Last Chance to Benchmark your Journal Metrics ’till 2025
Recruiting is closing soon for this year’s Clarke & Esposito benchmarking study. We are adding cost and revenue per article to the existing set of KPIs (key performance indicators) that include the likes of editor honoraria and workload, submission levels, open access (OA) uptake, and transfer uptake. We are moving to an every-2-years cadence, so this may be your last chance to participate before 2025. Reach out today for more information and pricing.
See how your organization can build positive author perceptions that translate to increased submission, resubmission, and referral. Download The 6 Pillars of AX Maturity infographic.
2023 Council of Science Editors Annual Meeting
Going to be attending the 2023 CSE Annual Meeting in Toronto next week? We’d love to see you! The C&E team will be presenting during a number of sessions, including:
- Short Course for Journal Editors – James Butcher (Saturday – Sunday, April 29–30)
- How to Increase Your Journal’s Visibility and Impact to Work Toward a Sustainable Future – James Butcher (Monday, May 1)
- Author Experience (AX): Building a Framework for Successful Author Engagement – Colleen Scollans (Monday, May 1)
- Monitoring and Rewarding Editorial Performance Under OA Business Models – James Butcher (Tuesday, May 2)
- To Love or Leave: Working with Publishers in an Age of Transformation – Pam Harley (Tuesday, May 2)
Stop by one of these sessions if you will be at the meeting or contact us to schedule a discussion.
We may have come across the right name for the current era of scholarly communications when, during a Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP) webinar, Colette Bean (American Physiological Society) used the military acronym “VUCA,” which is meant to describe the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity of certain situations. The VUCA term seems particularly apt as we await the announcement (and potential approval) of US federal agency plans developed in response to the Nelson Memo.
It’s been a relatively quiet period since OSTP (the US Office of Science and Technology Policy) reported that all major (US$100 million per year plus) funding agency plans have been turned in; although only the plan from NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and the draft National Institutes of Health (NIH) plan have been seen in public. As was expected, for research papers the new policies are essentially the same as those developed for the 2013 Holdren Memo, saving for (of course) the small matter of the embargo window. The Accepted Manuscript (AM) version of the paper (or alternatively the Version of Record [VOR]) must be deposited in the agency’s preferred repository (NASA’s STI Repository and PubMed Central for the NIH) and made available immediately upon publication of the article in a journal. No reuse terms (e.g., CC BY license) are required.
Few further clues were offered in the NIH’s “Virtual Listening Session” earlier in April, other than that the NIH’s current information-gathering period is winding down at the end of April, and that a final policy will be released by the end of 2024 for implementation by the end of 2025. The session featured 13 speakers, each of whom had signed up for a 3-minute slot to air their grievances, pitch their wares, or advocate for their pet policies. Several speakers used this time to pitch their company’s services as the right target for the NIH’s funds. Arguments were offered against the CC BY license (any revenue derived from sources other than authors makes things less expensive for the NIH) and for the CC BY license (the pandemic was cited as a reason why CC BY was necessary, but no actual examples of article reuse were given). A large contingent requested that the NIH focus instead on requiring preprints from funded researchers – a reasonable proposition, but one that would not meet the requirements of the Nelson Memo, which explicitly require the agency to make “peer reviewed scholarly publications” publicly available.
The aforementioned SSP webinar, held on the same day as the listening session, provided a view of publisher VUCA. One panelist (Springer Nature’s Steven Inchcoombe) expressed confidence that article processing charge (APC) Gold OA was the right answer, the next (American Society of Clinical Oncology’s Angela Cochran) insisted that the Green OA route was a more viable path, and the third (American Physiological Society’s Colette Bean) suggested that neither of these routes offers a path to sustainability for smaller, independently publishing societies.
Many libraries seem to be similarly navigating VUCA. Panelist and Yale University librarian Barbara Rockenbach advocated for ongoing experimentation and mixed models, with subscriptions continuing to play a significant role. Problematic as many see them to be, subscriptions offer the advantage of predictability, allowing organizations to budget spending levels in advance, rather than facing the volatility and uncertainty of deals based on researcher productivity in a given year. The increasingly difficult situation for librarians was reinforced by Ithaka’s 2022 US Library Survey, in which respondents expect OA to lead to cost increases, while at the same time only around half felt that senior administrators see the library as well aligned with the institution’s goals. Roger Schonfeld further elaborated on a point we made in last month’s issue of The Brief, that libraries may see their role (and their budgets) reduced as OA publication funding and compliance shift to other parts of university administration.
