We all know that publishing is hard (i.e., very competitive), especially in accounting (Swanson 2004; Wood 2016). Still, I feel that many academics, especially younger ones like myself do not grasp the full extent of this competiveness. As I will show in this blog, the sheer number of accounting researchers trying to publish in (top) accounting journals outnumbers the number of available “slots” in such journals many times. This provides a rather gloomy prospect for young researchers (especially those outside the US) hoping to publish in these journals. As I will further argue, this does however not mean that we should quit doing research, but it does mean that we should stop being preoccupied with just a few out of many journals.
The number of accounting researchers
How many accounting researchers are there, in the US, in Europe, in the world? This simple question is hard to answer, but I estimate the minimum to be 12,000 accounting academics worldwide. According to the EAA membership directory, there are currently 1,575 EAA members from European countries (as not all accounting academics in Europe are members of the EAA, this is a lower bound of the true number of accounting academics in Europe). The AAA Accounting Faculty Directory (http://www.accountingfacultydirectory.org) provides information about accounting faculty worldwide, but is far from comprehensive in terms of coverage of non-US faculty (e.g., it does not list any researchers for Brazil while the EAA has 50 members from Brazil; and neither I, nor any of my Belgian colleagues, are included). Nevertheless, it provides a useful indication of the number of accounting faculty in the US (approximately 8,155) and a minimum estimate of accounting faculty outside the US (743 Australian and New Zealand accounting researchers, 588 Canadian accounting researchers, 237 Chinese accounting researchers, and 762 accounting researchers in the rest of the world).
Of course, to the extent that not all accounting faculty aspires to publish, the actual number of people trying to publish in (top) accounting journals would be lower than my estimated 12,000. Looking at the BYU Accounting Rankings (http://www.byuaccounting.net/), there are 3,204 people who have co-authored at least one publication over the past 6 years in a limited set of just 12 accounting journals (TAR, JAR, JAE, CAR, AOS, RASt, AJPT, BRIA, JIS, JMAR, JATA, IAE). It seems reasonable to consider this to be the absolute lower bound of the number of people that try to publish in (top) accounting journals. I would consider this to be a lower bound because, in addition to these 3,204 people that actually published in any of these 12 journals during the past 6 years, there are undoubtedly (a lot of) people that are currently attempting to publish in accounting journals that did not publish anything in any of these 12 journals during the past 6 years (both new faculty as well as existing faculty – for example, there is an author not included in these 3,204 people although he clearly counts as someone who publishes accounting research: he published in CAR in 2018 and multiple times in AOS and CAR before 2012, while in between publishing in fine journals such as AAAJ, CPA, and others not indexed by BYU).
The number of accounting papers in “major” journals
The chances of getting your research published in an accounting journal of course does not only depend on the number of “competitors”, but also on the number of “slots” available within the journals you are hoping to publish in (and of course the quality of your research – but I do not consider that issue here). How many “slots” do the (major) journals have? For this, I had a look at the number of papers published in 2017. Although it is true at most institutions that not any publication counts, there does not exist one worldwide agreed upon classification of journals. Different rankings exist, so let us have a look at the most well-known of them:
TAR, JAR, JAE, CAR, AOS, and RASt are the 6 journals typically considered as the most prestigious ones (e.g., included in the Financial Times’ FT Research rank). Some schools are even more restrictive in what they count as “A” publications and consider only 3 or 4 of them to be “top” journals. In 2017, these 6 journals published only 286 papers (i.e., original research articles, so not counting discussions or editorials). Of course, research is teamwork, so there are more than 286 people who can say that they published in one of these 6 journals in 2017: an average accounting paper nowadays has 2.6 co-authors (see Lohmann & Eulerich 2017; Wood 2016). However, this does not imply that 744 people were able to publish a paper in one of these 6 journals in 2017. Due to multiple co-authorships of some people, the actual number of people that co-authored at least one paper published in TAR, JAR, JAE, CAR, AOS, or RASt in 2017 was 637. Depending on the benchmark used, that is somewhere between 5% and 20% of accounting researchers worldwide hoping to publish in these journals. You might find this still fairly reasonable given the fact that it is not a one-shot game (i.e., you try to publish many different papers over a long time period – not just in 2017), but the same is true for all these other researchers and if there were 637 people being happy with their paper being published in one of these 6 journals in 2017, you should not assume that over, let’s say, a 3-year period there would be 3,000+ people being successful in this respect. I did the calculation just for JAR, but while 85 people published in JAR in 2017, for the period 2015-2017 this accounts for only 205 unique authors (not 85 × 3 = 255), due to numerous authors having multiple publications in JAR over this period.
