Life in a Liminal Area; Or, The Journey Shapes the Vacation spot

Creator’s Word: The submit under derives from my presentation on the APE 2022 assembly earlier this week.

The time period “liminal house” derives from the Latin phrase “limen”, which means threshold. A liminal house is between what was and what’s subsequent, a spot of transition, of ready and never realizing. Liminal areas will be bodily areas between two locations, similar to hallways, stairs, elevators, ready rooms, streets, airports, or practice stations. There are additionally psychological liminal areas, similar to adolescence, the house between being a toddler and maturity. That is the place we discover ourselves immediately as a group.

Scholarly communication is in a state of fast change, a interval I referred to as “The Great Acceleration” a couple of years in the past. We’re leaving our conventional, print-based, subscription-based previous behind, and shifting towards a digital way forward for openness, transparency, entry, and reuse. We all know the top level of our journey, and we’re on our means, but the trail forward continues to be unknown. How we get to the top objective of open entry (OA), open science, open analysis will decide the top outcomes – are they honest, are they equitable, are they reasonably priced, are they sustainable?

empty airport terminal

Our journey thus far has been marked by an enormous wave of consolidation, or slightly two separate however concurrent waves of consolidation: one within the journals writer house, and the opposite involving our communications infrastructure. I wrote about consolidation in the publisher space, namely the ongoing demise of the independent research society publisher in these pages final month. In that submit I used evolutionary biology as a metaphor, with organizations evolving to adapt to vary in a enterprise atmosphere.

Lately, the other wave is happening around the technology and infrastructure of scholarly communication, because the core instruments we use to publish and entry analysis outcomes have gone from independently owned standing to being a part of bigger, industrial publishing homes and know-how corporations. Aries, and their Editorial Supervisor submission and peer evaluation system, is now owned by Elsevier. Wiley has been on a buying spree as of late, shopping for up the Atypon platform, host to over 100,000 publications, together with J&J editorial companies and most not too long ago, the eJournal Press submission and peer evaluation system. In a latest interview, Wiley’s Jay Flynn noted that greater than 50% of the world’s peer-reviewed analysis goes by Wiley-owned platforms.

The final 5-10 years has seen a shift for a lot of corporations away from being a writer and towards being a workflow supplier, one thing Roger Schonfeld has written about extensively in The Scholarly Kitchen. The large industrial publishers have more and more been constructing large portfolios of companies encompassing all facets of the analysis workflow. Publication is only one level within the analysis workflow, and the thought is to supply subscribed companies to analysis establishments for each stage of the analysis course of.

There’s been loads of discuss recently about funders getting concerned in constructing community-owned or open supply infrastructure, but all evidence so far is that this is not a great fit. Infrastructure is about exhausting, tedious, and infrequently incremental work. That’s probably not thrilling for many analysis funders, who appear rather more serious about riskier initiatives that hope to make a much bigger splash. The place issues do get constructed, analysis funders have proven that they’re actually unhealthy at upkeep and are often extra serious about shifting on to the subsequent factor than preserving the very last thing they constructed operating. Educopia’s 2019 study on failed infrastructure made this clear, and as I wrote at the time, any piece of infrastructure must be constructed from the ground-up to be self-sustaining, and meaning enterprise data and enterprise planning, which additional reinforces our enterprise atmosphere that selects for companies over different varieties of organizations.

Roger Schonfeld additionally not too long ago wrote about but another major market consolidation event, Clarivate’s acquisition of ProQuest. Clarivate is a extremely fascinating firm in our house, as a result of whereas they’re increase the identical type of know-how and companies portfolio as an organization like Elsevier, they’re lacking one important part, content material – Clarivate owns no journals and publishes no articles. Which raises a query – in an OA world, is publishing the worst a part of the publishing enterprise to be in? The reply is each sure and no, relying on how and what you’re publishing, so let’s take a look at how that falls out by fascinated about the longer term.



Brief time period

The short-term outlook is that we’re going to be on this liminal house for some time. As William Gibson famously said, “the longer term is already right here, it’s simply not evenly distributed.” Change is occurring, but it surely’s taking place at a special tempo in several fields and completely different geographies. As such, the market goes to stay a balancing act between the outdated and the brand new for the foreseeable future.

Springer Nature’s Steven Inchcoombe offered evidence of the exceptional progress they’ve made towards OA, but in addition famous that they hope to achieve a stage the place 50% of their output is OA by 2024. The query is whether or not the remaining 50% will snowball and rapidly go the identical means, or if what’s been achieved right here is harvesting all of the low-hanging fruit, with the opposite literature extra prone to see an extended and extra arduous path to an open future?

