I am trying to understand better the factors that affect the decisions of journal editors (re: publication). I am not interested in strategies to boost my chances of publication, rather I want to understand explicit policies and objectives that incentivize publication choices. Since policies differ between journals and regions, I am interested in examples of how editors' objectives translate into policy in western European/American-based journals, e.g.:

  • Is the goal of an editor to maximize impact factor? If so, are editors who facilitate publication of work that becomes highly cited recognized or awarded in some way, or are other strategies used by the editorial board to pursue this goal?
  • Is the goal of an editor to have a large throughput? If so, are editors subject to throughput quotas? If not, does this create tension in journals with APC's that have budgets to meet?
  • Do the motivations differ between editors and publishers? If so, what kind of journal policies result from these tensions?
  • 3
    I hope and suspect that editors of (reputable) journals want to publish papers appropriate in content and level for the readers. I doubt that considerations of impact factor and throughput matter. Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 16:00
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    Work is cited after it's published, so how do you "facilitate publication of highly cited work"? Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 16:02
  • And print journals are pretty restricted in "throughput". Pages cost real money.
    – Buffy
    Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 16:04
  • @AzorAhai-him- I meant work that goes on to become highly cited - I've clarified this. Though perhaps in fields where preprints are common this clarification isn't needed (for example, an editor facilitates publication of a work with a highly cited preprint)
    – forky40
    Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 16:39
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    Prediction is hard. Especially if it is about the future. (stolen, but I don't remember from whom) Ah, research: quoteinvestigator.com/2013/10/20/no-predict
    – Buffy
    Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 17:01

2 Answers 2


I can add my two cents as an associate editor of some journal: In this specific journal there are no objectives of the editor-in-chief that are communicated to the associate editors (really,none at all). Hence, I think that all associate editors follow their own incentives. Speaking just for myself, I can say that I accept any paper for which the topic fits the scope of the journal and for which the reviewers recommend acceptance. There are no other factors involved.

I should add that I am associate editor only for a short time and haven't participated in any editorial board meetings. It may well be that the board discusses objectives of the journal at such meetings…

  • Agree completely (I served on editorial boards of 3 journals, for over 15 years, currently just 1). Commented Mar 12, 2023 at 19:27

The personal motivation for becoming an editor are based on prestige and service to the community.

The primary goals of a journal depend on the publisher. Learned societies including e.g. ACM and IEEE in engineering or the Royal Society are intent on the spread of science and engineering, help their members e.g. by providing publication outlets, and their own prestige, whereas commercial established editors look for revenue by establishing a journal as a brand. Some newer editors forego the establishment of a brand.

Publishing can be extremely profitable as university libraries have to provide access to publications. With the exception of predatory publishers and commercial editors who maximize short-term profit, the goal is to have a product that is prestigious enough that their main customers, i.e. university libraries, just have to buy their product.

To build a brand, a journal needs to contain sought-after articles. A good journal enjoys a virtuous circles. By having already published good articles, the journal attracts authors with good articles who prefer the name recognition of the journal to other outlets. This makes it more likely for libraries to subscribe to the journal, which gives it also more recognition among potential authors. By specialization, a new journal might find both an audience and a group of authors.

In the short term, an editor has to fill the journal with good quality articles justifying the subscription fees. Over the last decades, the costs of adding one page to a journal has gone down, which takes away one big reason for limiting the size and number of articles published. However, a journal that accepts just about everything will lose prestige and no longer attract good authors. The quality of editing and reviewing also enters the picture. Bad reviewing and having articles retracted as a consequence is a big loss of prestige.

In the last decades, informal renomée has been replaced with bibliometric measures such as impact factor. These are more important for the less prestigious journals and are also the target for "gaming the system".

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