Authors are the lifeblood of publishing – no matter the industry – and scholarly publishing is clearly no exception.  Unless your publication is 100% commissioned content, part of your focus must be on attracting and keeping submissions from researchers in your field.

Understanding what motivates those submission decisions feeds into nearly all publisher processes from how we architect our submission and peer review processes, to the systems we use to disseminate and provide access to content, and, of course, to how we engage with and speak to the author community.

There are some universals we all have in mind when thinking about our authors and what motivates them, such as Impact Factor, Reputation, and Fit.  But there are many other aspects, too, and they can be unique to your publication.  Do your authors want a broad audience to see their research because they’re looking to build collaborations across disciplines? Or a targeted community because they’re looking to build their brand within their discipline? Are your researchers embracing preprints…hesitant…adamantly opposed…or all three, depending on career stage or region? To what degree do these items figure into the submission decisions made by your authors and prospective authors, or even more importantly, varying segments of these authors, and why?  And what else is on their mind when they decide where to submit?

Surveys are a great tool for gathering information and data from large sets of customers and most of us use this easy and effective tool to gauge our overarching value.  They can give you the big picture…the most likely, the highest and lowest rated, the averages.  If done regularly, they allow you to compare progress over time as well. But surveys can only go so far in understanding author behavior. They can tell you “what,” but they can’t tell you “why.”

On the other hand, talking to researchers in an organized manner can uncover a wealth of information about the motivation behind the behavior – the “why.”

In conducting research with authors over the past few years, we’ve seen these nuances in motivations between audience segments and specialties play out first hand, as we talked with researchers across a number of disciplines.  For example, in one field where Impact Factor was thought to be an impenetrable submission decision factor, talking with researchers told the publisher their mid-career researchers were not quite as driven by this metric as they thought –

“Impact factor is important, but it only tells you so much. For example, journals that have a high impact factor are usually broader, not necessarily good. Lower impact journals can be great, they are just focused on one field.”

In another discipline, USA researchers were thought to be ambivalent about Open Access, but in talking to researchers they were able to uncover specific use cases they could build on –

“…I was [working] at the White House, [and] there was no subscription. It restricted the types of articles I could forward to policy folks … Many of the times I had to resort to open access papers or traditionally open access journals.”

And views from their early career researchers on APC prices that uncovered concerns beyond funding –

“…OA helps people access content, but the charges are an issue…It makes the content exclusive to those who can afford to publish there.”

Understanding these researcher motivations helps publishers identify everything from business strategies to product and service development to positioning and messaging that will resonate with their customers and better serve their communities.

So, what motivates your researchers?  You may want to talk with them to find out.