While some publishers have pushed in all their chips on Gold OA, and others have settled on Green routes (at least until they see significant revenue declines), many remain on the fence. Making this strategic choice will involve weighing variables that include the amount a journal earns from non-subscription revenue (i.e., rights, reprints, and advertising) and the amount of content in the journal that will likely fall outside OSTP and Plan S requirements. There is also a competitive dimension to this, as authors have an increasing number of publication venues operating under different business and editorial models. Publishers must attract submissions from authors with a range of funder and governmental mandates – and they must do so in the face of stiff competition.
Assuming no other business model takes hold before 2026, librarians and readers will ultimately decide which route becomes the norm – if the AM is deemed a suitable replacement for the VOR by either group, then subscriptions will likely plummet and the APC route will hold sway. In the interim, expect more VUCA.
Last month in The Brief we discussed Clarivate’s delisting of an estimated 82 journals from its Web of Science (WoS) Core Index (out of more than 500 under review by WoS editors). Clarivate’s action will undoubtedly lead to a drop in submissions to these journals worldwide, but the impact on revenue from China (where an emphasis on Journal Impact Factor remains strong, despite recent reforms in research assessment) is likely to be especially significant.
In 2022, the 19 Hindawi journals recently delisted by WoS published a total of 26,436 articles, of which a staggering 20,758 were from Chinese authors and institutions, according to data from Digital Science’s Dimensions (an inter-linked research information system, https://www.dimensions.ai). If one uses an average APC of $2,226 (likely an underestimate since the bulk of those articles likely came from 12 journals of the 19 that charge an APC of $2,550), the total potential revenue loss for articles from China alone is $46.2 million USD (this figure likely represents a high water mark as Dimensions author data is based on CrossRef metadata which does not always specify corresponding authors and hence our count may be somewhat overrepresenting payments from Chinese authors). Even if one assumes an overall discount of 20% for APC waivers – an estimate made for argument’s sake, not based on any data regarding Hindawi waiver and discount policy – this still amounts to $37 million.
For MDPI, the delisting of International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health – which published 4,263 articles by Chinese authors and institutions in 2022 (noting the same caveat about correspondingly authorship as above) nearly a quarter of total global output last year – could represent a loss as high as $11.9 million, based on the journal’s standard APC of $2,800. Even factoring in APC waivers and discounts and some fuzziness around corresponding author counts, it’s a significant hit to the bottom line, especially for a single journal.
While being delisted from WoS is a serious blow for affected publishers, it is not the only list that matters to Chinese researchers. The increase in the number and influence of journal warning lists in China is one of several challenges facing international publishers in that critically important market. In particular, the International Journal Early Warning List (EWL), launched by the Chinese Academy of Sciences National Science Library (CAS NSL) in December 2020 has had a significant impact. Journals that find themselves on the list invariably see a steep drop in submissions from Chinese authors.
In the event Clarivate decides to relist some of the 82 journals recently delisted, their recovery in China could depend on whether they are also placed on the EWL or other journal warning lists. Being added to the EWL or national lists would compound the reputational damage already suffered by these titles in the China research community. Further, being listed on the EWL or other national-level lists has a ripple effect because many of China’s 500 research universities draw upon the EWL to populate their own journal warning lists. These lists may not be as regularly maintained as the EWL, so even if a title is taken off the EWL after just one year (as has been the case for most EWL-listed journals), they can remain on university warning lists for years thereafter.
So far, the appearance of the recently delisted journals on the EWL is minimal. Of the 82 titles that academic observers have identified as having been removed from WoS, only 6 were on the 2023 EWL (4 of them Hindawi journals). We assume additional titles delisted from WoS will make their way onto the EWL in 2024. However, CAS NSL (and China’s bibliometrics community as a whole) are trying to forge their own approaches and reduce their dependence on, and alignment with, WoS. So it may well be that some delisted titles appear on the EWL while others do not. Either way, it’s likely that the 2024 EWL will include more journals than this year’s edition.
