Wednesday 30 September 2020

ALPSP Virtual Conference & Awards 2020 Report: The legacy of COVID-19 on scholarly communication

This year’s ALPSP conference may have felt very different to previous years – experienced in front of a screen in one’s office, living room, or kitchen instead of in a hotel conference centre sitting side by side with hundreds of one’s industry colleagues. It still addressed the key issues that scholarly publishing faces, though: open access, transparency and trust, and – perhaps more urgently than ever – diversity, equity, and inclusivity within an industry that still has much to do on those fronts.


ALPSP Keynote 2020
ALPSP Keynote by Sherri Aldis,
Chief of United Nations Publication

The conference began on Wednesday evening with the announcement of the winners of the 2020 ALPSP Awards for Innovation in Publishing. From an exceptionally strong shortlist, the judges – led by David Sommer, co-founder of 2015 winner Kudos – choose two winners: Jus Mundi, the Paris-based multilingual search engine for international law, and WordToEPUB, a free EPUB creation tool with built-in accessibility features. Sustainable scholar-led open access publisher the Open Library of the Humanities was also highly commended. 

The awards were swiftly followed by our opening keynote from Sherri Aldis, chief of United Nations Publications, who offered some insights into the organisation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and what they might mean for scholarly publishing and research in the COVID-19 world. The seventeen goals, she explained, were a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all by ending poverty, protecting the planet, and improving all lives; publishers, she said, had a vital role to play in achieving them. 

Aldis noted that publishers had recognised not only that the SDGs aligned with their own missions but also that there was market demand for them too, and had consequently published more than 8,000 titles relating to them. Some – like Hachette’s children’s books 17 Ways to Save the World and Iqbal and his Ingenious Idea – were published in partnership with the UN, whose own titles were freely available but were also monetised through value-added enhancements. She shared some of the ways that publishers could contribute towards achieving the goals: promoting the SDG agenda by using its framework to categorise their content; reducing inequality by producing content accessible to people with disabilities; and adopting sustainable business practices through changes to supply chains and production. Aldis encouraged publishers to sign the new ten-point SDG Publishers’ Compact that would be launched at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, and to use the SDG logos to show their support.


The next day focused on “Transparency and trust in scholarly communication: changing access, business models and funding”. The afternoon began with a discussion of the long-term legacy of COVID-19 on trust and transparency. Chris Winchester, CEO of health science communications consultancy Oxford PharmaGenesis, noted publishers’ moves to make content freely available and reusable during the pandemic, and suggested that there’d be no going back from this; instead, the development would spread to other potentially life-changing and life-saving research. Introducing the Open Pharma initiative of which he is co-founder, he explained that its immediate priority is to secure for authors publishing company-funded research the same rights to publish open access as authors whose research is funded by other sources; eight publishers including PLOS, Wiley, and F1000 have already endorsed this position.

ALPSP Conference session 1 2020

Winchester was followed by Marshall Brennan of the American Chemical Society, whose ability to deliver a compelling talk while simultaneously feeding a baby made him the star of the conference. Discussing the extreme public response to a preprint hosted on ChemRxiv criticising the use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVOD-19, Brennan considered the responsibilities preprint servers have to the general public in terms of correctly framing the research posted there; he also mentioned the steps ChemRxiv has taken in response to the controversy, such as retaining the right to deny posts it deems inappropriate, including those whose conclusions might lead a non-expert to take actions injurious to their health. The session’s final speaker, Simine Vazire of the University of Melbourne, argued that we need more nuance in peer review beyond acceptance and rejection, and noted that both incentives and human nature encourage researchers more towards making new discoveries than detecting errors in existing work.

The day’s second session explored a global direction for Open Access and Open Research. Rebecca Lawrence, Managing Director of F1000 Research, spoke of the varying attitudes towards open research across continents and disciplines, noting the particular challenges faced in the humanities and social sciences, where funding for publication can be problematic and output types may differ from those in the sciences. She was followed by Professor Judith Sutz of the University of the Republic in Uruguay, who shared some of the findings of her research into the design and implementation of university research policies and suggested that new tools and approaches were need to transform the research evaluation system. 

