Monday 2 March 2015

Don’t let disruption scare you, it’s just another word for opportunity

Don't be scared, it's only disruption
Phill Jones is Head of Publisher Outreach at Digital Science. Here, in a guest post, he argues that disruption isn't scary...

"For publishers, societies and other stakeholders in scholarly communication, innovation and its scarier sibling, disruption can be seen either as a threat, a challenge, or as an opportunity. Particularly for smaller players, it can be very tough to look at the innovation landscape with it’s plethora of technologies, start-up companies and initiatives and decide just where to invest valuable time and effort, not to mention development budget.

The problem doesn't begin and end with technology either. Business models are evolving and the nature of sales channels is beginning to change. At the recent Association of Subscription Agents conference in London, Derk Haank, CEO of Springer, pointed out that in the past 4 years, the journal market share for subscription agents has fallen from 54% to 40%. That’s a massive shift in such a short time. Particularly in light of the recent SWETS bankruptcy, it’s important to go beyond thinking about revenue sources and try to figure out what the sales and revenue channels of the future may be.

On the 17th of March, I'm going to be chairing a seminar for ALPSP at SCI in London titled Disruption, Development and Divestment where we’re going to try to get at some of these complex questions. In the mean-time, here are some of my own thoughts about the state of innovation and what’s next. These may or may not reflect the opinions of the other speakers, you’ll have to come along to find out.

There’s more to platform innovation than user experience

Platform innovation can get a bit of a bad name. The traditional view of web design, focusing on stickiness and design layout can often be dismissed as mere bells and whistles. The persistence of the PDF as the dominant container for academic articles supports this view but is this finally beginning to change? Platform innovation that makes a difference adds real value in the form of new functionality and information. Data sharing, altmetrics, and multi-media all represent new but very real needs of today's authors and readers.

If you want to know what authors will need next, follow the money

Academic researchers are pressed for time and like it or not, they’d actually far prefer to be in the lab, the field, or the library doing research than sat at a computer figuring out how to upload a data set or even write an article (at least that’s true for most of them). So why do researchers communicate at all? Because funders insist that they do so. For some reason, they feel that they’re entitled to proof that their money is being spent wisely. Emboldened by the growth of open access publishing, that has in part been driven by mandates, funders are increasingly asking authors and institutions to communicate in new and diverse ways. In short, funder mandates and funding preferences dictate author needs.

Open access won’t be the last new business model to make an impact

With the role of the subscription agent under threat due to falling margins and market share, the question of what the intermediary of the future will look like is becoming pressing. The major players in the space are already pivoting to become more like technology providers and technology providers are creating connections throughout the industry that organically lead to new distribution channels. What will these new revenue sources and channels look like? Well that remains to be seen, but some people have been arguing for some time that publishers can identify sources of revenue outside of selling licensed content.

My three predictions above pose more questions than they answer. Innovation is a complex subject and there are many questions still to be addressed when it comes to open access, open science, data publication, business models and sustainability. On March 17th, myself and a number of wiser speakers than I will try to get to the bottom of some of it. We’ll try to put some of this into perspective and hopefully, there will be some take-home lessons that will help put all this scary talk of disruption into perspective.

See you in London."

Follow coverage on the day via Twitter #alpspdisruption

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