Not so long ago scholarly publishers focused their marketing efforts predominantly on institutional customers, and their publications were primarily oriented around the interests of readers. The Gold OA model (whether fully open access [OA] or hybrid OA) has reoriented publishers toward authors as customers. This is not just a shift in messaging—marketing to authors requires new tools, techniques, and expertise. Publishers that are able to make this transition more rapidly are gaining a competitive advantage over those that move more slowly. In a September 2022 article in C&E Perspectives, Colleen Scollans, James Butcher, and Michael Clarke propose a more nuanced and specific framework and terminology to differentiate author experience (AX) from more general customer experience (CX) frameworks.
James Butcher recently launched a weekly newsletter for journal editors called Journalology. You can sign up here.
The C&E team will be attending a number of meetings this fall. Get in touch if you’d like to schedule a meeting.
- David Crotty and David Lamb will be attending the Frankfurt Book Fair and the STM Conference next month.
- Michael Clarke and Laura Ricci will be attending the Charleston Conference in November. Michael will be speaking on the recent OSTP policy and its implications.
- Michael Clarke will be speaking at the upcoming (virtual) ISMTE 2022 meeting on “Turning Disruptions into Opportunities.”
Silverchair announced last month that Thompson Street Capital Partners (TSCP) has made an investment in the company, becoming its largest shareholder. Nearly all of the existing management remains in place, except Tim Barton. Barton was previously the president of Silverchair. He has moved over to become chief executive officer (CEO) of Silverchair’s sister company, Hum; he remains an advisor to Silverchair. Will Schweitzer has been promoted to company president, replacing Tim, and Hannah Heckner has taken Will’s previous role. Co-founder Thane Kerner remains the firm’s CEO.
For clients and partners, nothing much has changed. Silverchair was previously owned by a combination of outside investors and managers, and it remains owned by an outside investor and management, albeit in different proportions than before this investment. The investment from TSCP allowed previous investors and co-founders to take some money off the table, but the company’s operations remain unchanged.
As Roger Schonfeld discusses, perhaps the most notable aspect of this announcement is what wasn’t announced. Silverchair was not acquired by a large publisher. Three large publishers are presently Silverchair clients: McGraw-Hill, Oxford University Press (OUP), and Wolters Kluwer. Any of those three might have become principal investors in the company. OUP and Wolters Kluwer are both journal and book publishers as well as publishers of society titles, which is to say their strategic interest lines up particularly well with a Silverchair acquisition. It is notable that neither they nor another large publisher (such as Elsevier, Informa, Springer Nature, or Wiley) or a software/analytics company (Clarivate) were acquirers.
Theoretically, a strategic investor, such as a publisher, might value a company like Silverchair higher than a financial investor. That is because, in addition to the return that a purely financial buyer might realize, a strategic buyer can also use the acquired assets to further other aspects of their business. We have seen that take place with Wiley’s acquisition of Atypon. Wiley has not simply operated Atypon as-is, but has used Atypon to reduce costs by hosting its own portfolio on Atypon’s platform and position Atypon at the center of a larger services offering that has expanded Wiley’s client relationships. The value that Wiley has realized from Atypon is (presumably) greater than a purely financial buyer would see. This is why so much industry infrastructure has been hoovered by strategic buyers.
So why did that not happen with Silverchair? One possibility is that at this particular point in the industry, potential strategic buyers have other priorities. While a well-functioning hosting platform is essential, it may not be an urgent problem for publishers. Another possibility is that the present economics and incentives in private equity markets made Silverchair particularly attractive. There is a lot of money in private equity funds looking for good investments and Silverchair (unlike more speculative tech investments) is a mature software company with long-term contracts that provides mission critical infrastructure (no publisher can go without digital hosting) in a market (scholarly publishing) that is less volatile than many others. It also has opportunities for growth, both in its core business and in new areas such as medical education and meetings.
Silverchair stands out, even in an industry where organizational longevity is measured in centuries. There are not that many independent software companies nearing their 30-year anniversary. It would have been difficult to predict where the industry would be 30 years ago, before the commercialization of the internet, the birth of mobile devices, the existence of Google or Amazon or Facebook, the creation of The Big Deal, the birth of the open access movement, and myriad other milestones that shape the contours of our industry. Similarly, it is difficult to predict where the industry, and Silverchair, will go from here. Schonfeld notes it is still possible that Silverchair winds up in the portfolio of strategic acquirers down the road. And while this is true, we will leave the future to the future.
Disclosures: Michael Clarke served on the board of Silverchair for nearly 10 years, from 2013 until the conclusion of the investment by TSCP this month. Michael and Pam Harley are both former executives at Silverchair. In addition, Silverchair is a client of C&E.
