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An Exposure Epiphany

A few years back, not long after The Ophthalmologist had launched, I had an epiphany about exposure. Before entering publishing, I had spent years working as a medical writer (mostly in cardiology), and part of my job involved delivering the publication plan of our pharmaceutical company client. To do this, we had access to a database called JournalSelector, which listed journal Impact Factor, audience type, rejection rate and crucially, readership numbers. You considered all of those variables, and came up with ranked list of three target journals. You agreed this with the client, then went and developed the manuscripts.

But the JournalSelector data was fascinating. In terms of Impact Factor, here were very few superstar general medical journals – like the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine, a smattering of mid-range journals, and the rest fell into a low-impact long tail. It was the same story with audience numbers; the vast majority in the long tail had readerships of a few hundred – even some of the open-access ones. While the primary manuscripts that reported trial data or experimental work went into relevant journals (it was good work, after all), the plethora of supporting review manuscripts went wherever we could get them. Many were behind paywalls – meaning the chances of any physician actually reading them were slim; the only collateral for the client was a reprint for their sales reps to carry.

But even then, open-access journals were preferred – even if this meant paying fairly large fees to make the article free to read online. But if the journal had a circulation of a few hundred to the low thousands, who would ever read it in print? What would be the chances someone would discover and download it on PubMed? Not great.

My epiphany was this: magazines like The Ophthalmologist have, relative to most of those journals, a massive print audience (ours is currently 18,000 just in Europe). We aren’t constrained by the formats of journals, and a team of graphic designers sits on the floor above me, ready to illustrate an illuminating concept, or work a crafty design concept into someone’s feature. The text can be more conversational – and I believe, more readable because of this. We aren’t behind a paywall, and we’re readable on any internet-connected device. Those barriers that stop people reading almost every review article I ever “provided medical writing assistance” on just aren’t there.

If you’re reading this, I understand why you need to publish your work and reviews in journals with Impact Factors - initiatives like the Research Excellence Framework base part of their ranking of you and your institute on this. But if you have something you actually want read by your peers… my email address is on the masthead. 

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Mark Hillen

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