Strategic Combination

Issue 58 · October 2023

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AI Trends in Marketing Academic Journals

On November 2, C&E’s Colleen Scollans will be speaking at the ALPSP event “Experimenting with the use of AI in Marketing.” Senior marketing professionals who have a significant influence on marketing strategies and business decisions as CMO, VP, Director, or Senior Manager/Department Head can join Marketing Maestros, ALPSP’s new (free to join) Special Interest Group (SIG), to attend this virtual event.

Seasonal Campaign Planning

Campaign planning is essential to marketing efficiency and impact. A campaign planning model allows organizations to prioritize, optimize, and evaluate marketing campaigns. It helps publishers, associations, and education service providers reduce marketing fragmentation and build cross-functional alignment around marketing priorities, resource needs, and technology demands. Read our recent blog article >

Publishing Open, Visible, and Impactful Research at Scale

C&E’s Michael Clarke moderated an STM Conference 2023 panel in Frankfurt on the shift to open access (OA) publishing models and the potential for OA to improve research visibility and impact. The discussion covered current OA models, progress to date in the transition to OA, and how STM publishers can continue to adapt and evolve. Read More >

Significant Consolidation?

C&E’s David Crotty wrote two recent pieces for The Scholarly Kitchen, one asking whether accuracy can be separated from significance when evaluating a research paper and the other examining consolidation in the scholarly journals market.

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Strategic Combination


Founded in 1683, Dutch publisher Brill holds a place among the world’s oldest companies and among the very oldest publishers (to our knowledge, only the university presses of Cambridge and Oxford and the Swiss publisher Schwabe Verlag are older[1]). It was announced this month that three and a half centuries of operation as an independent house will come to an end with the planned acquisition of Brill by German publisher De Gruyter (a relative newcomer to the industry, having been founded in 1749). Brill is a publicly traded company (notable given its modest size). De Gruyter, a closely held family company, has tendered an all-cash offer of EUR 27.50 per share for the Dutch publisher, which values the company at EUR 51.5 million. De Gruyter plans to finance the deal largely through the sale of two properties in Berlin, which it will then lease back. 

The rationale for the acquisition is clearly laid out in the press release:
The transaction creates the leading academic publisher in the Humanities and presents a unique opportunity to accelerate organic growth and achieve necessary scale. With pro forma combined revenues of around EUR 134 million and 750 employees, the combination will be well-positioned to offer the best possible service and infrastructure to its communities. The combination will jointly publish well over 3,500 books and 800 journals per year. The enlarged scale will accelerate a transition to Open Access, finance investments in technology for end-to-end workflows and a cutting-edge market-facing (content) platform. Furthermore, it will enable the company to face market challenges, allow more effective sales & marketing and increase the ability to attract and retain talent. The combination of two centuries-old publishing houses will be branded De Gruyter Brill, signaling the importance of the strong heritage and family background of both companies.
This rationale is sensible. Brill and De Gruyter are both small relative to other scholarly and professional publishers such as Wiley, Sage, Taylor & Francis, and Oxford and Cambridge university presses. The combination will still be substantially smaller than any of these competitive organizations when measured by revenues. De Gruyter Brill (thanks, Springer Nature, for setting that precedent) will, however, be one of the largest publishers as measured by the number of books and journals published annually in the humanities.

According to industry sources, strategic combination discussions between Brill and De Gruyter have been going on for nearly 20 years. That said, the deal appears to have been precipitated by the collapse of Turpin, Brill’s primary distributer, in 2022. In 2021, Brill ran an operating profit of EUR 4.5 million on EUR 48.0 million in revenues. In 2022, the profit dropped to a loss of EUR 4.5 million. Not all this swing in profit margin of EUR 9 million was due to Turpin’s insolvency – other one-time costs related to acquisitions and infrastructure upgrades also contributed. Talks with De Gruyter reportedly began shortly after Brill’s 2022 calendar year results were reported.

Offers are often expressed as a multiple of revenues or EBITA (earnings before interest, taxes, and amortization), and by these yardsticks De Gruyter’s offer of 1 × 2021 revenues or 7 × 2021 EBITA seems low (we are using 2021 as it factors out the effect of the Turpin-related losses incurred in 2022). Brill, however, is a publicly traded company, so its valuation has already been determined by the market. Valuation in this instance is not about market value, which is established, but rather about quantifying what Brill might be worth to De Gruyter, and what De Gruyter thinks Brill shareholders will accept.

