Memorandum from the Professional Engineering
Publishing Limited (subsidiary of The Institution of Mechanical
1. ABOUT PROFESSIONAL
Professional Engineering Publishing Ltd. is
the publishing trading subsidiary of the Institution of Mechanical
Engineers. In addition to 15 learned journals, it publishes a
range of professional engineering magazines and 40-50 technical
books a year. It also publishes on behalf of a number of other
learned societies and professional institutions. It publishes
on the web, including electronic versions of all journals, as
well as a variety of other electronic products and services. It
has an annual turnover of approximately £8 million and employs
2. ABOUT THE
IMechE is the UK learned society and professional
body for mechanical engineers. It is a registered educational
charity and the qualifying body for mechanical engineers. It has
around 80,000 members (some 11,000 outside the UK). Founded by
George Stephenson, of "Rocket" railway fame, in 1847
IMechE has grown to cover the entire range of technologies and
industries in which engineers work. As well as qualification and
professional development, it offers a range of services, including
technical meetings, policy positions, library and information
services and, of course, publishing through PE Publishing Ltd.
It employs around 200 staff in central London and Bury St Edmunds.
3. RESPONSE TO
3.1 Relation to ALPSPPE Publishing
(via its antecedent) was a founder member of the Association of
Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP). We have had
input to their submission to the inquiry. As part of our response
we should say that we entirely support their submission. We believe
that theirs is fairly comprehensive. Our purpose here is to add
or emphasise points from our own perspective, as well as to offer
illustration by example. This submission, therefore, should be
read in conjunction with that from ALPSP. We largely follow the
sequence of that submission.
3.2 The Journal editorial processAt
PE Publishing, there are seven full-time staff employed on overseeing
this process. They take manuscripts from submission and see them
through to final publication or rejection.
They also carry staff responsibility for ensuring
that journals develop in line with the needs of the community
and the changes in the subjects covered by the journals. They
are supported technically by sophisticated software which facilitates
the management and tracking of the refereeing process, from a
database for characterising referees to enable referee selection
and monitoring (eg on their load, availability, subject specialism
etc), to systems that accept electronic manuscripts and track
and progress-chase the manuscript. (With particular relevance
to Question 5 of the committee's request) The staff also ensure
that publication rights are obtained and that any issues that
arise in relation to potential malpractice, plagiarism etc are
A good staff editor not only carries out the
operation, but exercises tact, skill and diplomacy. The better
this is done, the less noticeable it is to the community being
3.2.1 Editorial BoardsEach
journal has an Honorary Editor and international editorial board
of experts, all drawn from the community active in the area. In
a topic like engineering, these are naturally not just academics
but also representatives from industrial and government research.
The board's role is to oversee the editorial direction of the
journal and to be responsible for the quality standards achieved
by the journal. They have a rotating membership (ie a proportion
retire each year) to maintain a lively and fresh approach to their
As well as conducting business by e-mail, phone
and correspondence, these editorial boards actually physically
meet at least once a year, at PE Publishing's expense. The Honorary
Editor (and, in some cases, a Deputy Editor) is normally paid
an "honorarium" of between £1,400 to £4,000
each (depending on the size of the journal). We will also pay
additional fees to offset secretarial or administrative costs
3.2.2 Investment and costs in editorial
workAs is apparent from the above, this operation involves
significant cost and investment and without doubt adds value to
the resulting publication. While authors and referees see this
process in operation they are not always aware of the effort and
cost involved. The whole process, and its cost, are effectively
hidden from librarians and many readers, who just see, and benefit
from, the end result.
3.2.3 Quantitative features of the processA
few statistics serve to show the effect of the process, as well
as the community involvement:
At any one time over 400 experts are serving on the
We have over 5,000 experts "live" on our
database of referees.
1,500 papers are submitted per year.
