- Michael Clarke will be speaking later today at the (virtual) ISMTE 2022 Global Event on the topic of “Scholarly Publishing in a Connected World: Turning Disruptions into Opportunities” along with Angela Cochran.
- Pam Harley is also speaking at ISMTE 2022, on a panel called “Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee”: The Wings and the Stingers in Transformative / Transitional Agreements.”
- Michael Clarke will be speaking at the Charleston Conference on this Friday’s panel, “The OSTP Public Access Guidance: Headlines, Details, and Impact.” He will be joined by Rick Anderson (Brigham Young University), Lori Carlin (DeltaThink), and Jerry Sheehan (National Library of Medicine). We look forward to the discussion, which will be moderated by Meg White (DeltaThink). If you are in Charleston, please stop by (or attend virtually).
- Colleen Scollans will be speaking next Thursday (November 10th) at the Wiley Impact Forum in Washington, DC on the topic of “Personalization in Author Marketing.”
David Crotty writes this month in The Scholarly Kitchen on the recent OSTP open science policy memorandum, making the essential point that this is not a publishing policy. There is no relationship between those implementing the policy (federal agencies) and publishers. Rather, the relationship is between the funder and the researcher and the requirements pertain to the grant recipient and not the publisher (though there are significant implications for publishers).
For those that missed the recent launch of Journalology, a new weekly newsletter for journal editors by our colleague James Butcher, you can sign up here.
eLife has announced that it is now more a “service that reviews preprints” than a journal. It is still a journal, or at least journal-ish? It is hard to say. Here is eLife editor-in-chief Mike Eisen in a “Journals Are Not Real” t-shirt, which is probably not what he wore to the job interview.
For some time, eLife has required the authors of all reviewed papers to deposit a copy of their manuscript in bioRxiv. That practice will continue. eLife has also, for some time, posted reviewer comments publicly and provided a helpful “evaluation summary,” which they are now calling an “eLife assessment.” What is new is that after review, it is up to the author whether (and when) they want to move forward with publication in eLife. There is no longer an accept/reject decision after review. The author can decide whether or not they want to be published in the journal.
That said, eLife is not opening wide the publication floodgates. While everything they review will (at the author’s discretion) be published, they will not review everything they receive. Instead of making an accept/reject decision at the end of the publication process, they are making one at the beginning. This is not new, of course. eLife, along with many other journals, make decisions about what papers to send out to reviewers routinely. The journal is aiming to send out about 30% of submissions for review under the new process, according to eLife’s publisher, Damian Pattinson. This is the same number of papers they send out for review now per the eLife website. The 30% target likely assumes current submission rates, which may or may not remain steady (if eLife receives more papers due to its new publishing policies, presumably the percentage of papers it sends for review will go down).
Which is all to say, eLife is still a prestigious club. And despite its description of itself as a “peer review service” it appears to remain a journal. Or at least journalesque. This matters greatly given the dismal history of extra-journal peer review. There have been numerous recent attempts to offer peer review services outside the wrapper of a journal. These include the now defunct Rubriq, Axios Reviews, and Peerage of Science. None of these services were able to gain sufficient interest from authors, and too few journals were willing to accept external reviews. There is also a practical challenge in that reviewers are typically evaluating papers for publication in a specific venue. A paper that is appropriate for an interdisciplinary journal may not be a good fit for a specialty publication. A reviewer might suggest different adjustments to a paper depending on the audience that will read it. For all these reasons, eLife’s decision to continue to maintain at least the veneer of a journal seems prudent.
Economically, the new publishing policy appears to be about cost neutral for eLife while being less costly for authors. Under the old model (the standard industry author-pays Gold OA model), authors whose papers were accepted for publication paid a $3,000 article processing charge (APC). This meant that publication fees associated with just 19% of papers (according to their publisher) needed to pay for all the costs associated with the journal (including the cost of reviewing all the papers they did not publish). Given eLife’s relatively modest APC (Nature Communications charges nearly twice as much), eLife remains subsidized by its funders, which include the Wellcome Trust and Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). In the new model, authors who are selected for review will pay a $2,000 peer review charge (PRC). Note that this is not a submission fee as it is only charged to authors whose papers are sent out to review. This means that authors pay $1,000 less per paper to get published (as all reviewed papers may be published). At the same time, eLife now will receive payment for 100% (minus any waivers) of the papers it reviews (versus only the 19% of submitted papers it ultimately published under the old model). In 2021, eLife published 1,962 research papers, which at an APC of $3,000 results in $5.9 million in revenues before factoring in waivers (eLife only reported £3.5 million or $4.8 million in revenues in 2021; the discrepancy is likely to due to a combination of waivers, payment timing, and an increase in their APC from $2,500 to $3,000 that year). In 2021, they received 9,310 papers. 30% of 9,310 is 2,793 papers. Reviewing 2,793 papers with a $2,000 PRC results in $5.6 million in revenues (a little less than they make now).
