Notes on the Journal of Consumer Research: the Unexpected Challenges of a Start-Up

Ronald E. Frank, Emory University
[ to cite ]:
Ronald E. Frank (1995) ,"Notes on the Journal of Consumer Research: the Unexpected Challenges of a Start-Up", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, eds. Frank R. Kardes and Mita Sujan, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 486-487.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, 1995      Pages 486-487


Ronald E. Frank, Emory University

JCR's Existence!

In the late 1950s and early '60s, considerable emphasis was placed on the development of scholarly inquiry in the field of business education. Largely as a result of the funding initiatives of the Ford and Carnegie Foundations, much was done to enhance scholarship across all business disciplines.

One of the first results was the rapid emergence of interest in methodology under the rubric of marketing research, which in turn resulted in the initiation of the Journal of Marketing Research in 1964. At that time, data analysis was a hot topic; hence, much of JMR's initial focus was either on data analysis and/or research methodology.

As the decade of the '60s progressed, two other foci developed in the field, both of which had strong methodological underpinnings. In spirit, if not in detail, they overlapped the focus of JMR. They were consumer behavior and management science applications in marketing.

As a result of this, an effort was made to broaden the aegis of the Journal of Marketing Research. At that time both Bob Ferber and I had executive roles in the American Marketing Association. At one point we and others met with the then-editor of the Journal of Marketing Research. The purpose of the meeting was to consider the possibility of broadening JMR's scope. One thought would have been to go to a section format, of which one would have been marketing research and others most likely would have been consumer behavior and management science. Along with a change to sections, there would have been an increase in frequency of publication. At that point the then-editor felt our proposal would neither work logistically nor fit in terms of the AMA/JMR objectives.

At about the same time, the idea for a new journal was born. It was Bob Ferber's vision. The then-Board of Directors of the American Marketing Association (by chance both Bob and I were on the Board at the time) met and, after an extended discussion, decided to provide $50,000 in working capital to initiate the Journal of Consumer Research. They did this in spite of the fact that at that point none of the other nine co-sponsors were willing to provide financial support.

In addition, the American Marketing Association initially handled the subscription servicing for the journal and did some advertising to help us get it established. However, it was not willing to have the journal be an AMA journal nor, to my memory, was it the interest of JCR which represented ten different disciplinary organizations.

At that stage in the AMA's history its leadership was finding it increasingly difficult to support the increased specialization of research that was occurring within its academic membership. The language of practice and scholarship was diverging as were the issues of interest. The ratio of symbols to words was increasing in scholarly journals. More constructs associated with terms unfamiliar to many practitioners became part of the body of scholarly inquiry. Along with this specialization in language and focus was an increased resistance by a number of persons, who were among the leaders in the practice of marketing research, to fostering any further "academic journals." Had the AMA been more responsive, it's quite possible that the JCR and the journal Marketing Science would not exist. Instead the world might well have had a JMR which was sectioned and published more frequently.

The house of intellect is like the Mississippi River in flood stage. Given that the AMA did not respond in a fashion that kept up with these developments in the field, these journals came into existence under other auspices.

With the loan in hand, the board, which Bob Ferber chaired, asked me to serve as editor. Little did any of us know the potentially perilous venture we were undertaking.

Forming an editorial board, working with the associations and getting the journal in print turned out to be the easy part.

Would you believe that two weeks before the first edition of the journal was to be mailed, had a three-vote margin been different, the journal would have closed its doors?

Two weeks before the first issue was to hit print Bob Ferber was out of the country and out of touch. I received a call from someone in the leadership at the American Marketing Association telling me that at a Board meeting a few days from the time of the call, the AMA board was going to vote against continuing the $50,000 loan to the journal. The then-board regretted making the loan. It was not interested in an academic journal.

I requested to attend the board meeting. Initially, my request was refused. After an extended discussion it was agreed that I could have "permission" to meet with the executive committee of the association the night before the board meeting in Chicago.

I went to Chicago and met with that group. Once more an extended conversation ensued. They primarily were there to deliver a message that their largesse was at an end. I insisted that I be given the right to attend the board meeting. Their initial response was no as I was not a board member.