Currently I’ve been working with loads of analysis societies which might be negotiating new publishing partnerships or extending present partnerships with bigger publishing homes, and I’ve but to see one the place a significant present hybrid journal’s revenues aren’t nonetheless dominated by subscription packages by at the very least 2027.

That tracks effectively with different latest initiatives the place I’ve been talking with the heads of main library consortia all through the world, and the regional variations are placing. In Europe and the UK, Transformative Agreements (TAs) are being broadly locked in as the usual means that libraries buy companies from publishers. Elsewhere on this planet, nevertheless, the urge for food for TAs is far, a lot decrease. A lot of this stems from how completely different the monetary construction of universities and analysis establishments is between the US and the EU. Within the EU, the place the colleges are largely public establishments, there’s rather more centralization of each analysis and college funding, and so higher flexibility to shift these funds round as wanted. Within the US, public universities are run at a state stage, which implies there’s no switch of funds accessible between The College of Wyoming and The College of Arkansas for instance. Much more problematic is that lots of the most efficient analysis universities are non-public establishments. This results in two completely different definitions of “value neutrality”, one the place OA is remitted and value neutrality contains each library subscription spending and article processing cost (APC) prices for all papers revealed from the establishment, and one the place there aren’t any such mandates, and value neutrality means present library spending on subscription journals alone.

On the core of the construction of the author-pays APC Gold OA mannequin and Transformative Agreements is the concept prices of publication are now not unfold amongst numerous readers (through subscriptions) however as an alternative extremely concentrated onto a a lot smaller variety of authors. So establishments with low analysis outputs (which embrace each liberal arts schools and group schools, but in addition massive firms) can anticipate to see a price financial savings and even change into free riders solely, however any research-intensive establishment that produces loads of publications will finally see important will increase in its prices to make up the distinction. For a few years now, Harvard’s library has stated that it cannot afford what it currently pays for journal subscriptions. The concept that Harvard can in some way massively improve its spend a number of instances over to pay for its analysis output is just not within the realm of risk. And on the similar time, does anybody assume DuPont or Merck ought to change into free riders? Whereas many US establishments are actively seeking to drive open entry and open science practices, they’re doing so underneath the limitation of actions being at or near value neutrality of present library spend, which is not going to assist an output-based mannequin of OA.

One other necessary think about our journey up to now is that in these negotiations for partnerships between publishers and societies, we’re seeing an elevated emphasis on publishing in amount – keep in mind that underneath the APC and the TA mannequin, you receives a commission for each article you publish, so extra articles means extra income. This creates one other difficult steadiness. Excessive-quality, selective, flagship journals are important for promoting subscription packages. Libraries wish to subscribe to the perfect journals, or at the very least the journals their readers see as most necessary. However flagship journals publish a small variety of articles and reject loads of submissions. They often have increased overheads and decrease outputs than journals with much less rigorous acceptance necessities. So for the subscription brief time period, you want these expensive-to-run, low-volume flagship journals, however for the OA long run, they value an excessive amount of and publish too little to be extremely worthwhile. We’re beginning to see a altering perspective from publishers towards these flagship titles, with an emphasis on reducing acceptance requirements and publishing extra articles over time. Some publishers go so far as requiring quotas for the journals – you will need to settle for X variety of articles per yr.

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Lengthy Time period

Our journey thus far suggests two concurrent ways in which the long-term future is being formed: a drive for low-cost, high-volume bulk publishing, and a shift for publishers to change into paid service suppliers for many every thing else.

Publishing in Bulk

Earlier on this submit, I requested the query of whether or not publishing was the worst a part of the publishing enterprise and my reply was sort of a waffle – to higher clarify that, what I imply is that some varieties of publishing are prone to be extremely worthwhile in an OA world, whereas others are unlikely to be well worth the trouble.

MDPI gives a risk for the apex creature on this future ecosystem, probably the most extremely advanced to satisfy the circumstances of the atmosphere, offering a model for optimizing for scale and efficiency. Their prolific and fixed e-mail advertising and marketing campaigns, paired with a particular subject technique aimed toward offering a venue for intensive publication by even researchers within the smallest of niches, has seen their publication quantity develop five-fold from 2017 to 2020, and their revenues develop virtually fourteen-fold from 2015 to 2020. In 2021, that they had over 39,000 particular points within the works. 39,000! The majority of the work at MDPI is completed by in-house employees, making efforts extremely coordinated and standardized, and much more environment friendly and fewer idiosyncratic than at publishers the place every journal is run as its personal entity and is very depending on group assets.

