published in Marketing Educator, vol. 12 (Winter 1993): p. 1, 3.
Herbert Rotfeld
Department of Marketing
Auburn University, Alabama
What if the American Marketing Association continued to "publish" a journal, such as the Journal of Marketing Research, but stopped printing any new issues? Manuscripts would still be reviewed, revisions required and acceptance letters issued to lucky scholars, but no copies would be printed. Instead, reprints would be sold to the authors to give to friends, colleagues and promotion and tenure committees.

How many of the non-libraries in the 8,000 plus copies of circulation would notice? Would many people care?

Faculty members would still have publications to list on their vita. It would still count as a valuable "publication" for promotion or tenure.

At a conference, I listened while a nearby department head lectured a faculty member about where the young man must publish his research if he is to have any hopes of tenure. To this senior faculty member, a journal whose name I had never heard before was the only one he felt was worth seeing on a vita.

Maybe it was an outstanding journal. Maybe the 1,300 plus circulation I later looked up were all scholars who enjoyed reading it (though publishers' statements do not say how many copies go to libraries). But that is not the point.

Do we publish to be read, or do we publish just to publish? To hear some people talk of publication records, an accepted article is an end unto itself.

Only through friends did I later learn that the lecturing senior faculty member was a department head. Of him I knew nothing. On the other hand, the younger faculty member had published research papers in Journal of Advertising, Journal of Advertising Research and an essay I recently read in Advertising Age. His name tag I recognized. He wrote research I found interesting in journals dealing with those types of topics.

But isn't that the point. How many faculty collect journals unread?

In Impostors in the Temple, Martin Anderson relates that every senior economist can quickly assert the identity of the "best" economics journal. But when asked to name the most interesting article read in the last year, they would hedge, and mutter and finally admit they had "fallen behind" in their reading. I have repeated his experiment with marketing faculty with the same result, finding readership high only among the recent doctoral graduates (but then, they had to read the journals to pass comprehensive exams). Publish we must, but how many people actually read those journals.

A colleague once told me he regularly reads a non-AMA publication that he feels is the best journal. "May I borrow a recent copy?" I asked.

"I don't subscribe," he said. "I just read it." Interestingly, however, he did not know of anyone in the department who subscribed. And no copies were on the shelf in the university library for the preceding two years.

How does he read it?

Journal of Marketing is generally recognized as the top journal in marketing, with a circulation around 13,000. Also "important" are Journal of Marketing Research (circulation around 8,000) and Journal of Consumer Research (circulation around 3,100). I am told these are "important" publications. Other journals have adherents, such as Marketing Science or Journal of Advertising, each with circulation between 1-3,000.

But colleagues often relate that most of their journal-inspired mail requests copies or reprints, not comments on the ideas. A series of provocative articles in Newsday, Advertising Age, the Chicago Tribune or the Washington Post will be read by millions and could engender more mail than you might be able to answer. But they are worthless for tenure, promotion or merit pay. Some faculty tell me their departments count books as a negative.

For tenure or promotion, you must have the right mix of articles in the "right" journals listed, regardless of whether or not any of the senior faculty sitting in judgment might ever find those same journals interesting enough to read. That is why the candidate must provide a file or notebook with copies of everything ever written.

Anyone who has been writing for a while has published articles that engender comments, or so we hope. Yet for this same scholar, other papers, maybe even in the same journals, become obscure so quickly, even friends do not know they are there. I once asked a marketing faculty member about an article he had published two years earlier and he did not even recall that it existed, that he was senior author, or that it was in Journal of Advertising. (Now that was a really obscure article!)

The best journals for any faculty member are, for the most part, those that regularly publish research that a given faculty member likes to read. And we hope that a good scholar will attempt to publish new research in popular and well-regarded journals in their particular area of interest.

But sometimes a journal might be more recognized than read.

Back at the conference, I might have been listening to an administrator who no longer does research, telling the younger person that the best research is what the head would be doing (if he was doing research). The department head might no longer even read the journal -- if he considers his readership of years gone by as "regular," it could have ceased publication for all he knows -- but he wants to see the journal listed on a vita before he would support a faculty member for tenure.

The faculty member already published research, but then, I was interested in the subject and the department head was not.

I guess this would all seem a tad deranged if you never met anyone who no longer does research but gives "points" for acceptance letters from the "right" journals. Maybe you should try Martin Anderson's experiment for yourself.

Or maybe we should just say we want faculty to be productive scholars, producing interesting research and writing papers that other scholars interested in the same topics like to read.

Are you getting angry with me? You could write a strong reply to the editor. Or maybe you will write to me directly, or make a phone call. But if this manuscript gets a reaction, remember, this publication is Marketing Educator and it does not count one whit toward promotion or my next pay raise.