Thursday 28 February 2013

Authors: The Publisher's Perspective by Timo Hannay

Hannay: authors have more economic power now
Timo Hannay, Managing Director at Digital Science believes the relationship with authors is a complicated issue with numerous opinions. His view? The economic power is shifting to the author, having historically been with the reader, and publishers should be in the business of getting the right information in the hands of researchers and authors.

What is a publisher? Hannay doesn't feel like one. He sees himself as scientist who is passionate about technology, who runs a software company within a publishing business. It's interesting to note his company has a portfolio of technology companies that are run like start-ups. This is unusual for publishing.

One of the major purposes of journals is to help researchers learn about discoveries. So the nature of the (traditional) relationship has been between readers and institutions with:
  • a reader service
  • highly filtered content, but inefficient (high rejection rate and editorial input, peer review adds a lot of value, but takes a lot of time and resource for all involved)
  • the reader has little economic power - beyond subscription, very few ways of getting hold of the content other than asking author for copy of paper.
Open access delivers the concept of author as a customer for publishing discoveries. PLOS, BioMedCentral and Scientific Reports are examples of organisations that have pioneered this approach. They have much more of an author service and recognise the need of the author to publish, rather than know what is in the fields. They use lighter peer review (which is still inefficient) and the author has more economic power. For Hannay: it is about supply and demand: an increase in the demand to publish, and a decrease in the demand to read.

However, the author experience sucks. Publishers provide a clunky interface, opaque processes, are slow, slow, slow, and create Sisyphean experience for their authors. The publishing industry and the people in it, are not without innovation, but there is not enough of it and it tends to come from large, established players.

We are starting to see new entrants who display different relationships. Examples of new start-ups where innovation comes from outside the industry include:

There are two perspectives to take into account: publishing discoveries (author relationship) and learning about discoveries (reader relationship).

For authors its about career path and development of reputation. Journal publishing isn't everything to this. Metrics also help. Getting information isn't everything, it's about exposing your institution and peers about what you are doing. The different stages are:
  • Gaining a reputation
  • Finding collaborators
  • Finding a job
  • Obtaining funds
  • Planning experiments
  • Learning about discoveries
One of the challenges in the past is that the act of publication is the only thing you can measure. However, companies are now providing tools to show what you are doing. When developing tools online, they are more accurate and can be measured so credit can be given where due. Examples include: AltmetricSymplectic, and Thomson Reuters. Finding collaborators has also changed with projects such as Research Gate and Frontiers facilitating this.

For the researcher, the cycle is:
  • learning about discoveries
  • planning experiments
  • conducting experiments
  • evaluating results
  • sharing results
  • publishing discoveries
Publishers should be in the business of putting the right information in the hands of researchers and authors. In a networked digital world, much more that can be done if we think about it in the right way. Publishers also need to get skilled up in the right way. If researchers are your main market there is so much more that can be done.

Publishers are in fear of Google, Apple and Amazon and lump them all together. They are all very different business: one is a retailer, one is an advertising network and one is a hardware company. Their common success factor is that they are amazing at technology. There is a direct correlation to mastering technology and success.

Publishers should own their technical development for their markets.

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