Issue 11 · March 2019

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Editors Note

We previous commented in Item 1 that Projekt DEAL did not include central funding for gold APCs. That turns out to be incorrect. The Wiley – Projekt DEAL contract does provide central funding, just from a different bucket of money (the bucket in question is located in Appendix E for those looking for it). We regret the error and are issuing this corrected edition of #11 of The Brief.

Professional & Academic Publishing


The contract between Wiley and Projekt DEAL has been publicly released. While the new “publish and read” (PAR) deal provides researchers and students in more than 700 institutions in Germany access to over 1,500 journals published by Wiley, the economics of the deal are built entirely around article publication charges (APCs). The German consortium is not explicitly paying a subscription fee; instead it is paying €2,750 per article published in a Wiley journal by researchers affiliated with consortium members. That said, as Science has reported, the deal price is meant to be “budget neutral” for Wiley—meaning the per-article economics were reverse engineered based on the current subscription fees.

The €2,750  is only related to publication in Wiley’s hybrid titles. If a researcher wishes to publish in a Wiley gold OA journal (and the article is accepted by the journal), the APC will be whatever APC the journal sets but with a 20% discount. 

By basing the deal economics on the number of published papers, Wiley creates two challenges for itself. The first is that if the number of papers drops below the current threshold of 9,500 papers, then the amount paid to Wiley could ultimately decline. They have built in a floor in the current contract period by establishing a “baseline” period (though the baseline period is the second half of 2019, which is obviously in the future, so there is some risk there for Wiley if the count in low during that period). 

The second is that Wiley opens itself up to the criticism that the €2,750 APC is too high (because that is always the criticism!). This has already started—see the Science article where one pundit compares the €2,750 APC to the Wiley VSNU deal in the Netherlands, which levies an APC of only €1600 per paper. This, of course, ignores the “read” component of the deal and the fact that Projekt DEAL provides access to subscription content to over 700 institutions whereas VSNU provides access to only 14 institutions.

But the real challenge for Wiley (and other publishers negotiating PAR deals against what is now an established benchmark) is that €2,750 per paper is far too low to make these deals work more broadly. Sure, the budget-neutral (or even incremental-increase) economics might work for a handful of such deals. But at a certain point, as the amount of open content increases, other research institutions and consortia in other countries with plain old subscription deals are going to start demanding offset price concessions (“X% of your content is open access so we should see Y% discount”). And if even more PAR deals are signed, and the majority of Wiley’s content becomes open, many institutions will start cancelling subscriptions and opting for article delivery for non-OA articles.

Which is all to say that an APC of €2,750 for Projekt DEAL is not too high—it is too low. Such a price point is only feasible for Wiley if the publisher inks very few such deals (though they have already signed another one, with the Hungarian Electronic Information Service National Programme!) or raises the APC considerably to account for subscription price erosion elsewhere.

Source: Projekt DEAL, Science, Wiley


The other shoe just dropped: Negotiations between the University of California and Elsevier have been terminated by UC. That means UC will no longer subscribe to Elsevier’s many publications, at least insofar as they were part of a university system “Big Deal.” (The announcement makes no mention of individual campuses within the UC system—there are 10—subscribing to some resources independently.) UC was seeking to ink a “read and publish” deal with Elsevier whereby all of it faculty’s output is published under an open access model (while simultaneously providing access to all of Elsevier’s subscription content via a UC system–wide license). It is noteworthy that UC faculty output comprises 10% of all articles published in the United States (though not 10% of articles in Elsevier journals). This is a very big development for Elsevier, which is besieged on multiple fronts. Alexandra Elbakyan, who made UC’s negotiating position possible, remains unacknowledged.

Source: University of California


India’s chief science adviser tweeted that India would be joining cOAlition S. “We have to take a clear position—the current situation is untenable and costly,” said Krishnaswamy VijayRaghavan to Science|Business. This Twitter announcement has not been followed up with any official proclamation from the Indian government so it unclear (like so many things related to Plan S) what “joining cOAlition S” means. Will it mean that all scholarship (social sciences, humanities, sciences, mathematics) will be required to publish via gold open access models? Will there be centralized funding for this? In a follow-up tweet, VijayRaghavan sowed more confusion by saying: “India will negotiate for fees normalised to India.” This implies a nationwide Indian “transformative agreement” of some kind (publish and read?) with each publisher, though to our knowledge no such negotiations are underway.