More information on China journal warning lists, how they operate, and their impact, will be available in our upcoming International STM Publishing in China: State of the Market Report 2023. This forthcoming report by Clarke & Esposito and Osmanthus Consulting Ltd. will provide a comprehensive overview and analysis of the China market, including the domestic publishing landscape, market drivers including research assessment reforms, journal development programs and OA funding, and suggested actions for international STM publishers. Visit our website to learn more and sign up to be alerted when the report is released (we anticipate release in May 2023).
Peer Review and AX
One of the defining trends in scholarly publishing over the past decade is the elevation of the author over the reader. Author experience (AX) is essential for commercial success, especially for publishers that do not have regular subscription income and instead rely on repeat business from authors who pay APCs or direct payments via transformative agreements. A fundamental touch point in an author’s experience of working with a publisher is the publisher’s manuscript submission and review system. The hockey-stick growth of born OA publishers such as MDPI and Frontiers is supported by bespoke systems that allow them to usher papers quickly and efficiently through peer review. These systems also better enable the unique publication strategies and workflows of each publisher, such as the management of special issues and, in the case of Frontiers, collaborative peer review processes. These purpose-built systems also better integrate with the publisher’s marketing technology, allowing data about author expertise and interest to be used in marketing efforts.
Building a manuscript submission and review system is challenging, however, as evidenced by the graveyard of failed attempts. PLOS abandoned its development of Aperta in December 2017. Elsevier invested heavily in EVISE for years before throwing in the towel and purchasing Editorial Manager in 2018. Old industry hands may even remember PaperPath, the first casualty in this software category, which ceased operations in 2001. Wiley, perhaps exercising caution after watching Elsevier struggle with EVISE, elected to take a different tack in developing its ReX (Research Exchange) system, focusing on only the submission process and leaving the more complex editorial review workflows to others. Wiley also purchased (via Atypon) the Manuscripts and Authorea authoring systems in 2019 in support of this strategy. Its allergy to full-workflow peer review systems abated in 2021, however, when Wiley acquired two of them – eJournal Press and Hindawi’s Phenom system, the latter of which was included in the purchase of the OA publisher.
It is therefore noteworthy that Institute of Physics Publishing (IOPP) recently announced that it is partnering with Morressier to “develop an integrated, state-of-the-art platform that will streamline the peer review and journal submission process.” This is, of course, what everyone that has ever set out to build a new submission and review system has said. Morressier’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Sami Benchekroun, however, evidences no signs of concern even as he steps past the tombstones of predecessors, exclaiming, “We’re going to slash the time it takes authors to submit while setting the standard in integrity and quality through the application of streamlined workflows and the latest technologies. We’re also setting out to create the best possible experience for authors and reviewers. It’s time that we, the scholarly community, got this right.”
The biggest obstacle to the success of the IOPP–Morressier partnership is unlikely to be related to software development (moving manuscripts around and commenting on them is not a difficult software problem). Streamlining workflows means getting editors, editorial staff, and peer reviewers to accept workflow changes. Anyone who has held the role of a publisher for more than 30 seconds can tell you this is not a task for the faint of heart. There is also an inherent tension between “setting the standard in integrity and quality” and providing the “best possible experience for authors.” Authors want an efficient, streamlined process that requires a minimum of work from them. However, maintaining a high level of editorial integrity often involves slowing down the process – to obtain statistical reviews, review images for manipulation, review conflicts of interest, and so on – and requires more information from authors.
IOPP and Morressier are not the only ones working on a new review system. While there has been no formal announcement, Springer Nature has been quietly developing a new system called Snapp (Springer Nature Article Processing Platform). We are impressed that Springer Nature could come up with a name that is simultaneously overly optimistic yet exceedingly dull while conjuring to mind a mildly refreshing apple beverage. (This is not a criticism! Optimistic yet dull with a whiff of Apple is just what you want in a new peer review system.) Although there has been no press release announcing Snapp, we would wager an Ebbelwei at the Frankfurt Book Fair that someone inside Springer Nature pitched Snapp internally as “an integrated, state-of-the-art platform that will streamline the peer review and journal submission process.” The Springer Nature development team shares their product roadmap publicly, which lists all of the live deployments since April 2022. A quick glance through the list of “currently exploring” cards suggests that Snapp still has a way to go. For example, one of the items on the list is: “Provide a review dashboard for all reviewers with information about their current and past reviews.” According to the video on Snapp’s homepage, Springer Nature (ambitiously) intends to migrate all of its journals “by 2024.”
