RFP’s for Publishing Services

Whether you are an association, society, or publisher, the chances are that engagement with outside vendors is an important part of achieving your business objectives. Your Request for Proposals (RFP) is key to helping you identify the perfect partner. However, when it comes to developing a successful RFP, one size does not fit all. This is the first in a series of posts from Maverick with tips, advice, pitfalls to avoid, and other helpful information for scholarly publishing gleaned from our years of helping clients build successful strategic alliances.

This first installment is geared toward associations and societies and examines the process of negotiating publishing service agreements – from identifying your goals through the steps for assessing and selecting the right publisher. Forthcoming posts will cover RFPs for production services, such as workflow and content management, and conclude with platform hosting.

Subscription Models Are Changing

The evolving publishing landscape is having a profound effect on business models for many associations and societies. From the “big deal” to open access and evolving transformative agreements, these trends are prompting scholarly publishers to re-evaluate their options for journal publishing.

The result is a gradual shift in focus by publishers away from the subscription model and traditional forms of generating revenue and, in turn, how they share that revenue with associations whose journals they publish. These factors emphasize the need for societies and associations to carefully consider entering into or renewing publishing service agreements.

Get a Head Start

Maverick recommends starting the RFP process early – well before the contract renewal date – with an objective analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the journal program. Early planning is also important for self-publishing societies that are considering a partnership with a commercial publisher. Advance planning can help focus on areas that could be strengthened before the RFP stage is under way. Factors to consider in this assessment include the following:

  • Submissions: Are they increasing, decreasing, or holding steady? Would the journal benefit from a targeted approach to increasing submissions or focusing on specific geographic areas?
  • Reach: Does your journal have broad representation internationally and in developing as well as developed countries?
  • Acceptance/rejection rates: Are you peer reviewing manuscripts that are eventually published elsewhere? Could you find a home for them in a new journal?
  • Impact factor: Is it a strength and could you do things to improve it?
  • Revenue: What are the various sources of revenue and how has this changed over a 3-year period? Do you rely on subscription revenue and, if so, is it a part of a bundled “big deal?”
  • Open Access: How much is your journal program at risk from Plan S? Are you in compliance with funding mandates, including those for open data and copyright? Are your authors at risk of losing funding or your journal at risk of losing authors? Is your hybrid journal on a path to be transformative and eventually open access? Do you have the volume and infrastructure to support an open access journal?
  • Contractual terms: Does it provide for the things that are important for the journal, such as editorial office support, peer review, and editorial board meetings?
  • Infrastructure: Does the Editorial Board reflect broad geographic and expertise areas?
  • Diversity: What measures are in place to ensure diversity, equity, and inclusiveness among authors, peer reviewers, and the editorial board?

Conducting an inventory of strengths and weaknesses can help identify negotiating points as well as areas for possible improvement. It can help ensure you are on the best possible terms for a potential publishing partner, including your existing one.

Associations and societies may be in a variety of situations with regard to publishing their journals:

  • Self-publishing but wishing to explore working with a publishing partner
  • Currently working with a partner and considering a change
  • Exploring the sale of a journal or an entire program

These issues are significant to scholarly publishers, whose organizations often rely on the income from the journals program. It is worth exploring all of these options when considering a change, and the guidance of a professional can be helpful in pointing out the potential benefits and pitfalls.

Develop a Strong RFP

Following are next steps should the decision be made to pursue a partner through a publishing service agreement:

  • Interact with journal stakeholders (society leadership, editors, editorial board) to determine their vision and priorities for the journal or portfolio
  • Develop a list of potential publishers
  • Create a thorough RFP with supporting documentation

The RFP should provide sufficient detail to enable the publisher to honestly and accurately assess the journal and its potential within the context of its list and resources. Following are the types of information that are typically included:

  • Subscriptions: Personal/institutional/member; print and online; geographic distribution
  • Submissions, acceptances, published issues (including special issues, supplements)
  • Financial information on all sources of revenue

The RFP should outline a proposed timeline, including a due date for responses and time for analyzing results, vetting candidates, and negotiating terms. It should also include a basic migration plan for switching to a new publisher. In the event of a transition, a project management team should be assigned to finalize and implement the plan. This is especially important if a platform migration is involved. Your publishing partner should have a team in place to aid in the transition.

Selecting the right publisher for your journal or portfolio is a key decision for any scholarly society. A publishing service agreement is a long-term relationship, and the partner you work with should be a trusted advisor that understands your organization, its culture, and the editorial team. Starting early, identifying your objectives, and creating an RFP that represents the best interests of your organization will get you the best results.

Learn more about how Maverick can help with negotiation of your journal publishing service agreement here.

By Rebecca Rinehart, CEO and Head of US Operations

Maverick CEO, Rebecca Rinehart is a publishing professional with over 40 years of experience in all aspects of scientific, technical, and medical publishing across books, journals, periodicals, and digital. She is the former publisher of American Psychiatric Publishing, a division of the American Psychiatric Association, and the world’s leading publisher on psychiatry, mental health, and behavioral science. Her other prior experience includes senior level positions overseeing publications at The Endocrine Society, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and Harper & Row Publishers.