Broadening our scope beyond the “big 6” provides a bit more reason for optimism. The 12 journals indexed by BYU Accounting Rankings published a total of 413 papers in 2017. There were 369 papers published in journals listed as A* (9 journals in total) in the Australian Business Deans Council (ABDC) list, and 885 papers in journals listed as either A* or A (28 journals in total). Looking at all journals included in the Social Sciences Citation Index (Web of Science), 863 papers were published by 24 accounting journals in 2017. Hence, if one expands its scope beyond the traditional big 6 and pays proper regard to a broader set of accounting journals, the odds of publishing seem a little bit better. But still, with fewer than 1,000 papers a year in the “top” 24 or 28 accounting journals, there are clearly insufficient “slots” for all ambitious accounting researchers to publish as little as just 1 paper a year in such journals. With an average of 2.6 co-authors, the “top” 24 or 28 accounting journals only managed to provide a slot for maybe 2,000 accounting academics in 2017 (depending on the benchmark you want to use, that is as little as 20% of all accounting academics worldwide trying to publish their research in “good” journals – but even taking the lower bound of 3,200 accounting researchers worldwide, it’s less than 65% of us that would be able to publish just 1 paper a year in this broad set of journals).
As you might think that things will probably change due to an increased supply of (high quality) accounting research (i.e., an increase of “slots” in the “top” journals), I need to disappoint you. This is somewhat true for some journals, most notably TAR (approx. 70 papers a year today, coming from 40-45 during 2002-2008, and only around 20 during the 1990s), CAR (from around 30 a decade ago to about 60 currently), and RASt (from around 18 to 30+ nowadays). At JAR, TAR, and most journals indexed by Web of Science the number of papers published has, however hardly changed in the past decade(s) (see also Swanson 2004).
The picture looks even more gloomy for people working outside of the US. Recent research confirms the rather well-known fact that researchers working outside the US have a harder time. Most accounting research published (in the “top” journals) comes from authors affiliated with a US university or institution, and in fact a rather small number of “elite” universities/institutions (Lohmann, & Eulerich 2017; Merigo & Yang 2017). About 60% of the authorship from all accounting papers published in journals indexed by Web of Science is US-based; and about 80% from US, UK, Canadian, or Australian based academics, with very few publications coming from authors from institutions in a developing country (Merigo & Yang 2017).
The numbers above clearly indicate that it is simply impossible for all accounting researchers worldwide to succeed in their aspirations to publish their research in “top” journals (whether very narrowly defined as the traditional 6 or more broadly as the journals indexed in Web of Science or labelled as A* or A in the ABDC list). It seems wise for young (and perhaps sometimes also for older) accounting researchers to remember this. This does not need to mean that one should forgo one’s research ambitions, but it does imply that it might make (academic) life much more pleasant if one accepts that there are many more fine accounting journals than just the big 6, or those indexed in Web of Science or those labelled as A* or A in the ABDC list. These include journals such as Accounting History, Accounting in Europe, Current Issues in Auditing, Qualitative Research in Accounting and Management, and many more.
Given the sheer number of accounting researchers worldwide, publishing in accounting is hard, especially if one only considers a few accounting journals worthy outlets. For some research it can therefore also be worthwhile ask yourself whether an academic journal with a somewhat more local, rather than international focus, might be the best outlet for your research, such as Accountancy & Bedrijfskunde (Belgium), Maandblad voor Accountancy en Bedrijfseconomie (The Netherlands), Financial Reporting (Italy), Business Research (Germany), Schmalenbachs Business Review (Austria/Germany), Accounting Finance and Governance Review (Ireland), or Comptabilité, Controle, Audit (France). Additionally, one can follow Stephen Zeff’s enlightening example and consider to publish books in addition to publish in refereed journals.
Let us not forget, that high-value papers do not necessarily end up in high-prestige journals (Starbuck 2005), and even more importantly that ‘our goal as scientists is not to publish as many articles as we can, but to discover and disseminate truth (Simmons et al. 2011, p. 1365)’.
Merigo, J. M. & J.-B. Yang (2017) Accounting Research: A Bibliometric Analysis. Australian Accounting Review 80(27): 71-100.
Lohmann, C. & M. Eulerich (2017) Publication trends and the network of publishing institutions in accounting: data on The Accounting Review, 1926–2014. Accounting History Review 27(1): 1-25
Simmons, J. P., L. D. Nelson, & U. Simonshon (2011) False-Positive Psychology: Undisclosed Flexibility in Data Collection and Analysis Allows Presenting Anything as Significant. Psychological Science 22(11): 1359–1366.
Starbuck, W. H. (2005) How Much Better Are the Most-Prestigious Journals? The Statistics of Academic Publication. Organization Science 16(2): 180–200.
Swanson, E. P. (2004) Publishing in the Majors: A Comparison of Accounting, Finance, Management, and Marketing. Contemporary Accounting Research 21(1): 223–255.
Wood, D. (2016) Comparing the Publication Process in Accounting, Economics, Finance, Management, Marketing, Psychology, and the Natural Sciences. Accounting Horizons 30(3): 341-361.