If such agreements are based on APCs (like Projekt DEAL), it might be a good deal for publishers as the Indian government has proposed paying graduate students to publish in “reputed [sic] international journals.” The proposed one-time payment is more than the typical grad student’s monthly stipend in India. If the proposal moves forward, expect a lot of papers!

Source: Science|Business, Nature


Clarivate takes an analytical look at research papers that would be impacted by Plan S. What it shows, among other things, is that researchers funded by funders that have signed on to Plan S largely publish in journals that are not Plan S compliant. “In 2017, Plan S funders were acknowledged in more than 120,000 papers indexed in Web of Science, accounting for about 6.4% of papers across more than 10,000 journals. However, an analysis restricted to journals with six or more papers acknowledging a Plan S funder would cover just 3,700 journals. 3,200 of these are not presently listed by DOAJ and are therefore not Plan S compliant.” Note that Clarivate’s 6.4% figure is based just on papers indexed by Web of Science. Delta Think’s figure of  3.5% of global output remains the best estimate of Plan S market share. 

Source: Clarivate Analytics, Delta Think


Springer Nature and ResearchGate have announced a pilot project in which Springer Nature will put approximately 6,000 full-text articles from its Nature portfolio on the scholarly collaboration network. The material will be made available without any access controls; also significant is that the articles put on the site will be the version of record. The terms of the pilot were not disclosed; there is no suggestion at this time what the business model (if any) would be. Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe speculates that Springer Nature’s action is a data-gathering activity (how much sharing is happening via ResearchGate?). Not mentioned is the possibility that understanding and establishing metrics might be useful in future litigation as a means of assessing damages. Writing over on The Geyser, Kent Anderson provides an overview of the history of dealings between the science collaboration network and publishers (subscribers only) and frames the current pilot against ongoing litigation with both Elsevier and the American Chemical Society as well as changes to the European copyright laws, which add a thumb on the scale in favor of copyright holders (see Item 9 below). Anderson presents the ACS/Elsevier suit and the Springer Nature pilot as two prongs of a pincer move that “may very well leave ResearchGate with no choice but to begin behaving as a slightly souped up content aggregation site. Or, if the commercial possibilities look bleak, its investors may approve a sale, and Springer Nature would be first at the table since it has played nice all along.”

Source: Springer Nature, The Scholarly Kitchen, The Geyser


A very preliminary look at a new community initiative from OASPA, the OA Switchboard. The overview by Paul Peters outlines the goals and rough outline of this proposed new intermediary—namely to give smaller publishers and funders a better way to exchange information about OA requirements and payment terms. Peters notes that “The problems that have begun to arise in the central funding of open access publications are likely to grow in scale and complexity in the coming years. If successful, initiatives like OA2020 and Plan S will likely result in a rise in the number of open access publications being centrally funded, either by universities or research funders. Not only will this result in higher administrative costs for institutions, funders, and publishers, but it may also lead to a more pronounced imbalance in the ability of small and large publishers to compete on equal footing.” (We note parenthetically that many of these points were made earlier by ASCE’s Angela Cochran). The OA Switchboard would be a centralized service that would enable authors and publishers to determine what are and are not compliant services and to link the publishers with the relevant funding organization. Comments are now being solicited to help develop this new clearinghouse.

Source: OASPA, The Scholarly Kitchen


Atypon has acquired two authoring platforms—Manuscripts and the unfortunately named Authorea. Atypon plans to combine the two technologies (and hopefully nix the Authorea name) to create a new(ish) open-source authoring tool. This move is part and parcel of an expanded vision for Atypon that was recently presented by Jonathan Hevenstone at the 2019 APE meeting. Atypon is being repositioned from a brand for a content hosting platform to Wiley’s umbrella brand for a constellation of workflow tools.

Source: Atypon, APE 2019


Think of the most “on brand” choice for the next Editor-in-Chief of eLife. Here you go.

