Journals have to decide how frequently they wish to publish new submissions, as this will have an impact on workload, peer review management, IT costs and more. In the traditional publishing paradigm, where the print format was most common, it was typical for journals to publish issues as collections of peer-reviewed articles or other submissions, sometimes bundled in volumes. However, the introduction of digital publishing is shifting behaviours and introducing new models. In the following sections, we outline options for journals and the likely implications of different publication frequencies.
Conventional publishing often involves issues that can be bundled in volumes, which appear at pre-determined and regular intervals, and have fixed deadlines for the submission of manuscripts. If publishing under a fixed issue model, the journal may have a fixed number of articles and number of issues per year, and the issue publication dates may or may not be fixed. Articles submitted after submission deadlines may be immediately published online under an ‘upcoming articles’ section (or similar), and subsequently included as part of the next available issue.
Digital publishing allows the continuous publication of articles, meaning that these can be published as soon as they are ready (i.e. peer-reviewed, typeset and proofed) rather than waiting for a specific issue publication date. The rationale for a continuous article publication model is to speed up the pace of review and publication. Articles published under this model may be grouped in issues, but this is not mandatory. If this is the case, the latest published article would appear at the top of the issue, until the next article is accepted.
Some digital publishers opt to commission special issues alongside their regular publishing efforts. Special issues typically focus on a specific topic or a conference and are managed by a guest editor and an editorial team not linked to the journal’s editorial board. This allows the journal to gain a set of new perspectives that are closely tied to the subject matter of the special issue. The editorial process for special issues should be of the same standard as the main content for the journal, with the Editor in Chief having ultimate oversight: this means that the guest editor and editorial team should collate and curate the contents, but the journal’s own staff must quality assure and approve materials before these are.
New journals often aim to be indexed in relevant databases, such as the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), Web of Science or Scopus. A key requirement of these indexes is that journals are actively publishing, and, in some cases, there will be a minimum number of articles per year to be considered in the index. As a result, journals should ensure that their publication frequency and volume are set in line with any indexing objectives, to ensure that indexes do not reject an application on these grounds.