The decision to reduce the PRC (as compared to the previous APC) by $1,000 speaks to their mission-driven approach and also to their subsidy and the generosity of eLife’s funders (who contributed £3.3 million to eLife in 2021). Authors who are reviewed are ultimately receiving the same thing (publication in eLife), so why reduce the PRC? If they kept the PRC at $3,000 they would earn $8.4 million (before waivers). If they were to move to a PRC closer to that of Nature Communications ($6,000) they would earn $16.8 million. Other publishers will no doubt be watching this model closely as it has the benefit of better compensating the publisher for the review process they manage, while not increasing (and potentially decreasing) the costs for authors.
eLife’s new process is novel and noteworthy (and potentially game-changing if they can pull it off and if others can follow their lead). It is also unnecessarily confusing. For example, they are avoiding the word “journal” (“a service that reviews preprints”) and using the term “published” to mean “made reviewer comments and eLife assessment public.” They are then using the term “version of record” (VOR) to mean what everyone else thinks of as “published” (“published” and “version of record” are commonly used as synonyms). The thing that makes a common vocabulary so handy is that when people use words you can understand what they are saying without the need for a diagram.
For those that are able to parse the new publishing model at eLife, the multimillion dollar question is what will authors do?
One scenario is that authors flock to eLife because if they get past the desk rejection stage they have a guaranteed publication (er, VOR) in a journal with a decent Journal Impact Factor (eLife’s 2021 JIF is 8.7). They no longer have to worry about spending months in review and then getting a rejection letter. They will have to worry about facing a public shellacking if reviewers find flaws with their work. Some authors may be more bothered about this than others (while eLife has long made peer review comments public, this was only the case for the papers they accepted—with some exceptions where authors explicitly invited eLife review of preprints on bioRxiv).
An important question is how many authors will do the work of a substantive revision if that is what is called for? Some authors, when faced with criticism and requests for additional data or analysis may just say “Yeah, thanks but we’re good here. Please make a VOR.” eLife is putting a lot of stock in readers reading the eLife assessments and reviewer comments and synthesizing the paper and its reviews. That seems… optimistic?
Another scenario is that authors could use eLife as a “safe school.” They could submit their preprint and wait to see what the reviewers say. If the reviewers say the paper is not all that great, then they go ahead and request a VOR (it is the authors’ decision!). If the reviews come back and say “this is a wonderful and important paper,” then they can take the paper (and reviewer reports) and submit it to Nature (JIF 69.5) or even Nature Communications (JIF 17.7) And why not? If the Nature (or Cell or Science et cetera) portfolio rejects them, they can then go back and ask eLife to make a VOR and have lost nothing except the review time at the second journal. This scenario could result in high-quality (and likely high-impact) papers leaving eLife after review. eLife quite adamantly does not care about impact factors but there may be relatively few authors that share their nonchalance on this topic. Or at least there are relatively few papers without at least one postdoc or student on the author list that are likely to share their nonchalance.
A potential challenge is that these two scenarios (authors flocking to eLife because of the guaranteed publication process and authors using eLife as a “safe school” and sending papers that receive good reviews elsewhere) could send their impact factor spiraling downwards. This could create a vicious cycle where instead of using eLife as a “safe school” as compared to Nature Communications, they will use eLife as a “safe school” versus Scientific Reports (JIF 5.0) which, from a brand perspective, is not a good direction of travel.
Eisen, in addition to perhaps not believing in the existence of journals, also does not put a lot of stock in journal brands.
What he is likely arguing here is stated more clearly on the eLife announcement of this publishing model change, where they lament that “…the reliance on journal titles means that where you publish is often valued higher than what you publish.”
