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BPN Newsletter Issue No 23, October 1998 


REVIEW: A Handbook of Good Practice in Journal Publishing by Hans Zell.

Second revised edition. ISBN 085302085X 173pp appendices, index, 1998, International African Institute, London, and African Books Collective, Oxford, $63/35. Free within Africa to journal editors, publishers and other selected recipients. Distributed by African Books Collective

Salah Hassan

Salah Hassan is Assistant Professor of African Art History and Visual Culture in the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University History 310 Triphammer Road B10, Ithaca, New York, 14850-2599, USA. Tel+1 607 255 0528 Fax +1 607 255 0784, email:

What does it take to start and sustain publishing a successful journal? This is more than an academic query, for the answer to this question makes a difference between a thriving and a withering journal. Even in the best of times, journal publishing can be a daunting task; in inauspicious conditions the difficulties are multiplied. The economic crises that have affected much of Africa for the past two decades have drastically thinned the literary magazine and journal business. Against this backdrop, Hans Zell's book is welcome as it takes account of the economic downturn in Africa, the reduction of serial acquisition budgets of American and European libraries and other elements impinging on publishing. This book is one of very few worthy initiatives designed to help journal publishers in Africa.

In eleven chapters, Zell sets forth good practice in conceiving, initiating, producing and marketing successful journals. While factors like editorial standards, focus and sense of mission are important to the task of winning esteem for a journal, Zell's view is that the `success or failure of a new journal may well depend on how soundly its business and administrative side is handled, how carefully its operations are costed, how efficiently it manages to deal with its subscribers and with subscription agents, how effectively it is promoted to the library markets, and whether it will be able to sustain and adhere to a reasonably regular publication schedule' (p. xi).

The introductory chapter outlines a checklist of issues requiring consideration by anyone interested in starting a new journal to determine whether it `is soundly conceived and has a chance of succeeding' (p. 3). Subsequent chapters look in detail at subscription management, effective marketing and promotion, indexing and abstracting services, on-line databases, availability of and access to non-subscription revenue, financial control, and copyright licensing and copyright fees. Zell also looks at what the `electronic threat' - new developments in electronic document-delivery and publishing and other changes currently afoot - portends for African journal publishers.

The book contains an annotated bibliography of books, manuals and articles for further reading, and a glossary of terms in journal publishing and production. Its appendices include: model guidelines, model forms, samples of data entry forms for free publicity, a resource section with names and addresses of major subscription agents worldwide, and details of major review and publicity outlets for African journals.

This is a coherent book dealing with issues critically important to journal publishing. It is a comprehensive guide on how to get started, get connected and remain afloat in publishing scholarly periodicals and literary/cultural magazines. Although the author states that it `is not an attempt to be a definitive book on the business of journal publishing' (p. xii), it is undeniably a definitive road map for anyone interested or involved in journal publishing in the developing world and especially in Africa. And it is more than just a road map, for it goes beyond showing directions to pointing out ways to prepare for the journey, what to bring, how to pack light and effectively, how to drive defensively and make your presence felt, road bumps to avoid, where to look for and get gas in this long, arduous and often challenging journey of journal publishing.

As someone who started a journal without the aid of this valuable compendium, I can only imagine the headaches we would have been spared if we had had the opportunity to use the information in this book. Although it is intended for the novice the book is equally helpful to those who have already wet their feet in the water of publishing journals. It contains information such as that about marketing journals on the Internet, that can easily be grafted to strengthen existing journals.

The book is highly recommended for those interested in or involved in publishing journals in the developing world.

Reviewer's note: I wish to acknowledge the valuable help of my research assistant, Matthew Ibeike-Jonah, in reviewing this book. [end] [BPN, no 23, 1998, pp 17.]

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