Olli Sotamaa – Some Ideas about Academic Publishing Strategies

Publishing the results of your research is certainly a key activity for any research centre. Typically, a publishing strategy is mentioned to be an important tool in managing your publishing activities. At its simplest, a publishing strategy includes a list of prioritized publication forums, a bit of timeline and some ideas of how to disseminate the published results. In the following, I will briefly discuss some publishing-related issues we have encountered within the past couple of years and how having one strict publishing strategy has proved to be somewhat challenging to achieve.

Similar to most academic environments these days, the Centres of Excellences are facing some expectations from the hosting institutions and funders. Finnish universities are tied to a performance-based funding model that incentivizes specific publication policies. I will spare you from the details of the local publication forum classification, but in most cases the rating system prioritizes ‘top-tier journals’ with high ’impact factors’.

Since the CoE has several key research themes, the publishing strategy has been twofold from the beginning. On the one one hand, our research contributes especially to the key discussion in the field of game studies. In terms of publications, this means established journals like Game Studies, Games and Culture, International Gambling Studies, or Simulation and Gaming, but also emerging venues like Analog Game Studies, International Journal of Play, or ROMChip: A Journal of Game Histories to mention but a few venues our researchers have contributed to in the past couple of years.

On the other hand, CoE researchers have published e.g. in the following key venues outside the immediate core of game studies: Convergence, Computers in Human Behaviour, Digital Health, International Journal of Cultural Policy, International Journal of Cultural Studies, International Journal of Heritage Studies, International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, Journal of Business Research, Journal of Popular Culture, Media, Culture & Society, New Media & Society, Technology and Culture, and Television and New Media. And this is just a quickly selected list of some key journals, not mentioning for example book chapters and conference publications at all.

The list above highlights how our work can have a contribution to various fields ranging from business and technology to health and psychology, and from education and policy to art and history. The idea of diversity is, however, not limited to the research themes, but it needs to be extended also to forms of writing and publishing.

While any researcher representing a Centre of Excellence is obviously expected to publish their work in high profile publication channels, established top-tier journals can sometimes have a relatively restricted understanding of the forms of scholarship they approve. For example methods-wise, some channels appear not very welcoming for any kind of “non-traditional” approaches. In other words, if you want to publish in these venues, you often need to closely follow an established formula dictated by the traditions of the journal.

Since we want to encourage various kinds of research – both “traditional” and “non-traditional” – we have often advised researchers to submit their work where it matters. This means identifying the key discussions your work can contribute to. Often it helps to check out where the acknowledged scholars in your field publish their work. In some cases, established journals are the way to go. In other cases, finding the right workshop or symposium or targeting an entirely new or less traditional publication fora can have significantly more impact. Sometimes the most important discussions take place in surprising venues.

In the age of “top publication lists” and “research impact metrics”, I feel that it is important to argue for bibliodiversity. Instead of solely aiming for maximized audiences or “citability”, applying ideas of cultural diversity to publishing helps us enhance the impact of our work. As much as we want our research to connect to the ‘wicked problems’ of society and the key disciplinary discussions, it also needs to be locally relevant. While excellence in research is in most cases connected to English-language publishing these days, it is as important to address national and regional audiences in their own languages.

“The institutional strategies and scholar’s individual priorities may not always be aligned.”

So far the CoE researchers have, for example, organized a Finnish-language studia generalia lecture series and are now finalizing a textbook based on it. Also the editorial board of Pelitutkimuksen vuosikirja, The Finnish Yearbook of Game Studies, consists solely of CoE researchers. Following this line of reasoning, we have encouraged people to publish in their respective native languages. Individual researchers have also worked to strengthen our connections for example to the French-speaking and Spanish-speaking games studies communities.

Finally, it is also a fact the centre hosts researchers from three different universities. Every university has its own strategies, research agendas, focus areas and publishing policies and the local research groups have their own histories and priorities. Besides, the institutional strategies and scholar’s individual priorities may not always be aligned. Taking all this into account, it would be harmful to have a publishing strategy that delimits researchers’ choices too strictly. Instead, we have found it important to cherish transparency.

When discussing the publishing related issues within the CoE, it has been central to document the different processes that have led to selected agendas. In early 2021, we published an open access strategy that not only aims at increasing the transparency of our key research processes, but also highlights the diversity of research outputs we value. In the past few months, our researchers have worked on authorship attribution guidelines that aim at making it transparent how authorship is determined and acknowledged within the CoE. In our recruitment, we have followed the DORA principles and instead of using simple quantitative publishing metrics to measure the applicants’ achievements, we have aimed at more holistic assessment of research outputs.

In conclusion, it would be foolish to have a publishing strategy that aims only at maximizing the quantity of publications. At the same time, focusing solely on established high-profile journals would be limiting as we also need to address new venues open to experimental and controversial research openings. All in all, instead of having a “one size fits all” solution for publishing, we’ve found it crucial to evaluate key contributions as part of everyone’s overall development as a scholar. This may not be the quickest strategy to grow our research group or the most effective way to collect academic honours, but to us it has been an effective way to make sure that our work matters.