34% of these are destined to be rejected in a typical
yeara further 4% are withdrawnif an author takes
too long to revise, the article is withdrawn (this avoids publication
of out-of-date material) and the author is encouraged to resubmit
at a later date.
88% of those that we eventually publish have to be
revised as a result of the refereeing process. Each revision involves
further intermediation by staff.
13% are subject to a second revision before being
published; a further 3% are accepted after three or more revisions.
3.3 International featuresTo
us, it is very important that the inquiry recognises how international
scientific, technical and medical (stm) publishing is. Such recognition
should immediately inform consideration on the scope for, desirability,
and effects of any unilateral UK action. A few of our own statistics
serve to make this point:
Journals publishing is very much an export business,
to the benefit of "UK Ltd". At PE Publishing, over 63%
of our journal revenue comes from outside the UK (Publishers in
pure science will typically have an even higher export percentage).
A corollary is, of course, that the majority of our readers are
also outside the UK.
Overall, PE Publishing sells its products to 109
countries. Customers include academic and industrial libraries,
as well as individuals (including members of the Institution).
73% of our journal paper submissions are from non-UK
authors. In common with most stm journals, ours are truly international.
This is congruent with subject development itselfsometimes
a researcher's closest colleague is located several thousand miles
All our journals are available in electronic format.
Of the last 50,000 "hits" on journal papers, almost
half were from outside the UK.
3.4 FinanceWhile we support
the statements made in the ALPSP submission, we would wish to
add our own perspective. For us, journals are now a profitable
part of our enterprise (Note that several have their origins in
titles over a century old). Once established and successful (a
considerable caveat), journals are attractive financially
principally because of continuity (relatively stable from year
to year), and cash flow (on the prevailing economic model, much
of the income is received in advance of the associated costs being
incurred). This is only a part of our business, however. Part
of our rationale as a learned society publisher is to provide
a mix of product types (eg including books, magazines and now
web services) in furtherance of the subject and the profession.
This is also part of the art and science of being a publisher
(and this can apply equally well to commercial publishers)that
is, to be able to maintain a balanced portfolio of products as
an aid to overall stability. In other words, a balance helps ensure
that one type can help sustain another through difficult times.
Just a few years ago our technical magazines were our premium
product in terms of income and surplus (because of advertising
revenues). In such times, any surplus can in part be used to support
journal, book or electronic development, or even to moderate price
increases. The last two or three years have been quite different.
Being able to offer continuity of supply is important, and a mix
of products assists this. Thus it follows that treating just one
part of stm publishing in isolation risks unbalancing that portfolio.
In addition, as the ALPSP submission mentions,
we have to invest in product development, which both costs money
and carries risks. We recognise that many commercial publishers
have had, historically, an important role in backing projects
in new or interdisciplinary areas which might be eschewed by single
discipline learned societies. Sometimes these have resulted in
important new journals.
Many worthwhile journals from commercial and
learned society publishers serve specialist, interdisciplinary,
and relatively small communities. These journals will have low
circulations which can account, in some measure, for the disparity
in price between journals (since a relatively high fixed cost,
independent of circulation, is incurred no matter how high or
low the circulation).
Profit or surplus at PE Publishing is transferred
to the IMechE under covenant. This surplus is ploughed back into
the learned society and professional activities of the institution.
The rationale is that the society is, via its prestige, reputation
and skill, able to manage and develop a publishing operation for
the profession, by selling to those within the immediate engineering
community and outside (who can make use of this knowledge). Any
surplus gained by so doing can legitimately be used to further
enhance the operation of the Institution, and hence ensure its
4. On the specific questions posed by the
inquiry, we have a little to add to the extensive and comprehensive
replies by ALPSP. We would like to emphasise a few points:
What impact do publishers' current policies on
pricing and provision of scientific journals, particularly "big
deal" schemes, have on libraries and the teaching and research
communities they serve?