De Gruyter is perhaps in a unique position as a similarly sized, culturally aligned, independent, long-lived academic publisher. Unlike larger publishers, De Gruyter needs the increased scale to compete more effectively in the market. Unlike smaller publishers or non-academic publishers, De Gruyter is in the position to realize significant cost savings from rationalizing many aspects of the combined organization (such as accounting, legal, sales, marketing, technology, and so on). And because the two companies publish similar books and journals, a combined sales channel is likely to be more remunerative. Brill is therefore likely to be worth more to De Gruyter than it would be to many other publishers. But the value to De Gruyter is mainly about establishing a ceiling (what is the most they would pay for Brill) and may not be fully reflected in the offering price. The offering price is about finding a number that is likely to be acceptable to Brill shareholders and that discourages other companies from tendering a bid.

De Gruyter’s offer (EUR 27.50 per share) represents a 39.6% premium over the closing share price on October 11, 2023 (EUR 19.70). The offer was made public on October 12 before the market opened. If you are a shareholder of Brill, presumably a 39.6% premium for your shares sounds pretty good! Following the offer from De Gruyter, Brill’s share price shot up and is currently trading at EUR 26.00, which seems to indicate that most current shareholders have confidence the deal will close but acknowledges that there is a small risk it will not. That risk is currently priced at EUR 1.50 per share, which seems reasonable (note: this is not investment advice).

Brill was trading at as high as EUR 25.20 in August 2021 shortly before news of Turpin’s collapse and its impact on Brill made its way to the market. If you are a Brill shareholder, you may be thinking that Brill’s share price will rebound back to this level after the tumult of Turpin’s failure is safely in the distance, so really the premium is closer to EUR 2.00 per share over this theoretical rebound price. However, there is a lot of risk there. If the deal with De Gruyter were to collapse, Brill’s share price will presumably drop back to somewhere around EUR 19.70 and who knows how long it would take to rebound to August 2021 levels – and that would still not match the EUR 27.50 per share offer from De Gruyter.

There are, as is typical with the acquisition of a publicly traded company, a list of conditions that must be met for the deal to close. Most are boilerplate kind of stuff but it is a long list and some are related to various third-party actions. A higher bid could also emerge. If another bona fide offer comes in that is at least 10% higher than De Gruyter’s, Brill’s board will need to consider it. There is a modest breakup fee of approximately EUR 1 million if either party backs out of the deal for various specified reasons. Given the number of conditions and relatively small breakup fee, the deal is by no means a sure thing, but given the strategic nature of the combination and the clear benefits to be gained by rationalizing operations, we would be surprised if the deal does not close absent some exogenous event (such as a higher offer).

[1] One could make a case for the Royal Society as being an older publisher than Brill as the Royal Society was founded in 1660. However, the Royal Society didn’t become a publisher until 1752 when it took over publication of the Philosophical Transactions.

Solving for X


As we bear witness to the decline and fall of Twitter (we at The Brief are still struggling to call it “X”) in real time, questions were raised this month about how useful it really ever was, at least in terms of driving traffic. NPR (National Public Radio), with some 8.7 million followers, left the platform and six months later reports the impacts as negligible. Closer to home, Angela Cochran of the American Society of Clinical Oncology wrote about her disappointment in the returns from ASCO’s social media marketing efforts.
But perhaps the picture here isn’t quite so simple.
First, given the latest developments, determining whether your community still primarily resides on “X” and, if not, identifying its current whereabouts, poses a challenge. Recent surveys suggest that Mastodon, LinkedIn, and Instagram/Threads are attracting some of the previously dispersed science traffic, although it’s still early in the post-Twitter era (we’ve been enjoying Bluesky ourselves). We don’t have a crystal ball, but it appears that the landscape may become increasingly fragmented (at least for the next 12 months). Whether the scientific and scholarly community will coalesce around a primary platform remains unknowable.
From our vantage point, average social referrals for academic and professional journals are in the 1%–6% range (meaning that 1%–6% of referral traffic to a given journal typically derives from social media platforms in the aggregate). These percentages vary based on community dynamics and the effectiveness of the social strategy. Interestingly, even with the notable dispersion of the science community from Twitter, these referral rates have not undergone significant changes.
It’s also crucial not to overlook the realm of “dark social,” which includes direct messages, message groups, emails, Slack or Teams channels, or comments within communities. Like dark matter, dark social is difficult to measure but still significant. Indeed, the vast majority of the conversation triggered by social posts – typically exceeding 80% – occurs off the public faces of social platforms. Social media may influence direct traffic (or what is currently categorized as “direct”) much more than previously realized. This complexity poses challenges in tracking social media through traditional methods.
The best campaigns are multichannel, and social is an important channel in the campaign mix. In the realm of consumer media, for instance, monitoring social referrals and social campaign engagement signals a higher likelihood of subscriptions. Research by Piano showed that “the more channels a visitor is referred from, the higher the conversion rate. In fact, a user who comes from both social and search is likely to have a conversion rate 10X higher than one who comes through just one channel. The more channels they use, the more loyal they become.” Social media analytics, and audience insights, have become much more sophisticated and go beyond just engagement and measuring source-by-source referral traffic.
A proficient social media strategy must therefore be highly nuanced, involving various strategies and metrics tailored to specific objectives. We have seen the rise of OA and the desire to attract authors changing the way many organizations think about their social media strategy. When the goal is readership, social will always be a small percentage of traffic referrals due to the strong discoverability channels available to researchers. However, when the goal is building community and brand affinity with current and prospective authors, social is a much more important lever, as it is a great way for journal brands and their editors to engage with their audience.
The art of social media is knowing what you are trying to accomplish with it. Once you know this, you can determine what you might automate and when – and where – to invest in more time-consuming community engagement. Investing in the right technology is critical to reduce effort (and cost) and improve effectiveness and will become more so as the landscape fragments. Emerging AI tools are poised to make navigating (and automating) aspects of social strategy even more efficient, although an authentic, human voice will remain essential for community engagement.



Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) has named Duncan Campbell as the new Executive Director of its Client Engagement and Business Development team.
Tracie Hall has resigned from her role as the Executive Director of the American Library Association. The Association will name an interim director as it prepares to search for her successor.
The American Physical Society announced that Dylan Moulton has joined the society as Global Sales Director of Publications. (C&E was thrilled to have supported APS in the recruitment process.)
Perhaps a casualty of the ongoing Hindawi fallout, or maybe an indication of a shift in overall strategy, Wiley has parted ways with CEO and President Brian Napack. Former Group Executive and Board Chair Matthew Kissner has been named as Interim CEO. 
Wellcome has appointed John-Arne Røttingen as its new CEO.
Steve Sherry is now the Acting Director of the National Library of Medicine.
Rafael Sidi has been appointed by Wolters Kluwer as Senior Vice President & General Manager of the Health Research segment.

Briefly Noted


Just as The Brief was going to press, cOAlition S released a Halloween treat – a proposal titled “Towards Responsible Publishing” that outlines a vision for a “community-based scholarly communication system.” We will put to the side all of the community-based scholarly journals from independent societies driven to seek deals with commercial publisher over the last 5 years due to Plan S, and read this carefully before commenting further in the next issue of The Brief.
One doesn’t often see a press release announcing the intention to sign an agreement (rather than an actual signed agreement), but Wiley has declared that they intend to do so with Projekt DEAL. No details are offered in the press release about the terms of the agreement (so we can’t draw any conclusions about how those terms will compare to Elsevier’s new arrangement with Projekt DEAL).
While we at The Brief remain proponents of building sustainable-in-the-long-term business models around essential community infrastructure, we were still pleased to see arXiv receive some US$10 million in grant funding for much-needed technology upgrades.
EBSCO’s annual Serials Price Projection Report reflects the growing decline of (and increasing costs associated with) print journals, and suggests an overall price increase for 2024 to be in the range of 3%–4% (subject to impacts from currency exchange rates).
eLife, no stranger to controversy, was back again in the news for firing Editor-in-Chief Mike Eisen. The move was precipitated by Eisen’s reposting of a satirical article in the Onion addressing current events in Gaza. The eLife Board has issued a statement on their reasoning. Lost in the chaos of the Eisen kerfuffle, eLife celebrated its 10th anniversary this month, and issued its annual report and financial statements.
Happy birthday wishes also go out to The Lancet, which, for a 200-year-old publication, seems rather spry and lively! The journal offered a celebratory issue looking back on its history and forward to where it intends to evolve.
Richard Sever offers a tour de force overview of the history of science publishing, just what it is that journals do, and the costs that are involved in his PLOS Biology article “Biomedical publishing: Past historic, present continuous, future conditional.” Along with this essential knowledge comes Sever’s vision of a web-based future of science publishing, which begins with preprints (it is perhaps not a coincidence that Sever is a cofounder of both bioRxiv and medRxiv). The atomization of dissemination and the ongoing evaluation of the literature has many appealing merits, though we wonder if it would do away with the efficiencies of the current system. Would submitting research to a wide variety of badging/evaluation systems, for example, require more time and effort than sending it to one journal? Ultimately, we suspect that organizations would bring all of those disparate services under one roof and create a “one-stop-shop,” thus largely reinventing the journal. Sever’s article calls to mind a quip attributed to Jim Barksdale (the former CEO of Netscape) that “there are only two ways to make money in business: One is to bundle; the other is unbundle.” (Barksdale clearly would have done well as a scientific and scholarly publisher). Our only substantive quibble with this paper is that we could not find a preprint version on bio/medRxiv!
Another important acquisition announced this month was the purchase of the Charleston Hub, Against the Grain, and the Charleston (Library) Conference by Annual Reviews. While this was not surprising given the previous acquisition of purchase of The Charleston Advisor by Annual Reviews, it marks the end of an era (and beginning of a new one) for what has become among the most important gatherings of librarians and publishers under one roof. 