After another extended discussion I was given 10 minutes of board time. I made the case during those ten minutes as to the singular inappropriateness of withdrawing the loan at this particular point, irrespective of what the board felt. I did point out to them that the past board, acting in good faith on behalf of the AMA, had approved the venture. I was told after the board meeting that only by a three-vote margin did the board vote to continue to support the loan. Had they rescinded the loan, maybe we would have bailed it out. We'll never know. Fortunately, we never had to find out.

About a year later at a JCR board meeting the then- President of the American Marketing Association came with the intent to demand that the AMA be repaid as soon as possibleCor else!

There is an unheralded hero in this storyC a man by the name of Wayne Lumberg, who was then Executive Director of the American Marketing Association. As I've indicated, the AssociationCin effect WayneCtook responsibility for handling the processing of subscription payments and the like. One of the things Wayne did, on his own recognizance, was bill for the entire first year irrespective of when a subscriber signed up. Hence, if you subscribed for the fourth issue of year one you would be sent the first three issues and a bill for the entire year. It turns out that so doing together with the growth in subscriptions of the journal put us in a position to be able to pay off the loan at the end of the first year of publication. Little did the President know, when he walked into the JCR board meeting, that he would be informed that we were prepared to pay off the American Marketing Association and would proceed unencumbered by the loan. Thus ended the first year of JCRs existence.

JCR's Focus!

When JCR started it was the clear desire of all involved to see it as the preeminent interdisciplinary journal in consumer behavior.

The word interdisciplinary was and still is somewhat nebulous. There were five different types of articles that we had in mind when it came to publication in JCR. The first were articles drawing on knowledge in more than one discipline to pursue scholarly inquiry on some issue related to consumer behavior. Next were articles that would be based on knowledge from a single discipline but wherein the conclusions were well developed with respect to implications for research in other disciplines. Third were those that would attempt to summarize knowledge across many disciplines and, by so doing, arrive at insights (hopefully contributions to knowledge) that added value to what was already known. Fourth was JCR's willingness to publish work from a variety of disciplines wherein the author's purpose was to communicate knowledge about consumer behavior based on one discipline to scholars in others. The last, and far from least, was to foster a place for the publication of inquiries involving the talents of individuals from more than one discipline. We thought this type of article would most likely deal with key public policy or corporate policy issues which frequently demand by their very nature understandings gleaned from a broad spectrum of disciplines.

I believe that the first two of these JCR did a reasonable job of deliveringCthat is, serving as a forum for work involving constructs from more than one discipline as well as taking work from a single discipline and drawing out implications for others. During the first several years, we did publish a few review articles. I think in the main they were helpful but did not go as far as we all hoped in providing added value beyond summarizing knowledge across disciplines.

With regard to the last two types of articles we contributed relatively little. It proved quite difficult to attract articles from scholars in disciplines other than marketing and the Association for Consumer Research to this new forum. Every member of the board and I tried for an extended period of time. Often I would get an article from a "statesman" in another discipline who had given a speech that he was willing to have us publish but which would not find a home in the disciplinary journals with which his work was primarily associated. That isn't what we had in mind when we started the journal, nor is it now.

To date, we have relatively few examples of teams which have done interdisciplinary work on key strategic issues let alone contributed to our scholarly literature in consumer behavior. I would like to have seen JCR be more of a change agent in redefining professional boundaries, but it may be a bit much to expect. Journals are more apt to reflect underlying trends in the "sociology" of the professions than create them.

Even though we did not accomplish all of our goals, one thing is clearCJCR played, and continues to play, a very important role in providing a vehicle for scholars interested in consumer behavior to have an archival journal to facilitate building on each other's work and hence helping serve as a catalyst/an accelerator in the evolution of scholarly inquiry in consumer behavior.

My belief is that if JCR had not existed, something else would have fulfilled the same function. It might have taken a bit longer and taken a different formCbut there would have been an effective communication vehicle among serious scholars of consumer behavior, if for no other reason than the then and future leadership of ACR would not have let the need for such a journal remain unattended.