Robert Kiley, Head of Open Research at the Wellcome Trust, then spoke about how cOAlition S aims to make OA a reality after more than a decade of talk. He was followed by Elizabeth Marincola of the African Academy of Sciences, who explored the many barriers to open access scientific publishing in that continent. She focused particularly on peer review – noting its systematic bias, the lack of representation of African researchers among reviewers, and their lack of familiarity with the nuances of the review process – before introducing AAS Open Research, a scholarly publishing platform offering the immediate publication of work by researchers supported by the AAS and its funded programs. The session’s final speaker was Alwaleed Alkhaja, copyright librarian at Qatar National Library, who observed the fall in journals supporting Arabic-language publishing – from 618 to 185 on DOAJ in the past five years – and shared some of the successes of the library’s open access fund, providing funding for OA publication on a national level, uniquely in the region.

Thursday’s final session explored business models for Open Access in a post COVID world. Vivian Berghahn, MD at Berghahn Books, described some of the different approaches the company had taken to fund open access publication, such as Knowledge Unlatched’s crowd-funded model for books and – in partnership with Libraria – Subscribe to Open for journals. Simon Ross, CEO of Manchester University Press, talked us through their journey towards having the largest output of open access books of any university press. Though OA titles may still sell – one sold 320 copies in print alongside 5,000 free downloads – it can be hard, he said, to make the economics work across a list, particularly when university presses are so dependent on print sales. He expected Manchester would continue to look at what he described as a ‘pick ’n’ mix’ of models, with direct-to-consumer sales offering potential compensation for the downturn in the institutional market. The session’s final speaker, Sara Rouhi, Director of Strategic Partnerships at PLOS, also emphasised the need for a mixed economy in open access, but her focus was on meeting the diverse needs of a wide range of stakeholders: a mixture of flat fees, institutional deposit accounts, PLOS Community Action Publishing, and bundled APCs for consortia could, she believed, enable the company to achieve cost recovery plus a capped 10% margin for reinvestment, while avoiding excluding researchers from publication.


The final day of this year’s conference explored how publishers can deliver a more inclusive and diverse scholarly communication ecosystem. Patrick H. Alexander, Director of the Pennsylvania State University Press, kicked off the opening session, “Diversity and Inclusion in our sector: what do we know, and where do we need to do more?” with two telling observations: that there is not a single university press at any of the 107 historically black colleges in the US, and that there are only 2 BAME heads of the American members of the Association of University Presses. Ruth Howells, Deputy Director of External Affairs at the Publishers Association, shared some statistics from the association’s survey of the wider UK publishing industry which showed that 13% of its employees were BAME, 10% LGB+, and 1% transgender; 19%, meanwhile, had attended an independent or fee-paying school. Nancy Roberts of Umbrella called for pay transparency as a means of increasing the diversity of talent applying for roles and decreasing the gender gap; she also noted in passing how much advocacy work is uncompensated. Anoushka Dossa, Director of Talent at Creative Access, closed the panel by speaking about the organisation’s #morethanwords campaign which invites employers to commit to change in hiring diverse candidates; investing in staff from under-represented groups to progress to senior roles; and creating an inclusive workplace where diverse staff feel valued.

The second session focused on “Creating Diverse and Inclusive products, tools and services”. Opening speaker Nicola Nugent (Publishing Manager for Quality and Ethics at the Royal Society of Chemistry) discussed several reports that the RSC had produced on women's retention and progression in the chemical sciences and whether publishing in the chemical sciences is gender biased, and the organisation’s framework for action in scientific publishing: Improving inclusion and diversity in the chemical sciences and the joint commitment for action on inclusion and diversity in publishing. Magdalena Skipper (Editor in Chief at Nature), then addressed the importance of inclusion within peer review, while Jennifer Gibson discussed the ways in which eLife, where she is Head of Open Research Communication, has prioritised diversity and inclusion, with particular successes in geographical diversity and sexual orientation inclusion.