Source: eLife



The EU finalized the text of its European Copyright Directive, and MEPs will vote on the measure in a few months. The goal of the directive is to modernize copyright for the digital age—this goal has largely taken the form of attempting to rein in the giant (predominantly American) technology companies in favor of (mostly) news publishers. The most contentious rules are Articles 11 and 13, referred to as the “link tax” and “upload filters,” respectively. Article 11 (link tax) states that reproducing more than “single words or very short extracts” of news stories will require a license from the copyright holder. Article 13 (upload filters) states that commercial sites that earn more than €10 million or have been around for more than 3 years must obtain licenses for uploaded content and can be held liable for infringement. While aimed at platforms such as YouTube and Facebook, Article 13 has implications for ResearchGate, which certainly earns less than €10 million but has been around for longer than 3 years (see Item 5 above). Removing these two articles was the subject of a vociferous lobbying effort by Google and other technology firms. However, they were ultimately outflanked by… a gas pipeline from Russia (you can’t make this stuff up!). Advocacy from library groups, including IFLA and LIBER, did, however, successfully carve out an expansion of text and data mining rights, safeguarded rights for digital preservation, and added exceptions for scientific and academic works. For an apocalyptic viewpoint we refer you to copyright liberalization activist Cory Doctorow’s essay “The Final Version of the EU’s Copyright Directive Is the Worst One Yet,” in which he argues Article 13 will (much like GDPR) further entrench the very tech giants that they are meant to curb as no one else has the resources and technology for compliance. He is probably right on that point. But hey, cheaper gas!

Source: Reuters, Forbes, IFLA, LIBER, Electronic Frontier Foundation



The Librarian of Oxford’s Bodleian Library makes a strong case for a concerted program to preserve information in the public sphere, such things as governmental records, legal documents, and even information on the decommissioning of nuclear power plants, which may be important a thousand years from now. There are a few horror stories here to make the point: the State of Maine permanently lost the records of two administrations, posing serious obstacles for governmental oversight and accountability; photo-sharing site Flickr has “announced it would cut its free storage from 1 terabyte (more than 200,000 images) to just 1,000 items”; and Brexit raises the question of how to keep border records in Ireland. The author asserts a three-part program, involving Leadership, Resources, and Collaboration—strong efforts on the third of these go a long way to relieving some of the pressure on the second. “But for now it is librarians and archivists, the custodians of the past, that are the advance-guards of the future.” Yes, ask a librarian.

Source: The Economist



Publishers either sell their products directly to end users or through a web of intermediaries (libraries, book and magazine wholesalers, etc.), which are usually called “channels.” Sales channels have the ability to create a choke hold on distribution, for the intermediaries’ benefit, making the economics and politics of channel selling challenging at best, brutal much of the time.

We have been thinking about this with regard to several recent items that have appeared in the news concerning Amazon and Apple. About Amazon we observe that about half of all books in the U.S. are sold through its online store (mostly in print) and that Amazon’s founder is (currently) the world’s richest man. Jeff Bezos has been in the news because he is in the process of getting divorced and (he claims) he has been subject to extortion by the National Enquirer, which allegedly threatened to release “sexts” between himself and the woman with whom he has been having an affair. The Enquirer, of course, is a tabloid with a record of having been highly supportive of President Trump—unlike The Washington Post, whose attacks on Trump are legion; the Post, of course, is owned by Bezos (and by his soon-to-be ex-wife). Wait! This gets better. It turns out that the company that owns the Enquirer, which is controlled by David Pecker, is the largest magazine wholesaler in the U.S., and enquiring minds want to know if Bezos’s charge of extortion by Pecker is based in part on the rivalry of the country’s largest bookseller and the country’s largest magazine wholesaler. This conspiracy theory is seasoned by all the sniggering wordplay surrounding David Pecker’s surname. The least mature among us might be entertained by the front page of a recent edition of the New York Post, which is owned by another Bezos rival, Rupert Murdoch, who also owns the Wall Street Journal, which competes for readers and advertisers with Bezos’s Washington Post. Oh what a tangled web (and Web) we weave!

