Two journals are better than one: exploring multi-journal special issues

How collaborating on special issues brings benefits for authors and journals alike

By Mark Gannon and Leanne Mullen - September 26, 2022  4 mins
An image of hands combining several cogs

You may have seen some journals experimenting with "multi-journal special issues": a collection of published articles on a particular topic hosted online in two or more journals. In this article, we will explain what these multi-journal special issues are all about, how they benefit authors and what they can do for your journal.

What’s the big idea?

As a result of the transition from traditional special issues (SI) – where publication of the issue is delayed until all articles are ready – to virtual special issues (VSI) – where articles are individually published in an online collection as soon as they are available – more journals are seizing the opportunity to collaborate and publish joint special issues. There are several reasons why doing so can be beneficial. Curating multi-journal special issues allows journals to collaborate in order to provide authors with a greater range of choices and attributes than might be available in a single title, be it (additional) open access options, different impact or quality indicators, or acceptance of different article types.

Greater choice for authors

This range of options is appreciated by authors, some of whom are restricted in where/how they can publish. For example, some researchers are mandated by their funder to publish in a gold open access journal. It might be, however that a single-journal special issue might not offer a gold OA choice. In a recent multi-journal special issue, involving an established journal, Microbial Pathogenesis, and the more recently launched open access journal Current Research in Microbial Sciences, authors were offered the option of publishing under the subscription model, via hybrid open access, or gold open access. This enabled authors to publish in the special issue regardless of their preference of access model (or any institution’s or funder's mandate for that matter).

Another key feature offered by these joint special issues is greater flexibility on article type. For example, most special issues in Tetrahedron and Tetrahedron Letters are now published as multi-journal collections. This enables authors to submit articles corresponding to any of the four types offered by these two journals, i.e., original work as either a full account or short communication in Tetrahedron, or review articles as either a full or mini-review in Tetrahedron Letters.

So how does it work?

A multi-journal special issue call for papers is issued and seeks to attract prospective authors, with a focus on author choice. The call specifies that this is a multi-journal collaboration, and that the published collection will be hosted online in both journals. The invitations include information about the topic as well as the differences in the journals, highlighting both journal homepages so that authors can make an informed choice.

During submission authors are reminded that this special issue is a multi-journal collection and are informed about their open access options and journal choice. Prospective authors are also informed that whilst a published article will be hosted on both journals’ content platforms, formal publication of individual articles remains with the journal to which the author submits.

Multiple journals, multiple benefits

Organising a multi-journal special issue brings mutual benefits to the participating journals. For the aforementioned multi-journal SI in Microbial Pathogenesis, and Current Research in Microbial Sciences, both journals benefited from extensive marketing and promotional support which more established journals typically do not receive. Thus, whilst the initiative provides a helpful boost for new titles perhaps struggling to attract submissions, it also aids older journals in finding new communities of authors and readers.

A further benefit of such a collaboration is that a broad list of authors can be invited to one SI rather than being pursued separately by two or more journals competing for attention for smaller individual collections.

I think the multi-journal special issue is a great concept and idea, which broadens the scope of the SI, has the potential to increase the number of manuscript submissions, and also potentially improves the visibility of the less known journals. The editors from different journals work together, likely resulting in a better manuscript review and decision process

- Wangxue Chen, guest editor 

Finalized article collections are mirrored on each ScienceDirect page. This is helpful for the reader since all articles can be found in both journal collections and thus they won’t miss any other useful research in the collection regardless of the provenance of each individual article.

Multi-journal special issues provide authors with greater flexibility on where to publish their work. They also increase exposure for authors’ research due to the wider audience reached, as well as providing benefits both for newly launched and more established journals. If you are interested in exploring a multi-journal special issue, get in touch with your publishing contact today!


Mark Gannon
Written by

Mark Gannon

Written by

Mark Gannon

Mark Gannon has worked in publishing with Elsevier since 2012 where he briefly started out providing journal publishing support to authors, reviewers and editors. He soon moved into the editorial submission system training team during which he delivered almost 500 training sessions to editors on various submission systems. During a short spell away from Elsevier in 2018, Mark worked for a registered training provider, delivering training courses in negotiation to commercial officers in the British Army, as well as change management training to managers in the National Health Service. He has now been Elsevier’s Publisher for microbiology since 2019. Mark has a degree in applied languages from the University of Portsmouth and is based in the Oxford office.

Leanne Mullen
Written by

Leanne Mullen

Written by

Leanne Mullen

Leanne Mullen is an Executive Publisher. She joined Elsevier in 2017 and worked as a Publisher for journals across polymer science and materials before moving into her latest role in 2020. She is currently managing organic and medicinal chemistry journals and an annual international conference. Leanne is also leading a team of five internal scientific editors to deliver the Tetrahedron Plan using an innovative business model and ecosystem approach. She has a PhD in Materials Science from University of Cambridge.

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