The conference’s final panel session explored the impact of COVID-19 on our ability to create a diverse and inclusive publishing industry. Professor Edda Tandi Lwoga of the College of Business Education in Tanzania shared some of the consequences of the virus on African research and publishing, noting that funding has been diverted and fieldwork and conferences delayed, with slow, limited, or expensive connectivity creating additional problems; more positively, however, collaboration has increased. Randy Townsend shared how the American Geophysical Union, where he is Director of Publications Operations, has used the pandemic and the killing of George Floyd as a ‘respectful opportunity’ to identify and implement improvements in its diversity, equity, and inclusion through Eight Deliberate Steps ranging from diversifying the organisation’s governance and committees through to partnering with leaders across STEM to remove systemic racism and foster culture change. Simone Taylor of AIP Publishing then shared data from the Workplace Equity Project, noting how the experience of working from home varies hugely according to personal circumstances can cause feelings of isolation and exclusion.

banner displaying logos of conference sponsors

You can find out more about this year’s conference on the ALPSP website.

By Alastair Horne, Lecturer in Publishing at the University of Stirling 

Tuesday 1 September 2020

Spotlight on the Charlesworth WeChat Gateway - shortlisted for the 2020 ALPSP Awards for Innovation in Publishing

Charlesworth logo

This year, the judges have selected a shortlist of eight for the ALPSP Awards for Innovation in Publishing.  The winners will be announced on 16 September at the opening of the ALPSP 2020 Virtual Conference. In this series, we learn more about the finalists.

In this post, we learn more about the Charlesworth WeChat Gateway.

Tell us a bit about your organization.

The Charlesworth Group is recognised globally as a trusted partner for STM Publishers for sales, marketing representation, technical solutions and consultancy in China. Charlesworth is also a leading provider of language editing and author services globally through its Charlesworth Author Services division. We provide services to Publishers and Institutions, supporting thousands of authors each year.

Charlesworth is a family-owned business, established 90 years ago as a bookbinder. Throughout the decades our focus has been on publishing services. We have offices in the UK, US, Ukraine and have had an office in China for over 20 years.

What is the project/product that you submitted for the Awards?

WeChat is the most dominant social app in China, often referred to as China’s super app because of the breadth of functionality the app offers across communication and eCommerce. It currently has 1.15 billion monthly active users, who spend on average 82 minutes per day using the app and make 1 billion transactions a day. The WeChat environment is moving from being a walled garden of messages and posts for followers to integrating more third-party applications into the app and creating more possibilities for content discovery via its search tool.

The Charlesworth WeChat Gateway is a web-based content marketing and author communication platform, used for managing author communication within the STM workflow through WeChat.
Simply put, WeChat Gateway allows publishers to integrate their systems into the WeChat environment and create user journeys for China-based authors that replicate the slick e-commerce stores those authors are used to within WeChat.

WeChat is heavily used by academics and it is far quicker and more convenient for a Chinese author to engage with a Publisher via WeChat, instead of having to load a webpage hosted outside of China.

screenshot image WeChat Gateway

The Gateway has three core components which allow a Publisher to be present on the WeChat platform and engage with their authors:

  • API integration platform – the Gateway allows a Publisher to integrate their backend systems. Currently, the Gateway is connected with journal submission systems. This allows a Publisher to send unique customised paper status notifications to authors or allow them to self-check 24/7. The configurable chatbot delivers all of these messages in Chinese. This integration deepens author communication and reduces queries on paper status from authors. 
  • WeChat marketing platform – marketeers can use the Gateway content hub to directly manage and upload marketing content into the Publisher WeChat account.
  • Publisher Analytics Dashboard – WeChat Gateway incorporates an analytics dashboard that extends and enriches the standard reports available from WeChat itself, providing deep data on follower behaviour, growth and content engagement.  

Tell us a little about how it works and the team behind it

Charlesworth has teams based in China, the UK and Ukraine. Together, these teams use agile methodologies to continually understand and respond to the needs of Chinese authors and Publishers globally.

