From the very beginning we tried to design FQS by combining traditional publishing strategies and innovative strategies, arising from the use of the Internet.
Traditional strategies: ensuring quality
Whenever a target group of a journal is not limited to just one country or just one (sub) discipline, it must be secured that the respective scientific infrastructures and researchers—often organized on a national/disciplinary level—are addressed in a way, with representatives, and in a language close to the standards and habits the respective (sub) cultures are familiar with. So FQS needed an editorial board, prominent on an international level. Peer review and copy-editing by native speakers must be organized for English, German, and Spanish articles. Depending on the kind of submissions articles are either double-blind peer reviewed by external reviewers or reviewed by two independent issue or rubric editors.Footnote 12
Innovative strategies: electronic publishing
Usage of the Internet for scientific publishing has opened up various advantages compared to print journals, including the speed of publishing, flexible place resources (no page constraints etc.) and possibilities of combining different media (text, audio, video) and text types (for example providing primary data and information about the research process like field notes, research diaries, etc., in addition to the article itself).
Furthermore, the Internet provided new ways of disseminating knowledge, a practice FQS gave attention to from the very beginning: News about new articles/FQS issues were posted to various international mailing lists, information about FQS was included for example in the Open Directory,Footnote 13 a project Google used while staring the own services. Therefore FQS’ rankings in search engines are rather high, whether one looks for specific keywords or uses services like the Google Page Ranking.Footnote 14 Using Internet media proactively also had consequences for traditional publishing strategies: FQS received EBSCO Publishing’s attention, and a license agreement was signed to include the FQS full texts in SocINDEX;Footnote 15 the International Bibliography of the Social SciencesFootnote 16 and others asked for indexing FQS abstracts—a German print journal would have been hardly visible in a comparable way for such actors.
Innovative strategies: open access
It is difficult to imagine possible consequences in the case FQS would not have been free of charge: While starting FQS, our German target group(s) were not familiar with the Internet, partly we experienced reservation against new media (see Mruck and Mey 2001 for a summary). So with regard to the German market, a traditional way of publishing (print) at that time would have had some advantages. But having the Anglo-American market in mind, FQS would not have been able to fulfill its genuine claims (internationalizing, transdisciplinary exchange), and within the German market FQS would have started in competition to two other qualitative journals—“Zeitschrift für Qualitative Bildungs-, Beratungs-und Sozialforschung” and “Sozialer Sinn. Zeitschrift für hermeneutische Sozialforschung”, both starting in 2000 as print journals under the umbrella of publishing houses. The way open access influences the visibility of journals is evident in Fig. 3, comparing these two German print journals to FQS, “The Qualitative Report” and two further international open-access journals: the “International Journal of Qualitative Methods” was launched 2003 in Canada, the “Qualitative Sociology Review” started 2005 in Poland.
Only because FQS is available free of charge, a growing number of researchers came to knew about the journal and joint its development: by participating in the editorial team or editorial board, by serving as reviewers, copy-editors or translators, by representing FQS during international conferences etc. Their engagement vice versa helped to improve the publicity, attractiveness and reputation of FQS, probably an important pre-condition for receiving funds from German Research Foundation up from 2001, which again helped to improve technology and in this way minimized the editorial work.
The extent to which the open access character of FQS helped German authors to worldwide disseminate their research findings is shown in Fig. 4, presenting access data between 2000 and 2006 for three articles: the first one deals with an analysis procedure (content analysis) of principal interest beyond the respective disciplinary scope, the second one describes the state of qualitative research within one sub discipline (qualitative developmental psychology), and the third serves as an example for articles, addressed to a limited field of research (involuntary childless marriages).
Figure 4 demonstrates the tendency of increased accesses in course of time in the case of open access, a tendency also continuing in 2007, as for example the article on qualitative content analysis with all in all 171,322 accesses between 2000 and 2006 had been accessed/downloaded additionally 26,946 times between January and May 2007. Results like those reported above may indicate that it might be attractive for publishers to make available electronic copies from print journals to a wide audience at least after a short embargo time to improve the publicity and acceptance of the own products, a strategy the “Social Science Open Access Repository” (SSOAR) invites interested publishers and journals to.Footnote 17
Authors immediately experience the visibility of their work, published in FQS: Within a survey, currently undertaken to explore the use of FQS, less than 20% of the authors mentioned no feedback after having published in FQS, the others reported citations of their work in online and print media, having been invited to conferences or to participate in other journals or book projects, having been contacted by colleagues and even—in a few cases—having received job offers or research assignments. Additionally, we continuously receive requests for reprints of articles, originally published in FQS in print journals or international handbooks; within the rubric FQS Reviews cooperation with various German and international publishers was arranged.Footnote 18
Beyond the scope of a journal …
Already in its very beginning FQS claimed a forum character that is providing publishing, information and communication facilities alike. But we soon had to learn that potentials of scientific exchange, arising from the Internet and its media, not necessarily mean that such potentials are used. In the case of FQS, this reservation partly may have been due to an antiquated technology used in the beginning, new tools for commenting articles directly are in preparation and it will be seen in the future if an improved technology will be more attractive to support also discursive practices. So we established tools complementary to the journal: Following the example of QUALRS-L, in 1999 we initiated the mailing list QSF-LFootnote 19 as an electronic information and communication forum for German language qualitative research. QSF-L today is the most important list in the field of German language qualitative research with more than 800 subscribers and about 40 postings per month. But still discussion plays a subordinate role, compared to information requests. One consequence was the idea that the Internet and its tools for synchronic and asynchronic communication might be supportive for research endeavors within smaller groups with a closer shared interest. Since 2001, we additionally have started the “NetzWerkstatt”, a collaborative Internet research platform especially for students, undergoing their PhD: within the NetzWerkstatt currently four groups of 8–10 researchers work together, partly supervised by the NetzWerkstatt-team, partly organizing their work in peer groups (Mey et al. 2006). While developing the NetzWerkstatt we recognized a need also for offline meetings, accompanying the everyday online exchange. So we initiated an annual conference “Berliner Methodentreffen Qualitative Forschung”, combining lectures, workshops, poster and resources sessions, panel discussion etc. Starting 2005, it needed only three years that the Berliner Methodentreffen became the most prominent German language meeting for qualitative researchers (see Mey et al. 2006, for details about the concept and about evaluation results of the conference).
Within this ensemble of linked resources FQS just has been the starting point and still is the most prominent example. Most of the colleagues participating in the annual meeting learned about the conference by information, disseminated in FQS and QSF-L. Selected articles from the Berliner Methodentreffen are published in FQS and linked back from there to the archive of the Berliner Methodentreffen, containing texts, posters, video and audio files. So around these resources a community was successively built, which in a next step probably will participate in the benefits from the so called “green” way of open access publishing—to deposit preprints and postprints from articles, published in print journals, in open access repositories—after having been familiar with the “golden” way (publishing in an open-access journal) for some years: The Social Science Open Access Repository (SSOAR) will be a new crystallization point for qualitative researchers, providing, accessing and sharing their knowledge with others worldwide. It is just this sharing—giving and taking—which was in the center of our idea of “prosuming”, of consuming and producing at the same time we invited our readers to while starting FQS in 2000.