Source: Silverchair, The Scholarly Kitchen
Professional and Academic Publishing
Submissions to many scholarly journals increased dramatically during the pandemic, with one recent report describing how submissions to an (anonymous) endocrinology journal increased by 283% in 2020–21 compared with 2018–19. Increased workloads have pushed some editorial teams to the breaking point, with the four editors-in-chief of the journal Aging Cell resigning over a dispute regarding their workloads and compensation at the end of August.
The pandemic, however, is not the only reason why editorial workloads have increased in recent years. Research has become more complex and multidisciplinary; editors now need to check data availability, code sharing, and image integrity, for example. The past few months have shown just how important this additional work is with new reports of manipulated peer review and paper mills. Journal editors, especially in the biomedical sciences, are now spending far more time checking the reproducibility and integrity of research papers than they did 10 or 20 years ago.
When the CONSORT statement (Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials) was first published in 2001, the authors hoped that the checklist and guidelines would improve the reporting of randomized controlled trials in medical journals. Over the next 20 years a plethora of reporting guidelines, for different types of research methodologies, were developed to improve the integrity of the scientific record.
Clinical researchers’ efforts to improve reproducibility inspired editors and researchers working in the natural sciences to follow suit, with different publishing houses developing their own policies and checklists over the next decade. The Nature journals developed a set of reporting standards; Cell Press launched STAR; and the Science journals and eLife have adopted the Materials Design Analysis Reporting (MDAR) framework. The Equator Network, which began in 2006, lists 534 reporting guidelines for different study types.
These new quality control checks, whether they are done manually or by software, add to the cost of publication. Many medium-to-large-sized publishers have created new research integrity teams whose role is to root out problematic papers. As the authors of a recent perspective “AI-enabled Image Fraud in Scientific Publications” conclude, “Perhaps when these advanced technologies are abused, our cost of obtaining the truth has been irretrievably increased.”
Furthermore, the hidden costs of publication have not gone away and are becoming more visible: most academic editors get paid a nominal sum and most peer reviewers do not get paid at all. Increasingly, academics are pushing back against the (mostly) unwritten rule that they should devote time and energy to peer review for the benefit of their community, with a recent report claiming that academics “give away one-third of their time.” With much of academia in many regions shifting to “adjunct” positions that pay less than a living wage, that one-third of time is becoming increasingly scarce and instead used to work a second job to make ends meet.
Meanwhile, the inexorable move to OA, which has been catalyzed by the cOAlition S mandates and the new US federal policy, has changed the scholarly communication landscape, and not always for the better. Funders are demanding transparency on costs, with the reporting logistics proving burdensome for publishers. Open research is a concept that most stakeholders want to move toward, but OA business models that financially reward publishers for accepting more papers can be problematic from an editorial perspective, especially if the focus of investment moves from quality to quantity.
Richard Horton, editor-in-chief and publisher of The Lancet, made a similar observation in a recent editorial: “A change in science publishing culture from value to volume, driven by the motive to protect revenues, risks jeopardising the very purpose of science publishing itself. Quality is under threat. Equity is under threat. Publishers must ask themselves the question: what do they stand for? And market share is not the only answer to that question.”
The rapid revenue growth of some fully OA publishers has shown what is possible commercially if publishing houses are able to attract submissions and publish a greater proportion of papers that are submitted to their portfolios quickly and efficiently. There is increasing tension within many publishers between the commercial desire to grow revenues and the editorial requirement to maintain the quality of the scholarly record. Can quality and quantity coexist? Is it possible to choose all three of these criteria: speed of publication, high-quality publication, and low cost? Almost certainly not.
Under a subscription model, editorial and commercial success are closely linked, with publishers focusing their efforts on improving the reader experience. Libraries are unlikely to subscribe to a journal that has a bad reputation. By contrast, in OA publishing, the author is the customer and providing an outstanding author experience (which we term AX) is the key to commercial and editorial success. Publishers are redeploying marketing teams from business-to-business (B2B) to business-to-consumer (B2C) activities and are either retraining or hiring new staff with the right skill sets to market to individuals rather than to institutions.
The common thread here is that all stakeholders are having to do more work than they did historically to reach the quality levels that the academic community expects. Meanwhile, pressure to reduce article publishing charge (APC) prices and for libraries to reduce spending, which leads to publishers looking to cut costs. This is the central tension in scholarly journal publishing, which is becoming increasingly uncomfortable for many stakeholders.