The ensuing journals and particular points are a combined bag when it comes to high quality, largely relying on the quantity of care or ethics the person editors and authors put in. However this variability doesn’t appear to have slowed MDPI’s development nor harmed its earnings. For the previous few years, most main publishers have been actively rising their applications, each by publishing agreements with analysis societies and likewise by aggressively launching owned journals.

In an OA world, you wish to emulate MDPI and have low-overhead, high-volume journals and, as subscription wanes, to rid your program of these pesky, small, high-quality titles with excessive bills and low publication volumes. So what emerges from our journey is publishers investing closely in low-rejection, high-volume journals.

Service Suppliers

The second shaping journey is the place all these latest infrastructure acquisitions come into play. Until we see some type of large reform within the educational profession and funding system, which appears an space a lot tougher to vary than publishing, there’ll stay a requirement within the creator marketplace for these high-prestige journals. There simply gained’t be some huge cash to be produced from them, maybe apart from a small area of interest of the very prime high-end journals, these like Nature and Cell that may cost $10K-plus APCs. Any stage under that, you’ll be coping with a small variety of authors and be unable to cost them sufficient to assist a rigorous, high-rejection program. Until you’re on the very prime, then why trouble with all that work when you may crank out articles on a way more worthwhile scale with out all the effort?

This situation has probably the most prestigious journals staying in-house the place they will stay worthwhile, however most different status journals falling again to unbiased standing, the place they are going to be run with rigor and care by mission-driven analysis societies slightly than profit-driven corporations. However bear in mind, all of the instruments and infrastructure wanted to make these journals occur have been purchased by the large industrial publishers, and so slightly than working collectively as companions, the societies now change into paying purchasers to the publishers, buying the applied sciences and companies they should maintain their journals operating.

You’ll want one of many submission and peer evaluation programs owned by one of many large publishers, so why not buy entry to that as a part of a bundle of instruments and companies like editorial assist, manufacturing, advertising and marketing and all the opposite issues publishers presently do for his or her companions?

For the publishers, you earn income from the costly course of of manufacturing the fabric with out having to cowl any of the prices incurred. Then, as soon as the paper is revealed, it will likely be CC BY-licensed, and you’ll nonetheless reap all the advantages as in the event you had revealed it your self. You may plug it proper into your workflow system and nonetheless promote the analytics and all the opposite items you’re promoting to your personal journals. That’s the place Clarivate begins to make sense, incomes all the advantages of publishing with out doing any precise publishing. As Todd Carpenter noted in response to this idea, the true cash being made through the Gold Rush was to be present in promoting shovels.

empty road heading off into the distance

The Path Forward (or are there different branches?)

That is the trail we’re on. We dwell in a enterprise atmosphere, and enterprise organisms have had OA thrust upon them and have tailored accordingly. These are the optimized methods which have emerged – high-quantity, low-overhead publishing and controlling the technique of manufacturing for each different kind of publishing.

The query for the group as an entire is whether or not that is an appropriate long-term end result. It undoubtedly will get us to our finish objective of OA, however the journey could have created the ensuing form of that OA. We shouldn’t assume that as a result of that is the trail we’re presently on that we will’t select a special route or create new branches. Are there different routes we must be investing in additional as a way to drive a differently-shaped future?

Are there routes that don’t require success to be primarily based on scale and output quantity? There are many experiments occurring now that essentially ask libraries to pay for things they can otherwise get for free. Whereas promising, I’m involved that the body shift wanted, each for the library and the college, going from being a spot that brings in cash to spend on itself to extra the mindset of an funding portfolio supervisor, sending cash out into the world for the advantage of the bigger group, could also be each fragile and take a big period of time, given the priorities of educational establishments and the way slowly they transfer.

If we’re certainly caught in a system the place output amount is essential to success, then are there different routes past market consolidation accessible to the group to drive scale? Take into account the place the analysis group has had nice success with mission-driven or community-owned ventures, like the most important of the college presses, Cambridge and Oxford, the place a big funding is made to allow them to be run as companies meant to drive surpluses for the college, slightly than as self-contained entities that merely have to self-sustain. Consider the organizations already in our group the place smaller like-minded teams can come collectively in collaboration slightly than competitors, teams like GeoScienceWorld, or BioOne. By analyzing the place these efforts have succeeded, it turns into clear that funding in infrastructure wants to start out with a marketing strategy for the long run, with an assumption that funding goes to be restricted and driving a monetary surplus to make sure long run sustainability is crucial.

We all know the place we wish to go. What’s one of the best ways to get there?

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