We would make two points:
Publishers and libraries alike recognise that the
traditional model, which has been under some strain for 30 years,
cannot be sustained indefinitely (ie reducing circulation leading
to higher-than-inflation pricing leading to further cancellations
and so on). Although we believe that restrictions in library funding
have exacerbated the problem, it nevertheless behoves all stakeholders
(eg authors, publishers, libraries and other intermediaries) to
experiment with new models. However, we do not believe experimentation
should be such as to warrant large centralised funding which would
have, as a central aim, the removal of any one of these stakeholders.
The "big deal" schemes have some merits,
but can become pernicious in two ways: (a) if they approach monopoly
or oligopoly pricing, such as to squeeze out legitimate small
to medium publishers (like PE Publishing). If special funds are
made available to finance big deals, small to medium publishers
are further, and illegitimately disadvantaged. (b) if they are
such as to allow no "market mechanism" to operate, and
that purchasers are effectively "locked into" a deal
in perpetuity. We would urge that any "special funding"
is conditional on a fair approach across a range of publishers.
What action should Government, academic institutions
and publishers be taking to promote a competitive market in scientific
To some extent our response to this is covered
by the response to Question 1 ie Government and government funded
institutions should encourage experimentation, but subject to
the caveat that it is not designed to facilitate removal of a
current stakeholder. In our view, any such removal, were it to
happen, should happen as a result of normal market forces.
Actions that promote choice are to be encouraged,
recognising that, given the international nature of the publishing,
that the effect of unilateral UK action is likely to be limited.
One example would be an explicit undertaking, in research grant
provision, that a proportion of funding can be used to support
publication, whether in not for profit or for profit journals.
Although PE Publishing is not currently engaged in Open-Access
(or "author pays") publishing, we recognise that it
has some merit, either alone or as part of a mix of models.
What are the consequences of increasing numbers
of open-access journals, for example for the operation of the
Research Assessment Exercise and other selection processes? Should
the Government support such a trend and, if so, how?
We agree with the ALPSP submission in that there
are, in principle, no reasons why publication in open-access peer
reviewed journals should be any less regarded for assessment.
However, simply because they are young, (and like any new journal
on the conventional model) there will often be no reliable method
of judging quality, and citation counts may be suspect. We would
not recommend the establishment of any specific guidelines or
codes of practice in their operation. Subjective assessment of
the quality of journals will inevitably remain a large factor.
Whether or not Government should support such
a trend is covered in our answer to Question 2.
How effectively are the Legal Deposit Libraries
making available non-print scientific publications to the research
community, and what steps should they be taking in this respect?
We agree with the ALPSP submission. It is a
moot point how effective Legal Deposit libraries should be in
making non-print scientific publications available. We support
the collection, preservation, and controlled access to non-print
publications. We believe that the type of unfettered and rapid
access to copyright materials which would undermine the operation
of the current publishing system would not only be detrimental
to publishers such as ourselves, but to the whole system of scholarship
What impact will trends in academic journal publishing
have on the risks of scientific fraud and malpractice?
The ALPSP submission points out that peer review
systems, although they have their faults, are the best (or least
bad!) system that we know, and are readily transferable to electronic
systems. It also correctly points out some of the uncertainties
associated with pre-print systems, but again points to the value
of the internet in facilitating the detection of plagiarism.
We agree with these points, but would like further
to point out that, with the internet, in economic jargon, "entry"
into the world of journals is much easier.
When much lower investment is involved in a
start-up, there is less risk, and this can promote "good"
innovation. At the same time, however, there becomes less inhibition
on plagiarism, passing off, and the publishing of false, wildly
inaccurate or just very shoddy or misleading work. It is in such
an environment that "brands" of high quality provide
a measure of protection, confidence and trusted safe havens. PE
Publishing and many other publishers provide such a brand. When
they are supported by organisations of known integrity and independence
(who may be commercial publishers or learned societies) this may
add further confidence. At the same time, the new environment
can foster new players who, over time, should establish their
legitimacy and reputation for quality.