Meanwhile, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) recently announced a new tool called “Where Is My Paper?,” which provides on-demand status updates for authors. This is not a new review system but rather a dashboard that sits alongside ScholarOne Manuscripts and appears to be similar to Research Square’s In Review tool; both dashboards allow authors to track the status of a manuscript with real-time updates. Developing a new peer review system is slow and costly: offering a dashboard that provides authors with more insight into the manuscript’s progress is a simpler way to reduce friction and add value. Is that enough though?
The moves by Elsevier, Wiley, IOPP, BMJ, and Springer Nature (as well as Frontiers and MDPI) indicate that manuscript submission and review systems have shifted from being commodified “infrastructure” that most publishers outsourced to a source of competitive advantage that publishers wish to closely control. While just one piece of the AX picture, such systems provide what is perhaps the most tangible point of interaction for most authors – and an area that, for many publishers, offers an opportunity for substantive improvement.
Monica Bertagnolli, currently head of the National Cancer Institute, is expected to be named as the new head of the National Institutes of Health.
Catherine Cocks is the new director of Syracuse University Press, arriving from Michigan State University Press, where she served as interim director and previously as assistant director and editor-in-chief.
Parul Kumar has been appointed as Frontiers Chief Operations Officer. Her previous role was Group Group Head of Operational Excellence driving business process transformation and organizational effectiveness at the London Stock Exchange Group.
The American Chemical Society has announced Emily Kunchala as its new Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer.
Martine Pronk has been appointed Interim Executive Director at LIBER (the voice of Europe’s research library community).
Jerry Sheehan, Deputy Director of Policy and External Affairs at the National Library of Medicine (NLM) has left the agency for a new position as the Director of Science, Technology, and Innovation at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
In a surprising move, Ralf Schimmer, prominent open science leader and Director of Scientific Information at the Max Planck Digital Library has taken a position at Wiley as Senior Director, Government Partnerships and Public Policy.
Bar Veinstein will join Clarivate as President, Academia & Government, from Taranis, an AI-powered crop intelligence provider, where he was CEO focusing on business growth, customer satisfaction, and AI strategy. Veinstein was previously President of Ex Libris Group (now part of Clarivate).
Continuing the VUCA theme, Library Journal’s 2023 Periodicals Price Survey says, “Whether the gold OA model will ever be sustainable remains questionable. To date, the market has not provided any other OA solution that meets the discoverability, exposure, and publishing possibilities that libraries and researchers have enjoyed with subscription models.”
The outlook for OA books remains just as unclear, as experimentation continues with Bloomsbury announcing a collective-action funding pilot.
AIP (American Institute of Physics) Publishing and Cambridge University Press (CUP) are expanding their APC waiver programs to include authors from low-income and lower-middle-income (AIP Publishing) and low- and middle-income (CUP) countries. CUP is asking libraries and research institutions for voluntary contributions to cover these costs.
The BMJ offers a fascinating retrospective on the impact that the COVID pandemic had on scientific publishing. Despite initial hopes that the pandemic would herald a new era in open science, only 5% of all COVID-19 journal articles published in 2020 started out as preprints, and fewer than half the papers from publishers that had signed onto Wellcome’s data sharing pledge included information on where to find the data behind the paper’s conclusions. The article also anticipates a coming Impact Factor crash in 2024 as the rush of highly cited COVID papers falls out of the calculations.
The STM Integrity Hub has released the first iteration of its tool for detecting the work of paper mills.
Pour one out for obsolete media, as two eras came to an end this month. The last two computer magazines still offering print versions have now gone fully digital, and Netflix has announced the end of its DVD mailing service.
In perhaps a more meaningful recompense than a payment, The Company of Biologists has launched “The Forest of Biologists,” with a tree planted for every article published and conservation efforts dedicated to their journal peer reviewers.
ChatGPT doesn’t give you information. It gives you information-shaped sentences. —Neil Gaiman