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Advertisements, Advertorials, Sponsorship, Supplements, Reprints, and E-prints 

Advertisements, Advertorials, Sponsorship, Supplements, Reprints, and E-prints
Ethical and Legal Considerations

Annette Flanagin

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Advertisements, Advertorials, Sponsorship, Supplements, Reprints, and E-prints

  • The uncertain romance between scholarly journals
  • and the drug industry has long been like a marriage
  • of convenience between partners who became
  • friends ultimately, not because they were very fond
  • of each other originally, but because they needed
  • each other.
  •     Robert H. Moser, MD1

Commercial activities, such as advertising, sponsorship, reprints, and e-prints provide a major source of revenue for many scientific publications. With this revenue, publications can offset some of the costs of journal operations, production, and distribution; may be able to set lower subscription rates than would otherwise be possible; and can serve as a source of income for the journal’s owner. Thus, editors and readers often consider advertising an unfortunate necessity. A cynic might say that generating revenue is the ultimate goal of advertisers, publishers, and editors—advertisers want to sell more products, publishers want to increase journal revenue, and editors want their journals to remain financially viable and sustainable. However, editors have a larger ethical responsibility to their readers, who must be able to rely on the editor to ensure that the journal’s integrity remains intact and that the information contained in the publication is valid and objective. This includes ensuring that advertising does not influence editorial decisions or content and having policies and procedures in place that prevent such influence.

Thus, editors should have ultimate responsibility for all content published in their journals, including advertisements and sponsored content (see also 5.10, Editorial Freedom and Integrity, and 5.11, Editorial Responsibilities, Roles, Procedures, and Policies). The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) recommends that editors “have full and final authority for approving advertisements and enforcing advertising policy.”2 The American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) recommends that “every effort must be made to show all advertising pages, sections and their placement to the editor far enough in advance to allow for necessary changes” and to permit the editor to monitor compliance with advertising guidelines.3 However, some editors may not be able to review and approve specific ads because of limited resources (personnel and time). Nevertheless, all editors should be involved in the development, enforcement, and evaluation of formal advertising policies for print and online versions of their journals. For example, principles for advertising in print and online are developed jointly by editorial and publishing staff for JAMA and the Archives Journals.4 These principles are used by both publishing and editorial staff to determine the suitability of advertising. Although editorial and publishing staff regularly review and discuss these policies and their applicability in specific situations, the JAMA and Archives Journals editor in chief has final authority over all advertisements.

According to the ICMJE, advertising must not be allowed to influence editorial decisions.2 All editorial decisions must be based solely on the quality and suitability of the editorial content and should not be influenced by potential revenue, or loss of revenue, from advertising, sponsorship, sales of reprints/e-prints, or related commercial activities, or the influence of ad sales and marketing representatives. This policy is also supported by the World Association of Medical Editors5 and the UK Committee on Publication Ethics.6 Complete separation of the roles and functions that determine editorial decisions and advertising sales is critical. Thus, editorial staff must not be involved in the promotion or sale of any advertisements, and the publishing staff who sell ads and sponsorship (including reprints) should not be permitted access to editorial content until it is published. Editors should have policies and procedures in place to address reader and online user complaints, assessment of such complaints, and appropriate remedy or action. The ICMJE recommends that editors consider publishing letters that raise important concerns about advertising content, in the same way that they publish critical letters about articles,2 including asking the advertiser to submit a reply.

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