In the same way that successful research has its beginnings in the project plan, a successful journal is grounded in a solid business plan. By ‘business plan’ we do not necessarily mean that your Journal is a business per se, or that it will be generating an income. Rather, we refer here to a written plan that describes what your Journal is about, the background for launching such a journal, how it will be financed, all parties who will be involved and what roles they will perform, in addition to your target audiences and how you will reach them.
A business plan will ensure that you have thought carefully through all aspects of launching and publishing your journal, considered key issues, and developed contingency plans if met with a worst case.
Creating a business plan will likely involve the participation of your entire team, including editorial staff, marketing, financial and production staff. The main output of the activity described in this section is the business plan itself. However, a business plan is a conglomerate of information about your proposals for launching and operating a journal, and other outputs will also be generated through this activity, including: a three year budget, a description of the aims and scope of your Journal, a market analysis, and a simplified operations plan. These outputs will provide important input or controls for nearly all other activities you will carry out as you launch and publish your journal.
It is worth remembering that in addition to offering a blueprint for the editorial and publishing team, a well-written business plan can also be used when seeking funding and speaking to potential partners. As such, it should be written with these potential audiences in mind – it may save you a lot of time and effort later.
It is also important to note that a business plan is a living document; products, markets and the people involved will evolve over time and this will make it necessary to revisit your plan from time to time. For this reason, outputs such as “Financial Reports” (see Section 5.1 Manage journal finances) and “Marketing Reports” (see Section 18.104.22.168 Create a marketing report) will provide input for revising your business plan at a later date.
One of the best and most thorough tools for creating a business plan is the Model Business Plan: A Supplemental Guide for Open Access Journal Developers & Publishers by the Open Society Institute. We highly encourage readers to read this document. However, in our experience, few scholars are willing or able to strictly follow this guide, and we have therefore selected the most critical activities involved in creating a business plan and described these below.
Business plan contents
Business plans generally include seven main elements, each of which can be presented as a chapter. These are:
- Concept – what is the unique purpose of launching your Journal? What are the aims and scope and what does it offer the research community and possibly others?
- Market analysis (readership and authors) – Who will read and/or contribute to your journal? How will you penetrate the market (capture a large and loyal base of authors and readers)?
- Management presentation (Editors) – Who will run your Journal and what are their qualifications? What specific skills and resources does this person have?
- Operational plan – What day-to-day procedures must be followed and carried out? How will daily tasks be accomplished?
- Financial plan – What financial costs will your Journal incur? How will these costs be met? Usually includes a 3-5 year budget which will reflect the financial model(s) you base the Journal on.
- Business strategy – How do you plan to conduct day-to-day business in a way that allows you to meet financial and other goals within the limitations of the resources available to you?
- Risk assessments – What potential risks exist that could impede your success? How will you counteract these?
To generate the information needed to write your business plan and answer the questions above, we recommend carrying out six (6) activities that will provide input for your plan: 1) Describe the planned journal, 2) Conduct a market analysis, 3) Consider financial models, 4) Define your business strategy, 5) Create a 3-year budget, and 6) Conduct a SWOT analysis.
1.1 Describe the planned journal
It is useful to begin a business plan by briefly describing the planned journal. The following information could be included in your description:
- Proposed title/working title
- Field to be covered/niche
- General scope and aims (these can be refined later if necessary, see Section 2.3.4 Write aims and scope)
- Electronic only or electronic + paper edition
- Number of issues and/or papers published per year
- Planned language(s) journal will be in
Later, when you begin to set up the editorial infrastructure (see Section 2.3 Set up editorial infrastructure) and profile your Journal (see Section 22.214.171.124 Profile your Journal) this general description will provide a point of departure for further honing.
1.2 Conduct a market analysis
Conducting a market analysis involves more deeply investigating the opportunity within your field that you believe your Journal will take advantage of. In essence, a market analysis allows you and others to better understand why you believe it is a good idea to launch your Journal.
Your market analysis should consider at least three main areas: What does the publishing landscape surrounding the journal look like? What opportunities exist for a new journal? How will you penetrate your ‘market’ and reach potential readers and contributors? Some questions that can help guide you in your analysis are provided below.
The publishing landscape
- What other journals exist in the same field?
- What are their strengths?
- What are their weaknesses?
- Are they successful?
- Are there any Open Access journals already established in the field?
- What niche has not yet been covered by the established literature?
- Do the established journals fulfill all the needs of readers and contributors in the field?
- Is the research field the Journal addresses growing? By how much annually? (There is always room for at least one competitor.)
- Journals are often categorized according to three tiers; is there a tier that is not covered? (E.g. one major top tier journal exists and many lower quality journals, but no second tier journals.)
- What would make your journal stand out from its competitors?
- What advantages can you offer to readers and contributors? (It could be Open Access!)
- Which readers do you believe will be interested in the journal?
- Who will contribute to the journal and how large is this group?
- How can you best reach your target readers and contributors?