This is a good point—papers should not be evaluated on where they are published. But people are busy. A journal brand is a signal boost that provides an indicator for readers: here are some articles that may be worth taking the time to evaluate. In other words, while the journal a paper is published in should not (but unfortunately often does) factor into evaluating a paper, it undoubtedly does (and arguably should, as a service to busy professionals) factor into whether to evaluate a paper. Authors therefore care a great deal about this signal boost. Maybe the new editorial process at eLife will enhance the journal’s brand as an innovative place to publish. But the eLife brand (which is a very good brand at the moment) will remain a paramount consideration for authors.
While pundits (ourselves here at The Brief included) will enjoy placing bets on how things will go with the new eLife model, the nice thing is that this is not just a thought experiment—we will be able to see what will actually happen and won’t have to argue about it (don’t worry, we’ll still argue about it anyway!). Kudos to eLife’s funders for bankrolling this experiment (which, we hasten to add, is very much in line with the thinking of at least one of their funders) and to Eisen, Pattinson, and the rest of the team at eLife for running it. Innovation and experimentation in journal publishing is essential and eLife continues its rich history of both challenging convention and pioneering new publishing models.
Source: eLife, Michael Eisen (@mbeisen) via Twitter, Damian Pattinson (@damianpattinson) via Twitter, PLOS Biology, Times Higher Education
Professional and Academic Publishing
Forthcoming implementation plans for the new requirements for US federally funded research announced in the Nelson Memo remain top of mind for most publishers. Earlier this month, David Crotty wrote a piece in The Scholarly Kitchenon the most likely implementation scenario and the different strategies that it offers publishers.
The biggest recent development has been the Congressional Committee on Science, Space, and Technology weighing in with a letter addressed to new Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director Arati Prabhakar. Dr. Prabhakar was confirmed after the Nelson Memo was issued, but she will oversee implementation in her new role. While unlikely to derail the policies, the letter asks important questions that will shape implementation plans. In particular, it looks at the lack of detail in the proposals for open data requirements, asking whether such an expansive and complex policy can be implemented with no additional funding without drawing significant amounts away from research budgets.
Meanwhile, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has released the results of a survey of researchers looking at the costs of open access (OA). Conclusions include that most researchers do not budget for publishing costs and a third of researchers still have not paid an APC; those who have paid APCs are using grant funding to do so. Researchers find it difficult to obtain funds for APCs, and paying APCs means foregoing the purchase of reagents, tools, and equipment or being able to travel to attend meetings. A summary article about the survey is available from AAAS and it was also covered by Ars Technica.
Other recent items of interest include:
Nelson, Marcum, and Eisler, “Public Access to Advance Equity,” Issues in Science and Technology, Fall 2022, wherein OSTP leadership explains the rationale and motivation behind the policies as drivers of equity.
Johnson, “Frankfurt Book Fair 2022: A ‘Seismic Transformation’ in Scholarly Publishing,” Publishers Weekly, October 19, 2022, wherein Rob Johnson looks at the likely growth in US Transformative Agreements resulting from the OSTP directive.
Source: The Scholarly Kitchen, United States House of Representatives, AAAS, Ars Technica, Issues in Science & Technology, Publishers Weekly
This month, Springer Nature publicly released a 2021 annual report, which includes a description of its high-level financial performance for the first time (Springer Nature is a privately held company).
The headline figure was that adjusted operating profit increased by 12% year-on-year to €443 million. Group revenues had an underlying growth of 6.5% to €1.7 billion. This means that much of the double-digit year-on-year increase in profitability is due to cost control during the pandemic. The operating profit margin was 26%, which contrasts with an adjusted operating margin for RELX of 30.3%.
Springer Nature is jointly owned by Holtzbrinck Publishing Group and BC Partners, a private equity house. There have been at least two IPO attempts since 2017, which are summarized in an article in the October issue of Learned Publishing. In June 2021, BC Partners announced a “single asset acquisition fund,” which, unlike most private equity funds, contained just one company, Springer Nature. This bought BC Partners some time. Like most investment funds, BC Partners needed to pay back their investors within a certain period of time and that period was coming to an end with the previous fund.