The big question around the University of California (UC) library’s “multi-payer model” for OA deals is whether campus authors will agree to be one of the “multi-payers” and put some of their research funding in with the library’s contribution to cover article processing charge (APC) costs. If the results of UC’s agreement with IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) are any indication, then the prospects look poor. UC is ending their OA deal with IEEE and reverting to a “read-only” agreement, as only 20% of UC authors publishing in IEEE journals chose to publish their papers OA, and fewer contributed grant funds toward the APC than was expected. Meanwhile, the Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions has declared that Sweden will no longer be willing to sign transformative agreements for hybrid journals and will only enter into agreements for fully OA journals. While “increasing costs” are given as the primary rationale for this decision, no information is offered as to how fully OA journals will reduce those costs.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Back in 2011, Phil Davis’s landmark randomized controlled trial looking at the effects of making papers OA concluded that OA greatly increased readership of papers, but had no impact on citations, generally because the majority of readers at research institutions who were likely to do the next experiments and cite those papers already had access to them. But OA was declared to have worked well because it extended access beyond research institutions to the general public. Cut to 2023 where a group of researchers looked at what happened to US Department of Energy National Laboratory research after the 2013 Holdren Memo went into effect, requiring public access to funded papers within 12 months of their publication. Unsurprisingly, the freely available papers were not cited any more than subscription articles, but they do turn up significantly more (42%!) in patents, particularly patents from smaller companies. So, once again, the message is that OA really works, but less so for academia than for commercial development of research. Economic development is a key reason why governments fund research, so this offers clear evidence of OA ROI (return on investment).
new preprint from Hanson et al. offers some tremendously useful data on the current state of scholarly publishing. Expect to see Figure 2, detailing “the rise of the special issue model of publishing” featured prominently at every meeting you attend over the next few years. One quibble – in their analysis, it is difficult to discern what constitutes “growth” versus what is actually consolidation (which continues to occur at a rapid pace). The “growth” (publishing more papers) shown for many publishers in the study is not due to the launch of new publications or growth in the size of existing publications, but rather the moving around of publications between publishers and from independently published to partner-published journals. This is mitigated somewhat by the authors’ work measuring articles per journal, but remains a confounding factor. The elephant in the room of the article though, is that while much of what the data shows describes the impact of activities from MDPI, Frontiers, and Hindawi, the authors attribute the results to the entire publishing industry, rather than calling out the clear driving forces behind the problems they note.
In a recent issue of Nature, researcher Dritjon Gruda suggests that publishers start allowing authors to submit the same manuscript to multiple journals at the same time. The reasoning here seems flawed: the problem Gruda hopes to solve – how to get research results out faster – can largely be solved by posting one’s work as a preprint, rather than asking an already strained peer review system to massively increase its workload. The industry seems to have responded in the negative to this request, if only coincidentally, through the release of a new duplicate submissions detector tool from the STM Integrity Hub, primarily aimed at detecting the activity of paper mills.
This month’s AI food for thought includes a fascinating article in The New Yorker that looks at what happens to AI after it has ingested all the material out there and largely replaces human-generated writing. Where will it then find data for further training? One suggestion is “synthetic data,” which the AI systems will generate themselves, but many are skeptical that this is a real thing, given that, “no matter how smart you are, you can’t learn new facts about the world by reviewing what you already know.” On a more positive note, Business Insider looks at the fears about AI-driven job loss through similar concerns around the launch of Excel and ATMs. The short answer is that while both made some jobs go away, in the end each created more jobs than were lost.
Here’s one we’ve never seen before – a preprint exposes the latest method for manipulating journal article citationsthrough adding a long list of fake citations to a paper’s metadata at the point where Crossref mints its DOI. While we at The Brief do not endorse this unethical behavior, we do at least have to give some respect to the hustle and innovation shown here.

I have certainly not always responded in an ideal manner. —Michael Eisen