I’ve been meaning to write for a while about the new journal from the Nature stable – Nature Nanotechnology (there’s complete free web access to this first edition). I’ve written before about the importance of scientific journals in helping relatively unformed scientific fields to crystallise, and the fact that this journal comes with the imprint of the very significant “Nature” brand means that the editorial policy of this new journal will have a big impact on the way the field unfolds over the next few years.
Nature is, of course, one of the two rivals for the position as the most important and influential science publication in the world. Its US rival is Science. While Science is published by the non-profit American Association for the Advancement of Science, Nature, for all its long history, is a ruthlessly commercial operation, run by the British publishing company Macmillan. As such, it has been recently expanding its franchise to include a number of single subject journals, starting with biological titles like Nature Cell Biology, moving into the physical sciences with Nature Materials and Nature Physics, and now adding Nature Nanotechnology. Given the fact that just about everybody is predicting the end of printed scientific journals in the face of web-based preprint servers and open access models, how, one might ask, do they expect to make money out of this? The answer is an interesting one, in that it is to emphasise some old-fashioned publishing values, like the importance of a strong editorial hand, the value of selectivity and the role of design and variety. These journals are nice physical objects, printed on paper of good enough quality to read in the bath, and they have a thick front section, with general interest articles and short reviews, in addition to the highly selective selection of research papers at the back of the journal. What the subscriber pays for (and their marketing is heavily aimed at individual subscribers rather than research libraries) is the judgement of the editors in selecting the handful of outstanding papers in their field each month. It seems that the formula has, in the past, been successful, at least to the extent that the Nature journals have consistently climbed to the top of their subject league tables in the impact of the papers they publish.
So how is Nature Nanotechnology going about defining its field? This is an interesting question, in that at first sight there looks to be considerable overlap with existing Nature group journals. Nature Materials, in particular, has already emerged as a leading journal in areas like nanostructured materials and polymer electronics, which are often included in wider definitions of nanotechnology. It’s perhaps too early to be making strong judgements about editorial policies yet, but the first issue seems to have a strong emphasis on truly nanoscale devices, with a
I should declare an interest, in that I have signed up to write a regular column for Nature Nanotechnology, with my first piece to appear in the November edition. The editor is clearly conscious enough of the importance of new media to give me a contract explicitly stating that my columns shouldn’t also appear on my blog.