Springer Nature has three divisions: Research, Professional, and Education. 73% of the €1.7 billion of revenue was generated by the Research division (€1.24 billion), 15% by Education, and 12% by Professional. The Research division grew by 5.5% in 2021, the lowest growth rate of the three divisions; Education grew by 11.3% (after a -23.9% contraction the previous year); and Professional grew by 8.5% (after a -9.1% contraction the previous year). A new Health division has been created, which will be reported on next year.
It’s worth noting that Springer Nature acquired relatively few new businesses in 2021, presumably because it needed to deploy cash to pay off debt, which back in 2018 was €3 billion according to the Learned Publishing article. The 2021 annual report notes that the company reduced its net financial debt by around €150 million in 2021. This reduced leverage and the concomitant improvement in credit ratings will no doubt make it easier for BC Partners to exit the business at some point in the future.
Springer Nature also invested €120 million in products and technology in 2021. It’s not clear how much of that went into the Research division, but the report does call out “increased investment in our proprietary journal publishing platform, SNAPP, for our 3,000 journals.”
While SNAPP (Springer Nature’s Article Processing Platform) may ultimately prove a prudent investment, the platform has been experiencing what might politely be described as “teething problems,” if a recent “Correspondence” article by the editors of Human Genomics is anything to go by. (We note that publishing platforms are not easy; Wiley had similar struggles in developing its own platform before throwing in the towel and buying Atypon).
In order to avoid another unsuccessful IPO, Springer Nature must do two things: pay down its debt and reassure prospective investors that it can maintain profit margins while it transitions to OA. As noted above, the company is making headway on its debt. It is also building a persuasive case for its OA business, claiming in its annual report that “Revenues from our more than 580 fully OA journals jumped by 22%, thanks to the increased volume of research published.”
While Springer Nature has much to crow about when it comes to its OA business (including publication of Scientific Reports, the largest open access journal in the world), it also faces stiff competition, not only from other large multi-model publishers but also from “born-OA” publishers, including Frontiers and MDPI. MDPI looks set to publish around 290,000 articles this year, up from 241,000 in 2021. At the current rate of growth, MDPI could overtake Springer Nature’s total article output in a few years. Meanwhile at the Frankfurt Book Fair this month, Wiley announced the creation of a new business unit, Wiley Partner Solutions, which is designed to help associations, scientific publishers, societies, and corporations navigate the transition to an OA future.
While we can offer no insight as to when Springer Nature may again attempt an IPO, it is clear from their annual report that they are working steadily to put themselves into a position where they may do so.
Source: Learned Publishing, Private Equity Wire, Human Genomics, Springer Nature, Wiley
A new addition to cOAlition S’s set of tools and services went live at the end of last month, as the end-user portal for the Journal Comparison Service (JCS) opened for access. Not to be confused with the Journal Checker Tool or the Price Transparency Framework, the JCS is intended to provide “libraries, library consortia, and funders with the ability to quickly compare journal publishing services and fees.”
As is the case with the other cOAlition S services, participation by publishers is voluntary (cOAlition S suggests that some institutions may make participation a requirement for future Transformative Agreements, but so far this is not the case) and all of the heavy data lifting required is left for the publishers to provide. International Water Association (IWA) Publishing’s Rod Cookson estimated it took six people two to three months to gather the information necessary for the society’s 14 journals.
Publishers providing data are required to allocate pricing to specific activities; that is, what percentage of the revenue is attributed to cover each publisher activity. The allocations available, however, are vaguely constructed and there are no categories available for a host of typical publisher expenses. As with the cOAlition S Price Transparency exercise, assigning these allocations is left entirely to each individual publisher and will likely be so idiosyncratic as to be useless for making comparisons. Large publishers will have costs accounted for centrally and then allocated to products. That allocation is more art than science and depends on how the accountants want to set up the allocation rules. Smaller publishers may not account for all of their costs properly. For example, publishers that share university infrastructure may not include office costs in their profits and losses (P&Ls).
The larger issue, as we noted in January when this service was first announced, is that the underlying premise of allocating pricing to granular activities is deeply flawed. Publishers do not price based on adding up the various activities that go into publishing a journal article. Likewise, it is hard to imagine a researcher choosing a journal for publication based on the percentage of revenue allocated to “Platform Development Support” rather than on the audience the journal reaches and the journal’s reputation.
