BY AREND KUESTER (EDITED BY MATTHEW ISMAIL)
The marketing of open access journals differs considerably from marketing subscription-based journals. The audience for OA journals is different and so is the income stream that sustains them. Subscription journals are marketed to libraries and faculty, whilst an OA publisher must market primarily (though not exclusively) to authors, who must be interested in publishing in your journals, will facilitate payment, and will provide you with an impact. Effectively, publishing Open Access is a Business to Consumer (B2C) business.
An open access publisher needs a different marketing and sales force than does a traditional subscription publisher. OA marketing is a consultative, high level process which gathers information on academics, researchers, and funders as you build your brand, credibility and trust.
Marketing to the author alone does not work, however. To be successful you will have to open up marketing and messaging to different target groups and use different tactics to reach out and grow your audience. We will discuss the various options below. How deeply you invest in marketing depends upon the income generated by your APC, your budget, and your level of organizational backing- but many of the ideas we discuss below are straightforward and don’t entail high costs.
Author Services and Word of Mouth Marketing
Excellent author services are often neglected by new OA publishers, but they are, in fact, your first line of marketing. Ask yourself whether your authors will want to submit an article to the journal again in the future? Authors, with the encouragement of the editorial board, can become the best friends of your venture. What incentives can you offer them? Can you design an author survey that allows authors to rate how well you did in the publishing process and whether they would be happy to recommend you to peers and colleagues? An author questionnaire should be considered good business practice by any OA publisher.
You could consider sending out an author appreciation kit, including a nicely printed version of their article, and also take advantage of this interaction to promote the possibility of ordering special print-outs from you again in the future. These appreciation kits could also include certificates or even a pen or other token of appreciation. It would be perfectly normal to include an APC discount voucher to allow the author to promote your journal with colleagues. The key to implementing such a kit for authors is to make it very easy and straightforward. Easy-to-forward electronic information would probably be preferred, since this is easiest for the author to redistribute. Consider providing authors with marketing templates or even ask them if you can market the article on a listserv the author has suggested.
Producing press releases on the articles you’ve published, as well as promoting the articles on social media, will help to increase the article’s readership as well as promote the author. Creating an effective press release is difficult, however, since you will need a science writer who can translate the author’s specialized academic findings to a wider audience.
You might find that it is effective to feature new articles on your homepage, but frankly the homepage will not be heavily accessed. Try to include banners of articles in the About section of the journal homepage – for instance on the page with house style, author information, and information essential to submit research articles. These pages will attract more traffic than your homepage.
Word of mouth is still hugely important and will enable you to reach out and grow your audience. Never underestimate the power of a good experience for an author to encourage them to recommend your journals to other authors.
Marketing to Authors
Trying to find new authors is the most challenging and expensive aspect of marketing OA journals. The most important marketing approach is to build lists and do list marketing. However, one needs to have permission to post to these lists, so you will have to check the applicable email marketing law in your region (and the region you are targeting) and adhere to the legislation before you begin emailing people.
In many cases, you might have to prove that you have some sort of business relationship with the author. Once you have their business card, the academic might have given you tacit ok to email information, at least for the first mail shot. Just don’t forget the opt-out clause on your email marketing. Conference attendance lists are as important to build your marketing databases as they are to build a database for peer-reviewers.
Building a database of peer reviewers and using them for email marketing is also important. Don’t overdo it with those contacts – you will want to work with them so mailing them too often will tire them out. As a rule of thumb, emails should be no more than once per month.
Better still, try to gather peoples’ research interests, their level of seniority, and their department affiliation, and target the information to relevant recipients as much as you can. The fastest way to be unsubscribed is to provide frequent non-relevant information – it will almost certainly backfire.
Additionally, Clarivate Analytics can provide you with targeted email lists and you will be able to push messages to curated groups of researchers. The good news is that these contacts are all vetted and active. They can be targeted by region, research fields and many other identifiers, so you can keep costs down, as these lists are not cheap to obtain. In fact, you will not obtain the actual lists, as the email addresses are Clarivate’s property, and you don’t have a reason to email them – only when they get back in touch with you will you be able to find out who they are. I found Clarivate staff and reports extremely helpful. They always gave a good estimate on open rates and the success of the marketing activities, such as which messages were successful and how to improve your marketing messages. Over time, you will be able to use Clarivate’s systems to find new authors, whilst at the same time using your own system to send out marketing information and calls for papers. 
On the subject of author marketing – another worthwhile investment on the technology side would be a good email marketing program, where you can track who you emailed, has an interface to design email messages, and gives you feedback. This will also help you to have clear, targeted and relevant messages to your audience.
In addition to these author marketing practices, you should also consider visiting as many relevant conferences as you possibly can. At conferences you will meet important contacts and obtain the all-important email list so you can contact attendees afterwards. But this is not all you should achieve at conferences.
To start with, consider sponsoring a coffee break. Consider whether you can present a paper and whether there is an award you can present? Can you publish the conference proceedings? Can you help the conference director with the organization and logistics of the conference? Working with conferences can be very good way to emphasize your seriousness to the most important audience you want to reach: the academic.