Source: Frontiers, Retraction Watch, The Official PLOS Blog, Nature, Cell, Science, Times Higher Education, InsideScholar, Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe (@lisalibrarian) via Twitter, The Lancet, The Scholarly Kitchen, C&E Perspectives
The recently updated White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) open science policy continues to dominate the conversation in the scholarly communications community. Our initial analysis of the policy and its implications for publishers and societies was made available in last month’s special issue of The Brief. As of now, much still remains unknown, as funding agency implementation plans are not due until late February 2023 (although they are due to the OSTP at that time, they may not yet be approved or made public for some time after that deadline). Further uncertainty has been introduced by the appointment of Arati Prabhakar as the new director of OSTP. The new OSTP policy was released by Alondra Nelson, acting director. It is possible that Prabhakar may make adjustments to, or issue additional guidance on, the policy.
We will follow up with more news and analysis as we know more. In the meantime a few articles worth noting are included below:
- Petrou, “Quantifying the Impact of the OSTP Policy,” The Scholarly Kitchen, September 13, 2022.
- Ruediger, “The Outlook for Data Sharing in Light of the Nelson Memo,” The Scholarly Kitchen, September 6, 2022.
- Various Authors, “Ask The Chefs: OSTP Policy Part I,” The Scholarly Kitchen, August 30, 2022.
- Various Authors, “Ask The Chefs: OSTP Policy Part II,” The Scholarly Kitchen, August 31, 2022.
- Horton, “The Scramble for Science,” The Lancet, September 24, 2022.
- Dixon-Luinenburg, “Tearing Down the Academic Research Paywall Could Come with a Price,” Vox, September 18, 2022.
Source: FYI Bulletin
After years (it feels like decades) of hearing unpersuasive explanations for how useful the blockchain is and how it will revolutionize everything, recent statements from Pearson may mark an actual use for non-fungible tokens (NFTs) in publishing. During a recent earnings call, CEO Andy Bird from textbook publishing giant Pearson floated the notion of selling digital textbooks as NFTs, which would confer and track ownership of each individual etextbook sale as a unique digital item. One of the effects of ebooks (or digital media in general) is the elimination of a used book (or music or movie) market. Ebooks are no longer sold; they are licensed, a practice that has caused consternation and legal challenges in the library market. While much of the press has characterized this idea as a means for Pearson to get in on the used textbook market, we at The Brief see it as something much more interesting: a way to actually create a used ebook market. Right now this is not feasible, as one can make an infinite number of copies of a digital product, so a resale market would essentially destroy a publisher’s ability to sell more than one copy of any book. But if each ebook could be tied to a specific sale and if resale required transfer of those rights, it begins to more resemble a unique object, and ownership (rather than licensing) could apply. All of this offers a set of potential privacy nightmares, and we take the statement from Pearson that it would allow for delivery of better quality books at lower prices with a grain of salt, but the concept is worth exploring.
Source: McSweeney’s, Bloomberg, The Washington Post, Business Insider
More bad news for university budgets as The Wall Street Journal reports a major drop-off in 2022 for Chinese student visas as compared to pre-pandemic levels. This continued visa dip follows ongoing political turbulence and shifts in the Chinese economy. Over the last few decades, US universities have become increasingly dependent on students from China, many of whom pay full tuition rates rather than attend on scholarships or with in-state student discounts. But those numbers started to decline during the previous US administration, as relations with China soured, and then the pandemic dealt a significant blow to university attendance altogether. This report dashes hopes that the waning pandemic might cause a rapid rebound in attendance. Figures from the US Department of State showed just 31,055 F1 visas issued to Chinese nationals in 2022, compared to 64,261 issued for the same period in 2019. With the plurality of revenues at higher education institutions in the US coming from tuitions, and with roughly one-third of international enrollments previously coming from China, further belt tightening may be ahead for some US universities.
Source: The Wall Street Journal, Inside Higher Ed, The Scholarly Kitchen
The Brookings Institution and Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group announced a new co-publishing partnership. Under the agreement, Rowman & Littlefield will produce, distribute, market, and sell Brookings Institution Press titles. Brookings Institution Press will continue to be responsible for acquisitions and editorial review. Clarke & Esposito had the privilege of working with Brookings to help broker this noteworthy arrangement.
EBSCO and Ex Libris (now part of Clarivate) have integrated serials renewals via EBSCONET into Alma (the Ex Libris integrated library system). EBSCO and Ex Libris have offered a similar integration for monograph purchasing for some time, thanks to functionality inherited by EBSCO’s acquisition of GOBI Library Solutions (formerly YBP). Further integration is a benefit to mutual customers, of which there are likely many—EBSCO and Ex Libris each claim market leadership in library services (for subscriptions services and library management systems, respectively). It’s also an interesting counterexample to the vendor lock-in trend following recent consolidation in the market.
