Is it an article? Is it a book? No, it's...
For some pieces of research, journal papers do not provide enough space to properly expand an argument but a monograph is too long. Sian Harris finds out why Palgrave MacMillan's authors are excited by a new programme that promises 'research at its natural length'
For many years there have been two main publication types that researchers have used to share their findings – the academic journal article and the scholarly monograph. The former at 8,000 words or less in length tends to be the preferred communication method in science, technology and medicine. The longer option, monographs, which typically are around 70,000 to 100,00 words in length, are more often used in humanities and social sciences where research is based on text-based discussions more than laboratory results.
But what happens to the stuff in between, to the research that a humanities or social science (HSS) researcher wants to publish that might be too long for an article in a journal but not long enough to fill the pages of a traditional monograph? The researcher could be faced with the choice of cutting important insight to fit a journal article or adding unnecessary extra material to avoid being too short for a monograph.
As with many things in scholarly publishing, the distinction between these two methods of communication arises from the way things were done in the heyday of print publishing. With an eye on traditional costs of printing and distribution, there was an obvious reason for wanting either to package research amongst many others in a journal or to produce something that is large enough to sell as a stand-alone product.
However, print is no longer the main way that researchers find out about other research – and nor is it the primary way that scholarly publishers produce and sell research publications. What’s more, the rise in print-on-demand technology has changed the economics of printing.
With this in mind, Palgrave MacMillan set out to find out what sort of length publication is ideal for its HSS authors. As part of a year-long study of over 1000 academics around the world, the publisher asked about challenges relating to publication length for their research. In response, 58 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that it was a good idea to have an in-between-length title. And, more impressively, 84 per cent said they were likely or very likely to consider publishing in such a mid-length publishing format.
According to Sam Burridge, who has recently been named managing director of Palgrave Macmillan Scholarly, ‘that was a very high motivation for us.’
The result was Palgrave Pivot, which launched its first 21 titles at the end of October. The Pivot publications are designed to meet the needs identified in the publisher’s study: to provide peer-reviewed, e-first HSS publications that fall between the lengths of a journal and a full-length monograph.
‘Journals and monographs will remain very important but their length is a print legacy. Pivots are not about cutting down to fit the format. We want to let researchers publish at a length that suits their work,’ Burridge explained. She also noted that the publisher’s studies found such mid-length works to be acceptable for research assessment, which is an important consideration for authors as they choose where and how to publish.
Another key feature of Palgrave Pivot is rapid publication. The aim is publication within 12 weeks of submission and Burridge said that some are quicker than this. The reason is to be able to respond to topical events with greater impact. For example, one of the first batch of titles reports on research about this summer’s Olympic Games.
The study of academics suggested that HSS researchers liked the concept but Burridge has still been amazed by their reactions: ‘Authors have responded incredibly positively. In the 18 years I’ve been in publishing I’ve never been involved in a product with such a positive response,’ she admitted. ‘I don’t normally get authors emailing me directly, praising us as a publisher.’
Indeed, she believes that being able to launch with 21 titles just 10 months after the programme was announced is very good. And the response has come from around the world too; the first batch of titles come from researchers from Turkey, Canada, Sweden, Japan, Australia, UK and USA.
Talking or writing about the new programme brings up a small challenge of its own though: how to refer to publications that are not journal articles or monographs. However, Burridge does not share this concern: ‘I don’t think authors have a problem at all with what you call it. We did expect it to be a problem but authors just see it as research at the right length. Boundaries are blurring,’ she noted, adding ‘It depends where you sit what you call it. I just call it research.’
Nonetheless the new publications sit on the same platform as the company’s monographs. They will be available to libraries as e-books for libraries, including via Palgrave Connect; as individual e-books; and as digitally-produced print books via print on demand. The pricing, according to Burridge, will vary depending on the title.
Next year Palgrave MacMillan hopes to publish more than 100 of these publications. Beyond that, the publisher hopes that the annual output to grow year-on-year to meet the promising levels of demand suggested by the survey results.