Source: Medium, Publishing Executive, Quora, New York Times


Meanwhile, over at Apple, CEO Tim Cook et al. are preparing a “Netflix for news,” which would include unlimited access to the content of participating publishers for an estimated $120 a year, half of which would be shared among the publishers based on usage and engagement. It is worth noting that standalone digital subscriptions to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal each cost in the vicinity of $200 a year. And of course Apple, which protects users’ privacy, will not share any user information with the publishers. Many major publishers are balking at Apple’s terms. We are not surprised by any of this, though it would be nice to contemplate a “Netflix for scholarly research”  which, for a monthly subscription, would include all the content from Elsevier, Springer Nature, Wiley, Taylor & Francis, SAGE, Wolters Kluwer, myriad professional associations and learned societies, and 135 university presses. Perhaps that is where ResearchGate will attempt to pivot as copyright law becomes less favorable to them and they are forced to license content. But is that a genie publishers want to let out of the bottle.

Source: Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch


Mike Shatzkin writes with his usual insight into how Amazon is affecting the book business. While Shatzkin’s comments are primarily focused on the trade, his analysis applies to academic and professional book publishers as well, as Amazon is a major, indeed often the major, distributor of books in the U.S. for all but a small number of publishers, with a market share hovering around the 50% mark. Despite that huge market share, however, Amazon has not been able to do what monopolies or monopsonies (Amazon is the latter) are theoretically fated to do—force down the margins of its trading partners. In fact the very largest book publishers are enjoying a degree of profitability that astonishes old-timers who remember the challenges of making payroll every two weeks and who remember the sheer amount of working capital tied up in gargantuan warehouses. Amazon has not only inadvertently improved the businesses of its largest suppliers, it has also emerged as those publishers’ most profitable account. It has accomplished this in two ways: a) by beginning the migration to digital books (with no inventory), and b) by bringing new intelligence to supply chain management even for print books, thereby reducing the number of returns. The dark side of this is that smaller publishers (this includes most university presses) feel the heat coming from Amazon, which pressures them mercilessly, something it cannot easily do with the large trade publishers and their virtual control of the New York Times Bestseller List. Small publishers thus increasingly seek distribution partnerships with the largest publishers, an analogue to the many professional society publishers that seek safety as a licensor of publishing rights to the likes of Wiley, Taylor & Francis, and Elsevier.

Source: The Shatzkin Files



The future of computing is analog, says George Dyson, son of Freeman and brother of Esther. Artificial intelligence might not be programmed by humans, but emergent, growing out of networked systems. Dyson calls this the Third Law (“The third law states that any system simple enough to be understandable will not be complicated enough to behave intelligently, while any system complicated enough to behave intelligently will be too complicated to understand”). The first, Ashby’s Law, after cybernetician W. Ross Ashby, states that “any effective control system must be as complex as the system it controls.” The second law, articulated by John von Neumann, is that the “defining characteristic of a complex system is that it constitutes its own simplest behavioral description.” The thrust of Dyson’s argument is that in developing AI we have been looking in the wrong place, in digital developments, whereas “the next revolution in computing will be signaled by the rise of analog systems over which digital programming no longer has control. Nature’s response to those who believe they can build machines to control everything will be to allow them to build a machine that controls them instead.”

Source: Medium


Futurist Kevin Kelly asserts that every aspect of the real world, seen from every angle, will someday have its comprehensive digital counterpart, a phenomenon he calls Mirrorworld. The Mirrorworld will evolve into a new platform and serve as the environment for all connected devices—that is, the Internet of Things. This vision is not about VR (virtual reality) but about AR (augmented reality). Kelly’s piece abounds with small nuggets: When you attend a social function, people you have met before will have virtual tags with their names hovering over their heads (we could use this now); Google Maps will leap from a mobile phone and project mapping directions on the road ahead (as some models already do). Various devices will enable this, with optimized eyeglasses being a strong candidate. A surprising element of this piece is the number of examples already in use in the real world, e.g., Microsoft’s HoloLens, for which applications are being built for warehouses and industrial production. Kelly’s technological optimism may be a bit much for some people, but we are wondering how this new platform will be used for scientific research.

Source: Wired



National Academy of Sciences president Marcia McNutt, along with collaborators, calls for establishing a U.S. advisory board for research integrity. Such a research policy board would help to ensure the integrity and efficiency of research practices. The authors note that some countries have already begun to move in this area and that by failing to create such an oversight board, the U.S. risks losing its leadership position in the international scientific community.