By answering the above questions you can establish if there is a need for your proposed Journal. Your answers may also help you to tweak your proposal to meet actual market needs and create a more successful journal.
In addition to the above, a SWOT analysis (see Section 1.6 Conduct SWOT analysis) may also help you to analyze your market.
1.3 Define business strategy
A business strategy refers to how you plan to conduct the day-to-day business of producing your Journal in a way that allows you to meet financial and other goals within the limitations of the resources available to you.
It is useful to define your business strategy as a means of understanding and explaining to others how your business model (financial model) and operations plan fit together. It is also useful to include both a short-term and long-term perspective within your business strategy as it is often the case that different strategies are necessary over the life-course of your Journal. Your business strategy will have an impact upon the financial model(s) you choose and vice versa. Some examples to help you begin thinking about your business strategy are presented below.
Journal A is a medical journal receiving financial support from a scholarly society that is able to generate funds through conference activities. Journal A’s strategy is to outsource production activities (they have the funding to do so) and technical support to allow the editorial team as much time as possible to aggressively pursue high quality content in order to quickly build the journal as a high-quality publication. As the journal becomes recognized in the field as a preferred vehicle for publishing, publication fees can be introduced that over time will replace/augment the funding received from the society.
Journal B is a humanities journal for which a small one-time grant is available. Journal B’s business strategy is to take advantage of all available resources that are free-of-cost or low-cost, including an open source publishing system and hosting support from the local institutional library, and to enlist a large number of individuals to work voluntarily in the journal team, each of whom shall be assigned a specific role to be carried out. When enlisting the journal team, the editor will consciously select people with skills and available time to ensure the success of the journal. Work flows will be carefully created to ensure efficiency and, where possible, tasks will be placed upon authors themselves, e.g. Copyediting.
1.4 Consider financial models
“There is rarely a single component within the funding model for any Open Access journal. Rather, multiple components typically will combine to sustain an Open Access publishing operation … although in practice some components complement each other better than others.” From Open Society Institute Model Business Plan.
One of the most common and critical questions discussed within Open Access publishing is: What is your financial model? At present there is no one dominant financial model, which can leave some feeling insecure about considering the launch of a new journal. To subdue this uneasiness, it may be useful to note that even within traditional publishing there exist many financial models. Although a subscription model is the most common, it is not the case that all journals are financed through subscriptions. Many exist thanks to support from a scholarly society, advertising revenues, commercial reprints and other revenues. And, a typical rule of thumb within the publishing industry is that it generally takes 5 or 6 years for a new journal to begin generating a profit from its subscription income. So the situation facing you as a prospective Open Access publisher is no more difficult than that facing a team launching a subscription journal.
It seems that, at present, scholar publishers are largely basing their funding model on the provision of volunteer services and in-kind support. However, some are charging a Publication fee (sometimes called Article Processing Fee) and/or receiving support from a funder (e.g. a national research council or a university/institution). To those possible sources can be added a whole host of others that include, but are not limited to:
- Added value products (reprints and permissions)
- Fund-raising (endowments)
- Institutional subsidies
- Membership dues and other society funding
- Publication and/or submission fees
- Subscription income (if print edition)
In addition to the above, a growing list of financial models can be found at the Open Access Directory, under “OA journal business models”, which also provides examples of the different types of funding in practice.
As you consider financing options, you will want to brainstorm with your team about the possibilities. There may well be opportunities in your field or region that are not listed above. Indeed, financing Open Access journals seems to require both ingenuity and creativity.
Should you choose to introduce publication and/or submission fees, do bear in mind that these often need to be set quite low initially until a base of loyal authors is built up and the journal has achieved a reputation that people are willing to pay for.
Your choice of financial model will inform your business strategy (see Section 1.3 Define business strategy) and vice versa.
- Are the researchers of the community to which the Journal turns accustomed to publication fees, either from other Open Access journals in the field or from having had to pay page charges previously?
- Does the relevant research council or university provide financial support for the publication of (Open Access) journals? (see also Section 5.1.1 Apply for funding)
- Does your university/institutional library offer hosting for Open Access journals?
- May it be worth allowing for e-advertising on the journal’s website? What forms of e-advertising are considered appropriate?
- Will the sale of subscriptions to printed copies be affected by the fact that the journal is freely available online?
1.5 Create a budget
Creating a three-year budget, showing projected costs and revenues each year, will allow you to gain a rough picture of the financial health of your journal over the short-run. Costs and revenues over the three years may look quite different and thus it is useful to account for this. For example, when starting an Open Access journal the biggest cost lies in the development of a digital publishing capability. The implementation costs, of course, depend on how many features are needed and how much functionality is required. These are largely one-time costs that will probably impact only on the Year 1 budget. However, you will need to cover them at a time when you may have few financial resources – if your financial model is based on submission and/or publication fees, for example.
Before creating your budget, it is useful to ask yourself a number of questions, among them:
- What are your financial goals (break-even, generate a small profit, etc.) for the journal?