Hypothes.is has announced it is transitioning (many of) its activities to Anno, a new for-profit (public benefit) company. The move is meant to help the organization secure investment from funding sources beyond grants and donations. To that end, and in tandem with this transition, Anno has announced a $14 million seed funding round led by ITHAKA.
The Library of Congress has awarded a major contract to EBSCO to tailor FOLIO, a community-developed open-source library services solution, to replace existing systems and serve as its primary collections management and access platform.
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) announced two new editorial appointments, with Valda Vinson becoming the Executive Editor of Science and Lauren Kmec becoming the journal’s Managing Editor.
Michele Avissar-Whiting has left Research Square to become Program Officer, Open Science Strategy at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Rachel Burley has been appointed Chief Publications Officer at the American Physical Society (C&E supported APS in recruiting this position).
Tom Ciavarella has joined Frontiers as Head of Public Affairs and Advocacy for North America.
Anirban Mahapatra has been named Editorial Director of Journals at the American Society for Microbiology.
After nearly 20 years with the company, Martin Mos has retired as Springer Nature’s Chief Operating Officer. Marc Spenlé has taken on the role.
Sarah Phibbs has been named Director of Research4Life Publisher Partnerships, following Andrea Powell’s resignation as Director of Outreach and Publisher Coordinator for the Research4Life initiative.
Arati Prabhakar has been confirmed by the Senate as Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and as the President’s Science Advisor.
As noted in Item 1, Tim Barton has left the management team at Silverchair to become CEO of Silverchair’s sister company, Hum. Will Schweitzer has been appointed President of Silverchair and Hannah Heckner has been named Vice President of Product.
Kristin Hubing, Managing Editor of ASH Clinical News, has passed away. Deanna Marcum, former Managing Director of ITHAKA S+R, has also died. Our heartfelt condolences to their families, friends, and colleagues.
The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council has announced their own zero embargo policy. With a ban on paying APCs in hybrid journals, this policy is closer to Plan S than the US public access requirements.
PLOS has announced a doubling of uptake for their non-APC OA models, growing from 93 institutions in 6 countries last year to a current 181 institutions in 26 countries.
A new global study from AIP Publishing, the American Physical Society (APS), IOP Publishing (IOPP), and Optica Publishing Group (formerly OSA) has found that “82% of physics researchers based in Europe are unaware of Plan S.” Although the details of the study and the data behind it are not yet available, this should serve as yet another reminder that publishers and publishing policy are not the primary focus of most researchers.
In a triumph for artificial intelligence (AI) and scientific progress (and perhaps the end of the field of crystallographic protein structure), DeepMind’s AlphaFold database of over 200 million protein structure predictions has been released and made freely available. This represents nearly every protein known to science and shifts a lengthy, often difficult process into something vastly easier. It likely will prove a game changer for pharmaceutical research.
A US federal circuit court upheld a lower court’s decision that AI systems cannot patent inventions, largely because patent law requires the patent holder to be a human being. This supports earlier decisions involving copyright for AI-created images, where an element of “human authorship” was deemed a necessary component for copyright.
In further AI news, new AI tools were announced for fact checking, and specifically for fact checking Wikipedia. Elsewhere, Springer Nature is piloting AI-driven editing services for book authors.
Frontiers raised their APC prices 9.32%, describing the increase as an inflationary adjustment.
The American Chemical Society (ACS) is partnering with the University of Science and Technology of China and Nanjing University to launch new journals. Given China’s increasing requirements for research to be published in Chinese-owned journals, we expect to see more such partnerships in the future.
Oral arguments ended in the US Department of Justice’s (DOJ) antitrust case against the merger of publishing giants Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster. If allowed to merge, the “Big 5” trade publishers will be reduced to the “Big 4.” While there are many arguments for blocking the merger, Shira Ovide opines in The New York Times that the DOJ’s concern about market dominance is misplaced: the publishers are merging to become larger not because of dynamics in the book trade itself but in order to counter the existing dominance on the retail side by Amazon. The only problem with this argument is that Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle doesn’t believe it.
And in our favorite form of post-publication peer review, this year’s crop of Ig Nobel Prize winners were announced, including studies on the impacts of constipation on scorpion mating and the healing power of ice cream. Congratulations to all the winners.
Facts are not truth, though they are part of it – information is not knowledge. And history is not the past – it is the method we have evolved of organising our ignorance of the past. —Hilary Mantel