Source: Nature


Ethics dumping is the carrying out by researchers from one country (usually rich, and with strict regulations) in another (usually less well off, and with laxer laws) of an experiment that would not be permitted at home.” Ethics dumping is now being investigated in the case of the Chinese “CRISPR babies,” which has attracted attention worldwide and raised growing calls for international policies on some aspects of genetic research. The person at the center of this investigation is Michael Deem of Rice University, who was an advisor to Chinese researcher He Jiankui. The two have published papers together. Did Deem push his legal and ethical dilemma over to He Jiankui in China? Deem, speaking through his lawyers, denies it. If federal investigators choose to pursue Deem, he could be subject to a fine up to $100,000 and a year in jail.

Source: The Economist, STAT


Not content with the limitation of the four bases of DNA, “scientists have doubled this number of life’s building blocks, creating for the first time a synthetic, eight-letter genetic language that seems to store and transcribe information just like natural DNA,” according to Nature reporting on a recent article in Science. The implication of this is that there is nothing “magic” about the bases that evolved in nature. The synthetic bases can bind with one another and the double helix they form can retain its structure. The consortium of researchers behind this project were led by Steven Benner, founder of the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Alachua, Florida. Benner has set up a company to commercialize synthetic DNA for use in medical diagnostics.

Source: Nature, Science


Scientists around the world are working to combine earth science databases into a massive “geological Google” (Do we really need a Google metaphor?). This network of earth science databases is called Deep-time Digital Earth (DDE). The project is particularly interesting in that it grew out of a Chinese earth science database and has $75 million in startup funding from the Chinese government. The aim is to launch DDE in time for the International Geological Congress in New Delhi in March 2020.

Source: Science



Question: Is email making us stupid? Answer: Hang on a minute, just finishing up an email… Did someone say something? Obviously we think that those who read The Brief, which is delivered in handy email format, are much smarter than those poor souls who do not. That said, we can’t but view Stanford computer scientist Donald Knuth with a mixture of awe and envy. Knuth might be called an early adopter of email (he started using it in 1975!). But in 1990, he decided 15 years of email was enough and quit (wait, you can do that?). He found the medium too distracting for concentrated thinking. “Knuth does provide his mailing address at Stanford, and he asks that people send an old-fashioned letter if they need to contact him. His administrative assistant gathers these letters and presents them to Knuth in batches, getting urgent correspondence to him quickly, and putting everything else into a ‘buffer’ that he reviews, on average, ‘one day every three months.’” We are presently reviewing our life choices and email practices.

Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education


While talent, discipline, and sometimes luck are all part of the success of any effort, researchers explored the implications of changing the size of teams working on projects. The results are surprising. Writing about the study in the Harvard Business Review, the authors note that “while large teams do indeed advance and develop science, small teams are critical for disrupting it—a finding with broad implications for science and innovation.” The authors cite Jeff Bezos’s famous “two-pizza” rule (“If you can’t feed a team with two pizzas, it’s too large”). “We need larger, more interdisciplinary business teams to solve increasingly complex global problems, but smaller ventures and the teams housed within them are critical for nimbly searching through novel possibilities and identifying next year’s transformative innovations.”

Source: Nature, Harvard Business Review


“My battery is low, and it’s getting dark.” With these final words, Opportunity, the little Mars rover that could, sent its final transmission. (These were not literally its words since it is a science robot and so doesn’t really use words as such, but it did send a final transmission indicating its battery levels were low and the amount of light striking its solar panels was dimming as a storm approached so NASA took a bit of poetic license). Opportunity’s mission was to last 90 days, but it kept going for 15 (Earth) years. The outpouring of tributes from the Interwebs was a testament to how the little robot’s explorations captured the imagination. xkcd, as usual, nails it.

Source: Washington Post, Reddit, xkcd

Meetings & Events

We will be attending the following events. Let us know if you would like to set up some time to chat. We’d love to hear from you (info@ce-strategy.com).

  • STM US Annual Conference, April 10–13, 2019, Washington, DC
  • Council of Science Editors Annual Meeting, May 4–7, Columbus, OH
  • Society for Scholarly Publishing Annual Meeting, May 29–31, 2019, San Diego, CA
  • Association for University Presses Annual Meeting, June 11–13, Detroit, MI

[A] quotation is a handy thing to have about, saving one the trouble of thinking for oneself, always a laborious business. ― A.A. Milne