Issue 33 · April 2021

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Editorial Benchmarking Study

Last month we announced C&E’s editorial benchmarking study. We initially set a deadline of April 30 for study participation commitments. First, thank you to all the organizations that committed by April 30! Second, we realize we were overly ambitious in setting that deadline, as a number of organizations let us know they needed more time to review the study prospectus. So we have extended the participation deadline to May 31
This first benchmarking study will focus on editorial honoraria (though it will include a lot of other information of interest beyond editor payments). The first benchmark cohort will be biomedicine. We will be adding additional discipline cohorts (physical sciences will be next) later this year. More information can be found on our website, or email us (benchmarking@ce-strategy.com) for the prospectus. 

Other Updates

We are pleased to announce that the final version of our OA Books Supply Chain Mapping Report has been released. This final revision of the report follows a public comment period and incorporates thoughtful feedback from many publishers and other stakeholders involved in the creation, distribution, and curation of open access monographs. The report is part of the Developing a Pilot Data Trust for Open Access Ebook Usage initiative, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and led by a team of professionals from the Book Industry Study Group, Curtin University, Educopia Institute, University of Michigan, and the University of North Texas. 

We were also busy with meetings this past month. David Crotty helped organize and moderated a noteworthy session during the Third Chorus Forum meeting on new open access business models. The session focused on operationalization of OA models and moving beyond the APC, and it featured a stellar lineup of speakers, including Scott Delman (Association for Computing Machinery), Sara Rouhi (PLOS), Richard Gallagher (Annual Reviews), and Courtney Crummett (MIT). A write-up of the session was published in The Scholarly Kitchen and a recording is also available. Michael participated in a discussion on notable trends in scholarly publishing with Thane Kerner as part of the Silverchair Forum series. He also moderated the keynote Oxford-style debate at the Council of Science Editors titled Ethics Whistleblowers and the Responsibilities of Journal Editors. The debate featured American Naturalist editor Daniel Bolnick and science integrity consultant Elisabeth Bik. It was an engaging and thoughtful debate — we will tweet a link when the recording is available.



cOAlition S announced that they encourage publishers “to seriously consider the Subscribe to Open Model as a model for achieving full transformation to open access publishing and Plan S compliance.” This announcement, which provides no further details, has left us scratching our heads. 
Subscribe to Open (S2O) is based on a model where a journal flips to open access while maintaining its subscriber base. The idea is that the journal is sold through subscriptions as usual, but when it hits a predetermined (and often undisclosed)  threshold level of subscriber revenue, the content from that subscription year becomes freely available to all and converts to a CC BY license. The process then begins again for the next subscription year, with each year being released open access if targets are hit. If targets are not hit, the content for that year remains accessible only via subscription. 
The problem for authors subject to Plan S mandates that require publication on an OA basis is that at the time of submission to a journal that uses the S2O model, the author may not know if the journal will be OA compliant when their article is published. Let’s say an author submits a manuscript in July or August. The paper may not be published until January of the subsequent year (or later). At the time of submission, the journal may or may not have met its target threshold for the next subscription year. This puts the author’s paper in a kind of Schrödinger’s cat state of superposition where the paper may or may not be in compliance with funder mandates. What if the journal never meets the threshold and the paper is ultimately published on a subscription basis? 
Perhaps the answer is to allow authors to opt for the Green OA route and deposit an accepted manuscript in an institutional repository (as with any other journal that allows immediate release of manuscripts). But if that is the case, what then is the significance of the cOAlition S endorsement and suggestion that S2O provides a route to Plan S compliance? 
In an (as always) thoughtful piece in The Scholarly Kitchen, Rick Anderson enumerates the considerations facing libraries in supporting S2O models (and by extension, the challenges S2O titles face in meeting the thresholds set for a flip to OA). In an era of constantly diminishing serials budgets, he asks how many libraries will continue to pay for something that’s available for free? We wrote about this free rider problem back in 2019. S2O relies upon the goodwill of those holding the purse strings at research institutions, and whether they’ll be willing to continue this charitable behavior in the face of other institutional priorities remains to be seen.
The free rider problem raises the stakes for publishers that adopt the S2O model. If a library drops its subscription to the journal, assuming the threshold will be met and the library can continue to access it for free, the money saved will quickly be spent elsewhere. Should the S2O journal in subsequent years fail to meet its OA threshold, the publisher is left in the unenviable position of trying to sell a “new” subscription to the library. The library will, having reallocated the funds previously spend on the journal, will need to find new money (or cancel something else) to pay to continue its access. 
Despite these risks, S2O has a growing number of supporters and adherents and it may be a sensible model for certain titles or portfolios. S2O may prove to be the kind of model that works well as long as it is not widely adopted. Many libraries and OA advocates are eager to support new models for driving the OA transition. But like Green OA before it (and Bronze OA, though we are loathe to use that term), success of the model is contingent on a certain degree of obscurity. Green OA didn’t hurt subscription sales for many years as no one really had a good sense of how much content was freely available. Now that tools like Unsub and standards like COUNTER 5 have illuminated the extent of Green OA content available for some journals, publishers are perversely incentivized to reduce their Green OA content. For most libraries, it’s probably not worth the effort to spend time gambling with an on and off subscription strategy as journals flip to OA and back, but should S2O journals become a significant part of a serials collection budget, the level of scrutiny they’ll face will increase. 

