The Changing Face of Publishing at AGU

A recent Eos article discussed how AGU’s data policy for publications is going to foster an even better understanding and increase the lasting impact of our Earth and space science research. In reading it, I was struck about how much of an impact the changes we are making in our publishing work enhance on our ability to “promote discovery in Earth and space science.” (If you missed the article from Publications Director Brooks Hanson and Publications Committee Chair Rob van der Hilst, here’s the link.)

“Transform[ing] the future of AGU’s scientific publishing in an evolving marketplace” was identified as a top priority objective when our leadership adopted the current strategic plan in 2010. In the four years (plus a few months) since then, we have taken many small and large steps to accomplish this objective.

In the 100-year history of AGU, four years isn’t long at all. In the broader landscape of scientific publishing though, four is a lifetime. For example, four years ago, open access was fast becoming a critical enabler in advancing basic discovery and knowledge in science. At that time, it was unclear what form or model of open access for published papers would occur. Then, just a year ago, many thought gold open access (authors pay at time of publication and content is freely available without a subscription) would be the norm. However, today government and private funding agencies around the world seem to be settling on a green open access model (in which content can be available via an open repository after a time limited embargo – typically ranging from six months to two years).

To keep up with this rapidly changing landscape, we have focused on becoming more open, timely, relevant, and user-friendly, while always maintaining AGU’s high standards of scientific excellence and integrity.

One of the most visible changes was the decision to move from self-publishing to a model in which we focus our resources on maintaining high quality editorial, peer review, and scientific content, while our publishing partner Wiley focuses on excellence in production, fulfillment, technology, and distribution. This has resulted in timelier, more relevant and more user-friendly access to AGU journals.

We also moved to make all AGU journal content, including supplemental material published since 1997 along with Eos, freely available 24 months after publication (and additional content is being added each month on a rolling basis). That switch has dramatically increased usage of our content – full text downloads of AGU journal articles have increased approximately 40%.

And we launched two new gold open access journals in the past 18 months (AGU has published JAMES since 2009). The first, Earth’s Future, is a transdisciplinary journal that explores global change and sustainability. The second, Earth and Space Science, spans the entire field of Earth, planetary, and space sciences, and will feature both research papers and papers on important datasets, observations, and methods. It is now accepting papers and is waiving author fees until 19 December. In addition, our authors can choose to pay to have their paper fully open immediately in all other AGU journals, as well as place the published version in their institutional repository six months after publication.

To complement these efforts, we are striving to be timelier in our publishing efforts. All AGU journals are now publishing accepted articles within 21-28 days, compared to 2 – 3 months just a few years ago. Times to first decisions have also decreased. And we are working to make our publications more user-friendly and relevant, with enhanced HTML capabilities, and a ReadCube version of the PDF that adds several enhancements, including live reference links and integrated supporting information. All articles now include altmetrics, which link to news articles and social media mentions.  When users combine the Web Reader with the free Read Cube Desktop Applications, they can manage and annotate documents from any publisher and receive personalized article recommendations. We are also offering iPad apps for each AGU journal, which provide read-anywhere capability once they are synced to an institutional or member subscription.

While these types of improvements are important, we never forget that high-quality content is critical. Without that, nothing else matters. We also recognize the role high quality editors, and editorial teams, play in the process and we are constantly working to attract the most highly regarded editors, associate editors, and peer reviews. I’m thrilled to say that eight new editors in chiefs are now on board, each of whom is dedicated to upholding the scientific excellence of their predecessors.

Just as you are committed to excellence in your research, AGU is committed serving your needs through excellence in scholarly publishing.

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