How scientific publishing supports research: What authors are telling us
November 15, 2022 | 7 min read
By Laura Hassink
The Managing Director of Elsevier’s Journals writes about responding to author feedback and transparency in pricing
Every day, research professionals dedicate themselves to making discoveries, advancing knowledge and driving scientific progress that improves outcomes for society. It is a vital, and increasingly complex endeavor. Technological innovation has enabled rapid collaboration across geographies and disciplines, but the sheer volume of information and data now available makes it much harder to identify credible and relevant research.
At Elsevier, we are privileged to play a role in helping ensure that quality research can be accessed, trusted, shared and built upon to accelerate progress that benefits society. Our 2,800 journals are integral to the scientific record and to the broader exchange of knowledge and ideas. To support this scientific endeavor, the editorial review, peer review and other parts of the publishing process faithfully mirror the rigor and care that goes into research itself.
To give you an idea in numbers: each year, we receive around 2.6 million research papers from authors. These are carefully reviewed by our in-house editorial teams in collaboration with 32,000 editors and 1.4 million expert reviewers around the world, resulting in over 600,000 articles being enhanced, indexed, certified, published and promoted following a peer review.
The feedback from authors indicates that they value the publishing process and that the work we do has a material impact. For example, authors acknowledge that our thorough, multi-layered peer review process helps to enhance their research and as a result improves the final version of the article. In fact, 94% of articles have content changes during the editorial stage, and even after acceptance during the production stage, almost 100% of the articles have some changes that improve the completeness and correctness of the article. These processes — and the assistance provided to authors along the way — are an important part of ensuring the integrity and reliability of research. So it is heartening to see that 90% of researchers say that the changes made by our journals teams to their articles improved the clarity of their research.
To support this evergreen endeavor, we invest in continuous improvements to make the publication process more efficient for researchers. For example, we have developed a reviewer recommender tool to evaluate the suitability and expertise of millions of potential peer reviewers. This tool helps our editors select the most relevant reviewers so authors have their work assessed by the right people. It also helps editors reach beyond their own networks and can therefore make the peer review process more inclusive and take a step towards improving research diversity.
Other innovations, such as the article recommender tool, minimize the risk of readers missing essential research and enhance the dissemination and discoverability of research on our platforms. ScienceDirect, the world’s largest platform dedicated to peer-reviewed primary scientific and medical research, hosts over 19 million pieces of content and has more than 18 million monthly unique visitors, while Scopus is an expertly curated abstract and citation database with content from over 27,000 journals from more than 7,000 publishers to help researchers track and discover global knowledge in all fields. Collectively our journal platforms offer the global scientific community access to around 1.8bn articles. These tools and platforms contribute to the fact that articles published by Elsevier journals have the highest share of citations(opens in new tab/window) (28%) of all publishers.
The value of scientific publishing — what authors have told us
To ensure we can continually improve the ways we support the research community in their work to advance knowledge, we have asked authors where they see value within the different stages of the publication process, asking them to score the importance of the services provided, no matter which journal they published in.Overall, the results(opens in new tab/window) show that authors, on average, attribute high value to all stages of the publication process:
87% of authors in top-tier journals ranked “Peer review management and evaluation of research” important or very important.
88% of authors in top-tier journals ranked “Preparation for publication” important or very important.
92% of authors in top-tier journals ranked “Maintaining the scholarly record” important or very important.
82% of authors in top-tier journals ranked “Ensuring research is discoverable” important or very important.
This data not only underscores the value felt by authors across various aspects of the publishing process; it gives crucial insights to help us improve our services and the author experience. Our teams have been acting on the feedback to shape ongoing product and tool development, to improve our Helpdesk function and post-publication services, and to inform our Researcher Academy(opens in new tab/window). Being transparent about where these services are performing well, and those areas we can improve, is an important part of our work in building trust in research in partnership with the communities we serve.
Transparency in pricing
Being clear about the value we add and services we provide is critical to ensuring our customers have trust and confidence in our services, can make informed decisions, and can hold us accountable for where we need to do more. That’s why over the last year, we have made our pricing information more transparent on our website.
Elsevier publishes journal articles under two separate models to suit author preferences: Pay-to-read model where individuals or their institutions as users of content pay and authors publish for free; and the pay-to-publish, or Open Access, model where authors, their institutions or funding bodies pay Article Publishing Charges (APCs) and the research is freely available to read.
We publish more articles and at higher quality relative to other major publishers, for example Elsevier has the single largest share of any publisher (32%) in the top 10% journal FWCI* tier. We aim to make our APCs lower than the market average relative to quality and our average list price per pay to read (subscription) article remains lower (by 2-3 times) than that of others. Since 2010, the number of articles submitted to Elsevier journals grew on average by 11% per year, and the volume of pay to read (subscription) articles published increased on average by 5% per year (compound annual growth rate, or CAGR 2010-2021). Our average list price per pay to read article (subscription) grew annually by just 0.2% over that time (2011-2021 CAGR) across our entire portfolio of journals.
An overview of our pricing policy, list prices, components that factor into our pricing, and our no double dipping policy, can be found here. Details about our publishing volumes under pay to read (subscription) and pay to publish (open access) business models for our individual journals is analyzed here(opens in new tab/window), and for the whole of Elsevier is here(opens in new tab/window).
To ensure transparency to researchers on the level of services and quality that they can expect from our journals, and to help them make decisions about which journals to publish in, a number of our journal home pages already include a range of relevant and useful metrics, including acceptance rates, average review and publication times, editorial board make up by gender and geography, and authorship and readership by geography. Similar information can also be found via our JournalFinder(opens in new tab/window) tool to compare journal-level data, and Journal Insights(opens in new tab/window) pages. We commit to expanding and refining the information that we provide publicly regarding the pricing and quality metrics of our journals over the coming months.
*Field Weighted Citation Impact is an indicator of publication quality that adjusts for different citation behaviors across disciplines.
Supporting researchers in driving progress for all
The way research is assessed and accessed affects the speed and direction of the advancement of science, and the careers and success of those working within it. It is essential to get it right, so knowledge is shared appropriately and with confidence.
We see every day the meaningful contribution researchers make to advance human knowledge, from emerging theories to breakthroughs in science, medicine and technology. That is why we are passionate about our commitment to help high-quality research to be published, shared and made discoverable so knowledge can evolve and lead to better outcomes for society. We welcome the feedback of the communities we serve and will continually enhance the information we provide to help them in their work.