Building reputation through quality and fresh thinking around business models and social media
What is it?
Founded in 2007, the International Journal of the Commons is dedicated to the study of resources that are or could be used collectively. These resources may be as tangible as grazing lands, community centres or our oceans, or, more philosophically, include such public goods as open source software or even knowledge itself. It is an interdisciplinary field and the journal seeks to raise the field’s visibility by offering one thematic platform.
It has published eight issues and pitches itself as a top quality journal, working with the International Association for the Study of the Commons to provide expert peer review of articles. Its editorial board features some of the most acclaimed scholars and practitioners in the field, including the Nobel prizewinning economist Elinor Ostrom.
How is it a success?
The scholarly field of commons research is a small one, and the International Journal of the Commons has quickly become a trusted name in the area of study, achieving critical mass of scholars in the field with more than 1500 registered users. Its 65,000 downloads of articles is impressive, “especially given the relative obscurity of the topic, and the confined community of people who are interested in the topic,” says the journal’s managing editor, Frank van Laerhoven. “I definitely feel that after about two or three years of struggle we are now an established journal, accepted and well known in the field,” he adds.
The particular “struggle” van Laerhoven refers to is a familiar one for new open access journals – the issue of establishing trustworthiness while going through the lengthy process of being accepted for indexing. The “holy grail” of indexing in this field is ISI – the organisation that calculates and publishes the impact factors that mean that work published in the journal by a researcher will be recognised for their own “h-index” and so contribute to their career progression. The International Journal of the Commons is still awaiting indexation by ISI but, after having applied in May 2009 for indexation with Scopus (the other major indexation organisation), it was granted in June 2011.
Two strategies to establish the journal’s reputation while it awaits full indexing are paying off for the International Journal of the Commons. The first is an emphasis on quality. This is immensely aided by the journal’s connection with the International Association for the Study of the Commons. It means that it has access to a large pool of Commons scholars all over the world for expert peer reviewing, and in its four years the journal has worked with over 250 peer reviewers.
“Everything starts and ends with quality and that quality is guaranteed by means of a careful and watertight and non-negotiable double blind peer review system,” says van Laerhoven.
The second strategy is an unusual business model based around “special features”. Aware that authors will baulk at the publication fee of 300-400 euros per article for publication in a non-indexed journal, van Laerhoven has devised a cost structure that avoids individual authors being directly confronted with the fee. “Special features” cost a lump sum of 2,000 euros, which is paid by an organisation such as a conference out of its publication fund or a think tank, and consist of a series of articles put together by guest editors. The usual stringent quality thresholds apply, but per-article payment is no longer an offputting issue for the authors.
“Our daily work is focused on the quality of what we publish and we hope that eventually that will pay off and lead to the inclusion of our journal into ISI. That will lead to our articles being picked up for citation by others more and more and gradually we can establish a level of prestige that attracts cutting edge researchers and cutting edge research,” explains van Laerhoven.
While dissemination to the critical mass of conventional commons scholars has been met through the International Association for the Study of the Commons, van Laerhoven was aware that the topic of the commons is closely philosophically related to computer commons such as Wikipedia and open source software and these topics form a community of their own that is not easily accessed through the more usual ways. As a result, he has set up a LinkedIn group for the journal on which he shares statistics about citations and downloads and information about new uploads.
“I think that people appreciate it, the number of followers increases steadily and gradually, and I feel that it is a different audience to the audience that goes to the journal directly. I have the impression that the more computer-focused or internet-focused part of the commons debate is attracted by the group and I think I am catering to a different audience through this medium,” says van Laerhoven.