Some publishers give particular attention to academics and research conferences and offer them specific rewards. For example, they might sponsor a best paper award in a particular field and offer a financial reward or other benefits to the winner. Or even better they offer to publish a paper after peer review for free or a reduced cost. And always remember that food is a good incentive. Consider taking a group to a special dinner–or depending on the audience size and budget, take them all. Think about giveaways, pens, or badges. Academic conference visitors may need presents for their kids, and could look at a publisher’s stand in lieu of going shopping (yes, this happens!).
You can also consider whether, rather than print a company brochure, it would instead be desirable to print the full version of an open access journal issue. High-quality research speaks more of the quality of your journals than any brochure you may present.
In order to plan and budget for marketing costs, it will be a good idea to have a calendar of the conferences you want to attend as well as where you want to send your editorial staff to network with academics. You can also try to attach editorial board meetings to conferences and save costs. But being out there, and finding out what the hot topics are as well as connecting to speakers, will always be beneficial.
With a bit of luck you can always try to present a paper at a conference about innovation in publishing, or give the publisher’s perspective on the industry and the role publishers play. If you are innovative and get to know the conference organizer, you can come up with ways to secure exposure.
One word of warning though – unless you REALLY have something SUPER innovative, don’t try to give a product demonstration. I have yet to see well-attended publisher sessions – unless you turn it into a focus group on your publications. If you do that, it is better to hire an outsider to conduct them on your behalf as the most important rule on a focus group is not to have a particular outcome in mind. Open questions and dealing with criticism will be important.
Marketing to Institutions and librarians
Marketing to funding institutions and librarians is becoming important as more institutions have open access policies and open access funds. Being screened as one of the “good to publish” journals is the first step, but you will have to achieve more to generate papers from the institution. Many institutions have offices of scholarly communication which are sometimes part of the library. Finding out the needs of this department, whilst also working with the individual departments, will be the starting point for this important marketing route. Keep the scholarly communication department informed, and do roadshows where you put the author in the middle and talk about what you can do to advance the needs of authors and the institution. You can also work with your editorial board and use them in a hosted speaker session.
This is also where talking to librarians will start to be important. They often hold the key to open access funds and know the research teams and what they are looking for. Librarians also recommend journals and articles to their peers and clients, so meeting them remains important in your marketing mix.
Once your journal is in the DOAJ it will be picked up by many library OPACs and appear in the searches conducted by library patrons – so maintaining good metadata and contact will be important.
Finally, the library community will able to guide you through what is important in terms of new developments and what is worth investing. A librarian board which meets regularity will be an excellent sounding board with new ideas and is an initiative on which you will want to embark.
Marketing to Funders
Funders are a similar group to librarians and institutions – but they are funders of research and operate in slightly different ways. They might not have large libraries, but they will most certainly have a group working on academic outreach. If the funder does support open access they will have administering bodies. It will be important to encourage the funder to publish in your journals, which will involve paying attention to their particular needs and requirements. These requirements can range from the way articles are archived or how the data is structured.
Identifying funding partners, reaching out to them at conferences and in their home offices, should help you build these core relationships. They might have more levels of bureaucracy, and take longer to make decisions, so again it will be important to have very targeted information for them, and give them time to react and adapt.
Once you have an agreement with a funder, be prepared to follow through with meetings with individual researcher groups and to maintain the direct relationship with them. You want to have as many papers as possible from them, so stay in contact with the administrators as well as front line researchers. So do carry the excitement you have to your audience!
Some funders might also like to start their own open access journal and therefore require publication services. Springer Nature has been highly successful in building its research brand with funders on specific subject areas through open access publishing. But even smaller funders might want your publishing services to establish their brand further. Sometimes, these opportunities start in a sales and marketing conversation, and become a deeper partnership – so again an open conversation is important and will help you to underpin your brand as a valuable publisher – and generate some income. Having staff who are responsive to market needs and spot these opportunities is essential.
Some publishers offer language services which are still very much needed by academics in countries in which English is not the first language. The science might be sound, but the presentation might lack polish. Pre-publication language services offered through your site might be another way to attract authors from new regions to your site.
Post Publication and Social Media Marketing
We covered post publication marketing at the author level – but continuing to market the brand and quality of articles after publication will be an important aspect of your work.
Post publication marketing can be done at article level or as the brand within the publishing industry. Not only is it important to be part of the industry, such as attending conferences, bit it is also important to schedule follow-up meetings with suppliers at meetings such as the Frankfurt Book Fair.
Today, possibly the most important element of post-publication marketing is social media. It is important to have consistent tweets and Facebook messages to reinforce your message and promote your articles. In many companies, social media is done almost as a sideline. However, it is an essential marketing channel which needs to be well resourced. Working with a graphics team and a special social media team to send out frequent messages will drive up usage. Staff should be motivated to follow, retweet and broadcast your message. In 2018, having a team working on social media and developing social media strategies (and following through!) is vital to running successful campaigns.
Social media can also be outsourced in production if you don’t have the staff – but you need to make social media strategy part of the core marketing and sales activities mix. Any message you are sending out in an email campaign needs to be reinforced by your social media.
Other good post publication campaign involves user stories and videos which can highlight your “behind the scenes” processes or – even better – interviews with authors of articles which cover the research or the publishing experience. Some publishers also commission white papers on publishing activities to grow thought-leadership and awareness of their publications.
 Also note that in today’s marketing environment, any mailings require will simply have to adhere to GDPR legislation, whether in Europe or beyond.