Bob Dylan performing at St. Lawrence Universit...
Bob Dylan performing at St. Lawrence University in New York. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ask pretty much anyone in scholarly publishing – or, indeed scholarly communications more generally – to describe the last few years and the chances are that they will use adjectives such as, “disruptive” (see also this recent Scholarly Kitchen podcast), “turbulent”, “fast-changing”, or “exciting” (depending on where on the spectrum between pessimist and optimist they fall).


Change was one of the underpinning themes at this year’s ALPSP conference. BMJ Group CEO Tim Brooks’ informative and entertaining keynote, Waving – or Drowning?, about how his experiences of managing change in the newspaper and scholarly publishing worlds, set the tone.  Other sessions continued the theme, including: Publishing Skills – The Changing Landscape, an interactive look at how we all need to reskill in order to survive and thrive; What is the Publisher Now?,  which looked at the changing role of the publisher; and How Soon Is Now? Discovering What Your Readers Expect Now and in the Future, in which three early career scientists/researchers told us about some of the changes in their worlds that publishers could help them navigate.


Interestingly, however, the recently released results of the latest ALPSP survey on scholarly journals publishing practice (free for ALPSP members, or at a charge for non-members) paint a somewhat different picture. Carried out in summer 2012, the survey was completed by over 250 journal publishers, designated as large (100+ journals – 15 respondents); medium (11-99 journals – 57 respondents); and small (1-10 journals, 189 respondents). Of these, 53 were commercial publishers; the rest were not-for-profit publishers, including 22 university presses.


The most striking thing about the 2012 survey from my perspective is how relatively little radical change it reveals.  For example, there has only been a relatively small increase in the number of publishers offering some form of open access – from half in 2008 to two thirds in 2012, hardly a revolutionary change!  Similarly, I can’t help wondering if many publishers are missing a trick since apparently most of us don’t yet commonly offer text and data mining. And, while there have been some arguably more significant changes – such as the increase in automated manuscript submission systems (from 61% in 2005 to 95% in 2012), or in the option of offering pay per view rising from 65% in 2003 to 83% in 2012 – these are not exactly earthshattering revelations either.


So are we really in a period of unprecedented change or is it more like business as usual? I suspect that part of the answer lies in the timing of the survey, which was carried out last summer before the full impact of the RCUK mandate was understood, and before the flurry of additional OA funder statements and mandates we’ve seen earlier this year. If the survey had been carried out this summer rather than last summer, the results might have looked very different. That’s certainly what ALPSP Chief Executive, Audrey McCulloch, believes:


“Our report has taken the pulse of the industry at a key point in time.  Mandates from bodies such as Research Councils UK (RCUK) on open access have yet to affect the data we have collected, and I fear that our next report will reveal some very detrimental effects for learned societies – who have a key role in academic research – if current policies on open access, particularly very short embargo periods, are not reconsidered.”


If that’s true, then the 2012 ALPSP survey could, in fact, be a very helpful benchmarking tool as we all seek to understand the impact of OA mandates on our industry. And ALPSP might not want to wait another four years before carrying out the next one…


Alice Meadows

Alice Meadows

I am a Co-Founder of the MoreBrains Cooperative, a scholarly communications consultancy with a focus on open research and research infrastructure. I have many years experience of both scholarly publishing (including at Blackwell Publishing and Wiley) and research infrastructure (at ORCID and, most recently, NISO, where I was Director of Community Engagement). I’m actively involved in the information community, and served as SSP President in 2021-22. I was honored to receive the SSP Distinguished Service Award in 2018, the ALPSP Award for Contribution to Scholarly Publishing in 2016, and the ISMTE Recognition Award in 2013. I’m passionate about improving trust in scholarly communications, and about addressing inequities in our community (and beyond!). Note: The opinions expressed here are my own


6 Thoughts on "The Times They Are A'Changing – Or Are They?"

These embargo periods are feel good political acts with no analytical basis. So I have started working on an economic impact model to estimate their harm. As it stands the industry is being treated like a lab rat. Up the dosage and see what happens.

Well they’re not exactly “earth shattering” but it’s still marked changes. You’re simply applying an unrealistic dichotomy here: something is either world changing or exactly the same.

She certainly did not say that things were “exactly the same,” far from it. Her big point was that this survey preceded the big mandate push so the modest changes reported are probably OBE.

Alice, if you do not see significant change, perhaps you are looking in the wrong place. In 1997 the UK accounted for 7.5% of all clinical research indexed on PubMed. In 2012 the UK accounted for only 5.7%. In 1997 China only accounted for 0.9% of all clinical research indexed on PubMed, in 2012 it accounted for 4.5%. In 1997 clinical research was bi-polar with Western Europe and North America dominating. In 2012 medical research is tri-polar with East Asia contributing nearly 15% of all clinical research indexed on PubMed.

Maybe we are indeed seeing a dramatic change. Maybe the RCUK Mandate hasn’t influenced publishers activities as much as would have been expected because decisions made in the UK no longer have as big an impact on medical science as it once did. If that is the case, then yes indeed, I would define this as a dramatic change.

Thanks Mark. I was just looking at the change (or apparent lack of it) reported in the ALPSP survey, which didn’t cover where submissions are coming from. That’s definitely an area of significant change as you say. It will be interesting to see if the RCUK mandate has less of an impact as a result of the shift in submissions as you suggest.

Time will tell. I do not believe that the RCUK Mandate will have a significant impact (excepting British publications) – unless the UK action causes other countries to follow its lead. Even so, I doubt that it will have an impact on East Asian research. On current trends, East Asia will be the second largest source of clinical research (after the U.S.) some time between 2025 and 2030. East Asia already accounts for 20% of all articles indexed on PubMed in 2012, which is only slightly less than the amount produced by the EU that same year. East Asia will become the second largest source of medical information (all article types) indexed on PubMed in 2016 or 2017 – if current trends continue.

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