Continuous Publishing: How Did We Get Here?

By:

Holly Koppel, Senior Managing Editor | ORCID: 0009-0005-7304-5271
Jennifer Parresol, ENV SP | ORCID: 0009-0005-9219-1741
American Society of Civil Engineers

Editor’s Note: This is the final post in a series of three covering different types of publishing workflows. The first focused on article-based publishing. The second discussed print and online aspects of Issue-based publishing, and this final post, describes the journey of one journal portfolio that tried multiple models before settling on continuous publication.

Take Home Points:

  • For a continuous publication model, articles are published directly into an issue, which allows authors to have a volume and issue number as soon as the article is published online.
  • Teamwork between departments involved in any new workflow is essential.
  • Listening to authors and editors will help you select the best publication model for your journal(s).

Since 2009 when the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) instituted the “Publish Ahead of Print” model, the ASCE Journals have been steadily moving to a new publishing model—article-based publishing, or “Issues in Progress.” In this model, instead of placing articles online in a “Just Released” section of the ASCE Library, articles are placed in “open” issues. Essentially this means that at any given time, an issue is “open” online where articles are placed until the issue closes and the next issue is opened. This allows authors to now have both the DOI and the volume and issue number of their article as soon as it is placed online. This is a big step forward for a society publisher, but how did we get here and what were the pain points of the various publishing models employed over the years? 

 

Publish Ahead of Print (PAP)

In 2009, under the direction of Melissa Junior, Director, the ASCE Journals program launched the “Publish Ahead of Print” model for articles. This was a baby step toward getting papers online faster by posting the uncopyedited manuscript online and then replacing it with the copyedited version after the article was published. We moved to this model after transitioning the journals from a paper-based peer-review system to an online system, Editorial Manager, and expanded our department with several new staff members. We worked closely with our production department to determine what their vendors needed to make this transition happen and solicited feedback at our annual Editor’s Workshop when we presented the proposal for this model.

 

Initially many of the authors and editors were pleased, but eventually we identified some drawbacks. One of the biggest issues was that after the paper was posted online, authors ceased to pay attention to page proofs. Extra staff time was expended to follow up with authors and, ultimately, this led to many retractions being issued to remove articles with no author response. Another drawback was that if there was an ethical issue with the article, it was still up online while investigations ensued and added to author anger over potential plagiarism cases. Despite these issues, and the production headaches (lack of author responses, retractions, etc.), ASCE continued with this model until 2013 when we moved to the “Single Article Publishing” (SAP) model.

 

Single Article Publishing (SAP)

In 2013, under the direction of Angela Cochran, Associate Publisher, ASCE abandoned the PAP model to SAP, and it was a game changer for the journals program. The SAP model eliminated many issues we encountered in the PAP model by publishing papers in a “Just Released” section of the ASCE Library where they were fully citable, searchable, and indexed. With this model, manuscripts were not published online until authors responded to page proofs, so retractions due to no author response were eliminated. To successfully move to this model, there were meetings held between Editorial and Production as well as with our compositors to ensure a smooth transition. Editorial staff were trained in how to respond to author queries, and the added task of having to schedule issues was removed from the process.

 

While authors and our editors were happy about the fact that articles would now be citable and indexed, other issues cropped up. The first problem we encountered was that to “publish” these articles without putting them in an issue, we removed the page numbers from articles and replaced them with Content IDs (CIDs) which allowed us to dynamically arrange the table of contents. Unfortunately, many authors were confused with how to format their references to account for this, and corrections and updates needed to be made very quickly to the ASCE Author Guide.

 

Our editors, happy about the improved time of publication, were unhappy that they were no longer involved in scheduling the issues or having any say over which articles were published in an issue. Additionally, this also led to unhappiness with guest editors of special collections because publication delays ensued. Special collections were previously set up to publish the issue when all manuscripts were accepted and ready; however, with SAP, it became more obvious that accepted articles would be sitting in the “Just Released” section for months waiting to be put in an issue while other manuscripts languished in peer review or with author corrections.

Despite this, ASCE soldiered on, and, in May 2017, we completed our transition to a continuous publication model. This model addressed the complaints from SAP and improved the process by allowing us to move from a “Just Released” section of the website to placing articles in an issue as they publish. As you can see from the graph below, our time to publication was reduced from 20 months (about one-and-a-half years) in 2008 to 10 months in 2023. While this is still not as fast as many authors would like, they now get a DOI as soon as the manuscript is accepted and, with continued improvements made by our production department, authors are getting their page proof much faster.

 

Figure 1. Time from submission to publication between Continuous publishing and Publish Ahead of Print publishing (publishing online and placed in an issue).

 

So far, the response from our authors and editors is very positive; however, our editors did have some reservations about moving to this model as it eliminated special issues in lieu of online collections. However, most editors have got on board with the special collections online and have embraced the flexibility of being able to add previous articles to a new collection and being able to have collections between journals. Now that we have had this model for a few years, ASCE is looking at other ways to decrease the time to publication including moving some journals to online only, increasing the frequency of some journals, and encouraging editors to keep a close eye on their acceptance rates in order to continue publishing high quality articles quickly without having authors waiting as issues open and close.

 

Lessons Learned

As the ASCE Journals program has moved from one publishing model to another, some of the lessons we have learned along the way are:

  • Teamwork is essential. For each new model, we partnered with our production department’s managers to ensure that workflows were created, new instructions written, and the author proof process was outlined, an ethical issue policy was clearly stated, and all vendors involved on the production end were given adequate time for the changeover. More recently, we’ve also incorporated ASCE’s Pub Tech team in discussions and planning in the latest move.
  • Communication: To make the changes in our publishing models, we needed to ensure we had buy-in from our editors as well. When we moved to “Publish Ahead of Print,” this change happened on the heels of our move from a paper-based processing system to the Editorial Manager peer review system. Our editors had already been through one major change and while it looked like Editorial Manager would improve turnaround times for the peer review, they clamored for shortened publication times after acceptance. Communication was a key component to making the change and getting their support.
  • Listening to feedback: Most important to any of these changes was listening to feedback from our authors. We knew based on what we heard at editorial board meetings and from status inquiries received by our coordinators that authors needed decisions on their manuscripts quickly and they needed to be able to show their articles were published in a specific issue. Publish Ahead of Print allowed them to be able to point to their un-copyedited article. Single Article Publishing gave them the ability to have the full version online, and now Issues in Progress finally gives authors the issue number to reference.


These three things—teamwork, communication, and listening to feedback from authors—have allowed ASCE to stay competitive in a marketplace where authors are always looking for the best place for their work that will garner them the most citations and recognition for their work. What will the next step be?  We’re listening to what our authors and editors tell us and looking toward the future.

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