Data security is also an important factor, both in terms of competition law and concerns from publishers that their proprietary information will be released to competitors. The data from this service is meant to only be made available to librarians and funders but not to anyone else, even on the same campus (say, a campus professor who is also a journal editor, a library-based publishing program, a university press director, etc.).
There may be some marketing value for publishers that participate in the JCS, but publishers will have to assess for themselves whether the benefits outweigh the competitive risks, not to mention the time and effort needed to provide the required data.
The deadline for publisher participation for 2021 is October 31, upon which a list of participants will be released.
Source: cOAlition S, Maverick Publishing Specialists
In a move that’s being compared to Elsevier’s purchase of bepress and Wiley’s purchase of Knowledge Unlatched, market consolidation continues and OA infrastructure moves further into the hands of larger publishers, as Ubiquity Press has been acquired for an undisclosed sum by De Gruyter.
We were deeply saddened by the news that friend and former colleague Sarah Andrus passed away this month.
David Foster was named Chairman of the Copyright Clearance Center’s Board of Directors.
Steven Meyers has been hired by the Endocrine Society as its Chief Strategy Officer.
Sophia Muirhead will become IEEE’s Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer as of January 2023.
The American College of Physicians (ACP) has named Todd Ware as its Vice President, Publishing.
Lyrasis announced the appointment of John Wilkin as the organization’s new CEO.
Indicative of the current state of university libraries, a report this month announced that the libraries at the University of California, Berkeley are reducing services and closing satellite branches. Since 2003, the libraries have seen staff reduced by 40% and funding per student reduced by 47%. Indicative of the future of university libraries, Stanford is launching a new library division dedicated to providing research data services for scholars.
While it is nice to see formal recognition from governments of the myriad issues that artificial intelligence (AI) raises, in this case the White House’s newly released “Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights,” we remain skeptical that legislation will be able to keep up with AI technology any better than it has for social media or the internet in general over the last few decades.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, a study from the journal Transplantation shows that article transfer strategy does indeed provide speed benefits for authors. Rejected articles transferred to another journal within the publisher’s program were published faster than those that were resubmitted elsewhere.
Wiley started off the school year in controversial fashion. After informing ProQuest in 2020 that it planned to remove 1,380 e-books from ProQuest’s Academic Complete multidisciplinary subscription collection (and then delaying that removal for two years), academics were largely caught off guard by the move, resulting in enough angry recriminations that the publisher reversed course and returned the books to the collection for one more year.
In a move hailed by The Authors Guild, Amazon has changed its e-book return policy. Previously, purchasers could return any e-book within seven days of purchase, regardless of how much of it had been read. Now after 10% of the book has been read by the purchaser, they’ll have to go through an application and review process in order to return the book for a refund.
Academia announced back in February that it had secured $22 million in funding to launch a series of new OA journals. Academia Biology is the first such title to launch. The new journal will put to the test whether or not Academia’s network gives it an advantage in recruiting papers and peer reviewers. Academia claims to have nearly 200 million registered users and 40 million uploaded papers, which should provide Academia with a treasure trove of data on expertise and topical interests. Even more importantly, Academia has a relationship with its users and (presumably) permission to email them. This is a marketing asset that most publishers can only dream of possessing. We look forward to seeing how Academia fares with this new journal launch.
In DEI news, CSE has released new recommendations for integrating diversity, equity, and inclusion into scholarly publishing, and Emerald has released its 2022 Global Inclusivity Report looking at academic perceptions of inclusion.
Digital Science offered several valuable reports showing the current and near-future trends in key areas worth watching—an incisive analysis of key indicatorsof Chinese influence in the research world and the annual State of Open Datareport. TL;DR–both are on the rise.
In gloomy news for universities and library budgets, college enrollment has continued to decline for the third straight year, now 7% below what was seen pre-pandemic in 2019. It’s not just undergraduates either, as the number of PhDs granted in 2021 fell by 5.4%, the steepest annual decline seen since the measurements used were instigated 65 years ago.
Unsub has dealt a further blow to information asymmetry, expanding its coverage from a small group of large publishers to now include “all publishers.”
OASPA, COPE, WAME, and DOAJ have released an updated set of Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing.
And a reminder to all researchers out there: always remember to calibrate your instruments.
The best things in life are free. The second best are very, very expensive. —Coco Chanel