Source: cOAlition S, The Scholarly Kitchen, S2O Community of Practice

Professional and Academic Publishing


Welcome back PLOS! After a long hiatus (well over a decade) from new journal launches, PLOS appears to be trying to make up for lost time with the announcement of five new journals. One might ask, what took so long
There is an eschatological aspect to this. By launching new journals, PLOS is acknowledging that PLOS ONE is not the end point of journal publishing. In the heady years following PLOS ONE’s wildly successful launch, PLOS believed that no other new journals would be needed and that “megajournals” were the future. PLOS ONE could keep growing and growing — why bother starting other new journals? But as other megajournals and disciplinary open access journals came onto the scene and eroded PLOS ONE’s market share, PLOS did not respond. The new PLOS journals are a long overdue response and a reckoning with a vision for the future that did not come to fruition: As successful as PLOS ONE is, it is not the end point of journal publishing.
The bigger consideration for PLOS is likely financial, however. With the exception of PLOS ONE, the PLOS journals have not proven remunerative for the organization. Launching more such journals would simply add to the organization’s costs. What has potentially changed the calculus for PLOS is the growth in funder OA mandates and institutional agreements. Funder mandates, such as Plan S, have the potential to bring more papers to fully OA journals such as those of PLOS. Institutional agreements, such as the agreement between the University of California and PLOS, provide recurring revenues and create an incentive for PLOS to publish more papers from institutional customers. Additional journals can help with this by providing more venues for publication. 
While institutional deals (including PLOS’s flat fee and Community Action Publishing [CAP] models) provide a framework for portfolio expansion, they also present a challenge. Such deals are based on historical publication trends: how many papers were published annually, on average, from authors affiliated with the institution over the last few years? This works fine for well-established titles, but there are no historical data for new titles. There are ways of managing this, of course, with estimates based on other titles and potentially a true-up mechanism — we look forward to seeing what PLOS comes up with. 
The new journals also signal a change in market positioning at PLOS. Notwithstanding PLOS ONE, which publishes a broad range of disciplines, all of PLOS’s established journals are focused on medicine and the life sciences. Three out of the five new titles are focused on physical sciences. PLOS appears to be repositioning itself as a science publisher, not just a life sciences publisher. This is a notable, and necessary, transition given the institutional strategy PLOS is pursuing. PLOS benefits if it can steadily increase the number of papers it publishes from participating institutions. This requires a portfolio strategy, and ideally a transfer strategy. PLOS has already established PLOS ONE as the “bottom” of its portfolio. It now needs to build on that base — and as PLOS ONEhas grown beyond medicine and the life sciences it behooves PLOS for the next layer of the portfolio to reflect that broadened scope. Scale remains the key driver of the OA publishing landscape.