- Do you expect to carry out all activities in-house or to outsource some activities to partners?
- What does the short-term vs. long-term financial picture look like?
- What is your growth plan for the journal (how many submissions and published articles do you expect per year)?
The answers to these questions will help steer how you budget for your Journal, including both the types of costs you are likely to incur (e.g. outsourcing) and what types of revenues will be necessary (e.g. to cover costs or generate a profit).
As you create your budget, bear in mind that costs and revenues are structured in different ways and this needs to be reflected in the budget. In his work on “The cost profiles of alternative approaches to journals publishing”, Roger Clarke (2007) identifies the following types of costs, each of which differs in how it is structured:
- Establishment costs
- Submission-related costs
- Article-related costs
- Issue-related costs
- Generic costs
- Infrastructure maintenance costs
- Financial costs
Recalling the revenues sources noted in Section 1.4 Consider financial models, do differentiate in your budget between revenues that are structured differently, e.g. those that are collected annually (e.g. a grant) versus those that are collected per submission, per publication, per page, etc.
Responsibility for creating a budget will likely fall upon the Chief Editor who will be applying for funding. However, the Chief Editor will probably devise this in close cooperation with a Financial Officer and with input from other members of the team (e.g. Marketer may provide suggested costs for marketing materials). Staff at your institution’s financial department might also be able to provide some assistance with budgeting.
1.6 Conduct SWOT analysis
A fruitful exercise to carry out prior to creating a business plan is a SWOT Analysis. SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. The analysis was introduced into business based on research conducted during the 1960s and 1970s and by this century it was honed and well-integrated in many business discussions. Quite simply, the exercise allows you to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in relation to the launch and operation of your journal and to plan for their eventuality.
Work with your entire team to brainstorm and later hone a list of what you regard as the main strengths of your Journal and the opportunities that exist for introducing your Journal. What is critical for your business plan is to not only list these strengths and opportunities but to also include a short plan for how you can maximize your strengths and take advantage of opportunities. Some examples follow below.
Strength = The editor is one of the highest ranking researchers in the field.
How to maximize = This will be mentioned in all marketing related to the journal.
Strength = Ten authors have promised to submit manuscripts prior to launch.
How to maximize = The official launch of the journal will take place once five articles have been accepted and published, and an email campaign will be carried out and recipients will be sent a link to these articles.
Strength = The journal is the official journal of Society X.
How to maximize = The name of Society X will feature prominently on the journal website and the society will link back to the journal and provide some marketing to members at no cost to the journal. Members of Society X will receive special invitations to submit their work to the journal, perhaps at a reduced publication fee (if applicable).
Opportunity = A key upcoming conference in the field will take place next year.
How to maximize = Official launch of your journal will take place in conjunction with the conference. Members of the editorial team will attend the conference and seek to generate submissions to the new journal.
Opportunity – Several departments have been founded recently to conduct research in the subject area, but as yet there exist no Open Access journals in the field.
How to maximize = Marketing will target these departments and emphasize the advantages of publishing emerging work Open Access.
It goes without saying that most things do not go as planned. Though difficult, it is important to imagine risk scenarios by identifying the weaknesses of your Journal and possible latent threats (either internal or external).
Some examples of weaknesses:
- Limited budget
- Inexperience in editing journals
- Journal is unknown in the field
- Misunderstandings exist about Open Access in field
- Journal has no Impact Factor
- Journal is not in XY index, while competing journals are
Some examples of possible threats:
- Possible changes in legislation (e.g. revoking of the NIH mandate)
- Research council might not agree to extend funding beyond Year 2
- Misunderstandings about Open Access can impact submission levels negatively
- Economic downturn threatens ability of institutions to cover publication fees
What is critical for your business plan is to create contingency plans for handling threats that become reality and a plan for how you will minimize the effects of the weaknesses of your journal.
Weakness = Journal has no Impact Factor
Plan = Emphasize to all that the editorial team is working strategically to prepare to apply for an Impact Factor at the earliest possible date. A journal’s impact factor is not only important at the time of submission but also at the time scholars apply for positions. In a few years’ time the journal should have an impact factor that today’s authors can refer to. In the interim, the editorial team will use Google Scholar to generate an unofficial impact factor (see also Section 4.5.3 Track impact).
Threat = Misunderstandings about Open Access can impact submission levels negatively.
Plan = Current funding will cover the first two years of operation hence the financial implications of this threat will initially be minimized. To minimize the likelihood of this threat in the future, the editorial and marketing teams will engage in debates to advocate and educate about Open Access within our field. Authors will be informed about the benefits of Open Access in an ongoing manner.
The information and plans you generate through the SWOT analysis will provide important input to your market analysis (Section 1.2 Conduct a market analysis), your business strategy (Section 1.3 Define business strategy) and may lead to a reconsideration or tweaking of your financial model (Section 1.4 Consider financial models).