The team focused on the development of the WeChat Gateway is made up of Andrew Afonin, IT Director who leads a development team in both China and Ukraine, Andrew Smith, Product and Marketing Director who leads teams in the UK, led by our Product Manager Jean Dawson and in China, led by Kelly Zhang. 

We utilized WeChat software development tools as a base to create Gateway but our Product teams extended and created new functionality; creating a platform that is not available within the WeChat software tool offering. Our resulting Gateway software creates an omnichannel solution for our clients, allowing us to connect multiple external systems to the Gateway which can then feed out as a personalised notification data stream to different WeChat author accounts. The Gateway has servers in both China and outside; these servers manage the data flow in and out of China to ensure the Gateway powers a quick response to China-based authors.

The Gateway is continually being developed to bring on board new system integration and to add additional features. The speed of change in China is at a lightning pace, so our teams are continuously monitoring trends and talking to authors to ensure the product is developed with user needs at its core.

In what ways do you think it demonstrates innovation?

China-based authors are expected to use the standard tools and workflows offered by STM Publishers globally. This ignores the fact that the Chinese web and the most commonly used apps in China are very different from those in the west. China is a mobile-first market and in many ways, the Chinese leapfrogged earlier web technology, which means that email is not the dominant form of communication. A Deloitte survey from 2018 shows that only 33% of Chinese users check their email daily, while 88% check their instant messaging apps daily. Therefore email is not an ideal form of communication. Instead, social messaging apps are the key form of communication and academics use these apps to communicate, promote and discuss their research.

Publisher tools are usually based outside of China and designed with users in North American and Europe in mind. Users in China, accessing these tools on their mobile, can struggle with both connectivity issues and navigating the user interface. 

Charlesworth, through the WeChat Gateway, helps STM Publishers to integrate their services into the WeChat environment. It helps to solve the issue of communication with Chinese authors by powering interfaces that replicate the Chinese eCommerce experience and deliver updates in Chinese. Initially, we have focused on integrating article submission notifications, so a China-based author can receive all the status notifications about their paper in WeChat. These notifications can then be linked to the content in WeChat. For instance, an acceptance message can be linked to author promotion content, creating a great experience for authors.

For Publishers, the Gateway is a tool that can be easily configured without a need to understand WeChat or speak Chinese. The Gateway can be used by a marketing team and the chatbot allows a Publisher to configure the messages which are sent to the author.

What are your plans for the future?

Our vision for Gateway is to integrate the whole STM publishing workflow into WeChat.

Through our partnership with Editorial Manager, we will be able to offer authors submitting their paper to EM Publishers the ability to check article status notifications in WeChat from submission to final decision. Through our ingest relationship, we will also be able to join this up further, so authors can receive notifications during both language editing and article submission and review, without the need to complete a full resubmission to Editorial Manager. 

We are continuing to integrate different systems and satisfy new use cases to create engaging user journeys for China-based authors in WeChat. Our next steps are to look at how an author can submit and manage their article via WeChat and receive notifications across the whole author journey. This includes post-acceptance. For instance, on publication, we want to be able to deliver updates to the author on the citations to their article, usage and support in promoting and marketing their research. We are engaging with multiple publishers, looking at simplifying the China-based author experience through WeChat exclusively, rather than asking them to access multiple platforms.

We are building a new mobile dashboard that allows authors in WeChat to submit papers seamlessly, initially for our language polishing service, but this module will have wider application. We are also developing a voice-recognition feature so authors can request information via WeChat about their article submission or published article.

The platform has been designed to integrate with other social media apps. WeChat has been our focus and continues to be so but we plan to integrate other social messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Line into the Gateway to deliver services to authors based outside of China.  For further information, please visit:

You can hear from all of the Finalists at the ALPSP Awards Lightning Session on Tuesday 8 September. Visit the ALPSP website to register and for full details of the ALPSP Virtual Conference and Awards 2020.
The 2020 ALPSP Awards for Innovation in Publishing are sponsored by PLS.