Source: The Official PLOS Blog, The Scholarly Kitchen


Peer Community in (PCI), an organization that for years has been looking to blur the lines between preprints and publications, came back on our radar this month. For those unfamiliar, PCI is a volunteer-run service whereby an author can submit a preprint for peer review. The preprint goes through an editorial review process, is sent out for peer review, and then receives an accept or reject decision. Given that for most journals the difference between a manuscript being a “preprint” or being considered “previously published” is whether it has gone through an editorially driven peer review process, it’s not surprising that many journals consider anything that has gone through PCI review to be the latter (i.e., previously published). While it has long been rumored that PCI’s ultimate goal is to convert their communities into formal journals, a new set of partnerships was announced this week, with 15 journals outsourcing peer review efforts for a singular article type to the service.
The journals (including megajournal offerings from BMJ and the Royal Society of Chemistry) will accept the peer review decisions of PCI for “Registered Report” articles. Registered Reports are papers composed of research plans, written at the experimental design phase of a project. The idea is that researchers cannot control the actual results of their research, only the question asked, and that publication should be based around asking interesting questions in a rigorous manner, rather than generating interesting results. If accepted, the authors of the Registered Report are granted the right to publish the results of their work in the same journal, regardless of whether the experiment bore fruit.
Previous attempts at “portable peer review” have withered on the vine, largely because they added unnecessary effort and costs for authors. What’s different here is that there seem to be no costs involved for authors or journals, and unlike past partnerships, the journals involved have agreed to abide by PCI’s decisions rather than merely taking them into advisement and often running further rounds of peer review on the submissions.
Obviously, an all-volunteer effort running on a total budget of €5500 is unlikely to scale (and the founders of PCI are reported to be “thinking about ways to keep the project sustainable”). The motivation for the journals involved seems fairly clear – this is a way to bring in more articles, particularly important for the open access participants where each accepted article means another APC paid (and a Registered Report and its follow-up results mean that, in some cases, two APCs are paid). Further, Registered Reports have not yet been fully accepted by many research communities, and a quick scan of the 15 journals shows a fairly small number of such article types published over recent years, with a few exceptions such as RSC Open Science and Cortex, where they appear at higher volume.
This effort can be seen as a low-risk experiment to drive submission volumes and community awareness of the relatively new article type. Success will ultimately depend on whether authors are offered career rewards for publishing experimental plans and if they then find some value in going through this service rather than just directly submitting to the journal they’re targeting. As with all portable peer review, it raises the question: if you have relinquished editorial decisions for your journal to a third party, then are you actually running a journal or just providing a publishing platform?

Source: Science, OSF, The Scholarly Kitchen


The STM Association released their Article Sharing Framework, which is meant to support publishers in fulfilling their obligations under new EU copyright laws. The legislation makes online platforms liable for the content they host, but also requires publishers to make available “the necessary and relevant information” for identifying the status of that content.
Based on technology projects dating back several years, the Framework offers a process for adding to the metadata embedded in a given piece of content. The new metadata declares the “Journal Article Version” (JAV) — essentially the Version of Record, Accepted Manuscript, or Author’s Original Version. This metadata connects the particular version of the paper to the publisher’s choice of the 48 preset sharing policies offered (48!), each a permutation of four factors: platform type that wants to host the content, sharing method, which version of the article it is, and what the platform is allowed to display.
A platform that wants to host the content is expected to use the Crossref API provided to look up the sharing policy for the content and enforce the rules as defined. Because the metadata is used to look up the rules rather than stating them directly, the publisher can adapt its choice of policies over time, which will be reflected in what the lookup returns.
We suspect that illegal pirates like Sci-Hub are not going to be adopting the Article Sharing Framework anytime soon, but it does make it harder for existing scholarly collaboration networks (SCNs) like Academia.edu and ResearchGate to claim ignorance of the copyright status of the material they’re hosting. This will put more pressure on these networks to sign collaborative agreements with publishers (see Item 7 below) or lose a significant amount of the value that they provide to users. 

Source: STM Association


Although it is in its early days, the Chinese Academy of Science’s Journals Warning List appears to already be having an impact on submissions to several of the journals included on the list. While the list is purportedly there to weed out predatory publishers, the initial 65 entrants include titles from well-known and reputable publishers including Elsevier, Springer Nature, Wiley, Wolters Kluwer, SAGE, Taylor & Francis, IEEE, Hindawi, MDPI, and so on. It’s hard to parse the rationale for why these journals were chosen, but titles from IEEE, MDPI, and Hindawi were particularly hard hit, at least according to an analysis by Christos Petrou
There’s a lot of speculation around the motivations driving this list, including some surprising comments from the Founder and Chairman of the Board of MDPI to be found in response to the linked article above. This may be part of an effort to push Chinese authors to journals owned and published by China. The list bears monitoring as it develops, especially for any journals reliant on Chinese authors for a significant amount of publications. 

