developing world. As an open access publisher in the Middle East, China, or India, then, you must constantly guide your stakeholders’ perceptions of open access. Let’s also not forget that Open Access was largely developed through funder mandates to drive the dissemination of research.  For many researchers and funders in the developing world, Open Access can be misunderstood as “paying to get published”, and thus they often perceive Open Access as lower quality and as a way for publishers to make money. Frequently, researchers are aiming to be published internationally, and they will use any route to achieve this –without necessarily understanding why Open Access was developed in the first place.  Funders and researchers may not be aware that the APC is the most important income stream to set up, and needs to cover all the publishing costs, including the rejection of articles.

When you reach out to funders to establish your aims, they will usually agree that open access accelerates research and provides a good return. However, these same funders will have to bear the cost of this new venture (including rejecting articles) and must also be prepared to wait for it to become financially viable.

What can you do to drive positive perceptions of OA? First, you have to campaign to gain support for OA among your core market and audience. You must launch the first journals with high level articles and continue to recruit quality authors with each new call for papers. Speed to publication is an important measurement which will help you to attract a readership and authors. It is also worth considering geographic factors, such as underserved areas in which good authors are ready to publish.

Maintaining standards is very important for a new journal. I have often said that it is easy to publish anything today–but getting people to read it is really, really difficult. OA publishers have to make sure that the citations in their publications are correct and they must scrupulously follow standards such as Crossref. Each article has to be coded, tagged and structured correctly to adhere to common research best practice. Make sure your articles match the PubMed Document Type Definitions (DDT) and follow their structure.

A high level of metadata is also important. Metadata will help librarians to index the journals and it enhances discoverability. Make sure you provide COUNTER compliant usage statistics, as they will help you to demonstrate your journal’s impact–but you have to maintain and audit them as well.

Google Analytics and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) are equally essential. Removing “No follow” tags from your content will increase the Google scores on OA content immediately.

As a new publisher, it will be important to build and maintain your credentials by participating in conferences within the international publishing and research communities. Make sure to implement new initiatives so you are seen to be at the front of the industry. It helps to be a member of the main industry organizations, such as OASPA, ALPSP and STM–this gives funders in particular peace of mind that you are a quality-oriented journal publisher. It will also allow you to map your development against the industry and provide an important insight into what other publishers are doing.

Abstracting and indexing databases can also play an important role in developing your business. Why would an OA journal, available freely to readers, need to be included in A&I databases? The simple answer is that you reach very different markets through aggregators – so my strong recommendation is that you try to reach as many aggregators as you can. You also generate an income from aggregators – it’s not much, but it’s worth it.

If you are based within an existing publisher, I think the most important rule to follow is simple: edit, structure, and present open access journals in exactly the same way as subscription journals. Marketing of an OA journal will be different, as you will use the marketing department to capture quality content, so you will have to target authors and research funders more than libraries. Make use of the existing infrastructures at your publisher as much as you can!

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