Source: Chinese Academy of Sciences, The Scholarly Kitchen



Microsoft has made the bombshell announcement (albeit a confusing one) that it will be discontinuing Microsoft Academic Search at the end of this year. (As an aside, if you are going to discontinue a service, maybe just say that clearly?) It is understandable that Microsoft is pulling the plug as Microsoft Academic Search has not managed to gain appreciable market share from Google Scholar, which remains by far the dominant free academic search service. Microsoft has done this before: some readers of The Brief may recall that Microsoft previously abandoned its predecessor academic search service, Windows Live Academic Search (later rebranded Live Search Academic). But this time around, the reverberations through the scholarly community will be greater, as Microsoft Academic Search has made available APIs to its knowledge graph and the semantic engine that parses that graph. As Aaron Tay notes, services including Unsub, Lens, Semantic Scholar, and many others rely to a greater or lesser degree on these APIs. The discontinuation of Microsoft Academic Search will leave some of these services scrambling to find a comparable replacement (Our Reseach, the team behind Unsub, has announced they will be building a partial replacement for the Microsoft Academic knowledge graph). The Microsoft announcement is a reminder of the precarious nature of “free.” Google Scholar, while widely adopted, also produces no revenues for Google and is not central to Google’s business. Google’s discontinuation of Google Reader (another widely adopted service) is evidence, if any were needed, that Google has no qualms about discontinuing support for widely used and beloved services if they no longer serve the company’s interests.

Source: Microsoft Academic, Aaron Tay via Twitter (@aarontay), Our Research Blog



Ingram to sell ebook and elearning platform VitalSource to Francisco Partners.  

Digital Science acquires Ripeta, a product used to help evaluate research papers for evidence of accessibility.  

Following a similar arrangement with Springer Nature, ResearchGate and Wileyannounced a pilot agreement to facilitate access to articles from a limited number of Wiley journals via the ResearchGate platform. Ultimately the pilot will include 100 titles, including those of the American Geophysical Union (which are published by Wiley). 

McGraw Hill announced that it has acquired Triad Interactive, the software developer of SIMnet, a training and assessment product for undergraduate computer and information technology courses.

(Double-checking sources to make sure we are in the right decade…) AOL and Yahoo apparently still exist and have been sold, again, this time by Verizon to Apollo Global Management for $5 billion. Can someone please send us an AOL CD so we can sign up and see what is worth the $5 billion?



Antonia Seymour has been appointed Chief Executive Officer of IOP Publishing.


We note the passing of Eli Broad, billionaire philanthropist who had an outsized influence on the arts and cultural life of Los Angeles. His contributions to science were innumerable, and included the foundation of the Broad Institutes at both MIT and the California Institute of Technology.
Bruce Gossett, who most recently served as Managing Director and Publisher at the American Society of Civil Engineers, has died. Bruce previously held senior roles at Elsevier and Pergamon Press. Our condolences to his family and former colleagues.


Briefly Noted


What happens when co-founders of one of the world’s most wealthy and prominent philanthropies divorce? We will have to wait and see in the long run, but for now Bill and Melinda Gates (now French Gates) will reportedly continue to jointly run the foundation that bears their names. 
It is, unfortunately, not a surprise to learn that big-name scientists find themselves surprised to be on an editorial board of a journal they have not had contact with for years.   
Whatever happened to just sending a Letter to the Editor? The pharma company Pacira Biosciences has filed a libel lawsuit against the American Society of Anesthesiologists, along with the editor of its journal, Anesthesiology, and the authors of three papers that appeared in the journal. Pacira is seeking a retraction and damages, claiming the three papers damage the reputation of one of its products. 
“Being willing to do something so terrifically tedious that it appears to be magic” is the secret behind many successful magicians and software developers. We would add editors and publishers to this list. 
The US Supreme Court sides with Google in a copyright infringement casebrought by Oracle. The case, involving the use of Oracle’s Java code in Android APIs, hinged on the court’s application of “fair use” — a concept with which many readers of The Brief are familiar. 
Middle Eastern countries significantly increased their scientific publication output: “From 1981 to 2019, the region quadrupled its share of research articles and reviews to 8%; among regions and large countries, only China grew by more” (per Clarivate data).
Delta Think’s latest estimate is that Plan S accounts for 5.2% of global output of scientific articles. The papers skew toward higher-impact journals, however. This finding is also notable: “The proportion of cOAlition S funded OA papers in hybrid journals is over twice that of the average (12.7% or over 28,000 papers). This represents the proportion of output that would notionally need to be “rehomed” in Fully OA journals once transformative policies expire.” 
Johnson’s Dictionary, a masterpiece of 18th century lexicography, is now online in a fully searchable edition. We hesitate to point out the “Random word” button as it has already consumed far too much of our time but point it out we must. 
Calibri, you shall be missed! But what will be the new default Microsoft font
An xkcd cartoon on the types of research papers has gone meme. Here is a roundup of what others have done with it. And you can make your own with this research paper meme generator!

Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance
. ―Kurt Vonnegut