Just over a week ago Paul Peters, the CEO of Hindawi penned a post on Hindawi’s blog laying out the reasons for their decision to terminate their membership of the STM Association. You can read the full text of it here.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that I know Paul Peters, several members of the Hindawi senior staff, and most of the STM Association’s employees.

diverging paths

The decision to leave the STM Association comes at an interesting time for Hindawi. Over the past year, they’ve been scaling up their operations in London. They’ve hired a UK-based management team, and recently begun to hire editorial community managers, a move which will likely strengthen their relationship with academia as they continue to develop what is increasingly looking like a viable and scalable alternative editorial model.

It’s fair to say that at one point, some academics viewed Hindawi with suspicion. As a startup open access (OA) publisher based in the global south, some people made unfair assumptions about their motivations and business practices. Over time, these suspicions have been shown to be unfounded and that’s in no small part due to the work that Peters himself has done engaging directly with academia and with the publishing industry.

Like many of us in the publishing industry that are trying to drive change, Peters has involved himself with various trade organizations. He’s a founding member of the Open Access Scholarly Publishing Association (OASPA), he’s on the Crossref board and most importantly here, he’s a former member of the STM Association board.

For an advocate of change, the reasons for getting involved in community projects and trade organizations are many. For a start, it raises your profile in the industry. When people work with you, they get to know who you are and what you stand for. This is particularly important if you occasionally say things that people don’t necessarily want to hear.

Perhaps more importantly, being involved in committees, groups, and boards gives you a seat at the table. As somebody said to me just recently. Being involved in the STM industry is a bit like being in the UN. It may be difficult to make big differences quickly because there are a lot of opinions and voices, but if you’re not in the room at all, nobody can hear you.

What makes Hindawi’s leaving significant is precisely Peters’ previous level of involvement. There is a temptation to think that he has tried to engage with the STM Association, found them inflexible and difficult to influence, and decided his time is better spent elsewhere. In his own words, he wrote this in last weeks blog post

This decision has come as a result of STM’s overwhelming focus on protecting business models of the past, rather than facilitating new models that Hindawi believes are both inevitable and necessary in order for scholarly publishers to continue contributing towards the dissemination of scholarly research in the years to come.

Fairly strong words, I think you’ll agree, coming from a former board member.

I’ve not sat on the board of the STM Association, but I have had a lot of involvement with them. I know most of their staff fairly well and have contributed to several of their committees including the Standards and Technology Executive Committee. In my experience, the STM Association has taken a fairly neutral role with respect to technological and business model innovation. They’re not an advocacy organization in either direction, but rather one that works through consensus, albeit with a structure that by design gives greater say to larger companies.

I’ve generally found that once I’ve been able to demonstrate that an idea has some traction, I’ve often been offered the platform to make my case to the members of the Association. Through the STM, I’ve found platforms to advocate for the needs of early career researchers, emerging markets, alternative metrics, data sharing, and a number of progressive ideas.

On the other hand, I sympathize with Hindawi’s position here. The consensus in the scholarly publishing community can be very conservative and hard to change. It’s a big ship to steer and it sometimes takes longer than it should do for good ideas to get accepted as such. Part of the problem is that some of the larger organizations in the industry struggle with their relationship with their customers, with frustration and misunderstanding on both sides of that divide. Under those conditions, it’s sometimes difficult for companies to update their understanding of the needs of their customers.

I spoke with both Peters and Matt McKay of the STM Association this week. McKay sent me to following statement, on behalf of STM:

STM expresses sadness that Hindawi has chosen to end its membership with the Association. STM represents over 140 members, which combined publish most of the OA content in the world. Our members operate a wide variety of business models, both traditional and new — each having its place in an industry which offers both diversity and choice. Of course, we welcome continued engagement with Hindawi, as we do with everyone working towards the common goal of the dissemination of the results of science. STM CEO Michael Mabe looks forward to working together with Hindawi CEO Paul Peters, representing OASPA, on the European Commission Open Science Policy Platform (OSPP), where all parties present seek to enable positive and sustainable OA policies as well as the best possible outcomes for Gold OA Publishers.

When I spoke with him personally, he seemed mostly saddened and disappointed that STM had lost a member. He told me that he would urge any members with concerns about the direction of the association to have a conversation with the board. When I put this to Peters, he pointed out that he had spoken to senior staff at STM early this year to explain Hindawi’s reasons for leaving. Interpreting this, it seems that by last year, Hindawi felt that its needs and the direction of STM had diversified to the point where Hindawi felt that it was time to move on and the decision had already been made.

Perhaps Hindawi have become frustrated with having to make the same arguments about the need for a transition to OA over and over again. Clearly, they’re looking for an organization that will provide greater support for new ideas and act independently as a force for change in the industry, rather than simply a neutral platform. Hindawi see OASPA and Crossref as just such organizations. Alternatively, perhaps Hindawi now see that their reputation and level of recognition has grown to the point where they can act as more of an independent advocacy force, as PLOS do. Either way, this move doesn’t signal a scaling back of Hindawi’s outreach and advocacy efforts.

In many ways, the move to leave makes sense for Hindawi. The STM Association is just not the correct venue at this point, to do what Hindawi wants to do. Thanks to Peters’ hard work in establishing the Hindawi brand, they are now in a much stronger position to advocate and lead either independently, or through organizations like OASPA and Crossref. Hindawi’s announcement should be seen less as a snub towards the STM Association, but more the sign of an evolving company carving out an independent position in a changing marketplace.

Phill Jones

Phill Jones

Phill Jones is Director of Publisher Outreach for Digital Science. His job is a complex and nebulous thing with seemingly ever evolving responsibilities. These days, he spends quite a lot of his time working in the Consultancy, drawing on Digital Science's data and expertise to support decision making for publishers, institutions, funders and governments.

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Discussion

36 Thoughts on "Why Hindawi Left the STM Association and What It All Means for the Industry"

Thanks for looking into this issue Phill. It is interesting to watch these small yet probably significant indications of a sector in transition.

Are there other all-OA or principally-OA publishers in STM? Do you have any sense of their views on the organization?

Thanks Roger,

As Martyn points out, MDPI are the only publisher that jumps out from the list of STM association members as being an ‘OA publisher’. I haven’t spoken to anybody there, so I’m not sure.

It’s worth noting though that OA isn’t the only form of innovation in publishing. There’s open science, data sharing, infrastructure, metrics, workflow tools, to name a few. The association has a number of members that are working with innovative technology or business models. Crossref, ORCID, River Valley, CHORUS and the company I work for, Digital Science, are examples. Perhaps some of the more progressive voices in the industry will weigh in.

I’m not a Digital Science spokesperson and I post here as an individual, not an employee of DS, but generally, DS seeks to work and talk with stakeholders from across the scholarly communication and research metrics landscapes to help organisations adapt to the changing environment and evolving market needs. We engage in any way that allows us to participate in that conversation. As I wrote in the piece, I’ve always found STM to be generous in offering me a platform to make my case about various things, but it’s always been up to me to actually convince people.

The walls between OA and non-OA dissolved a while ago. There are major publishers of OA content (SpringerNature, Elsevier, and many others). Not sure this is a useful distinction to pursue, given that what some might call a “non-OA publisher” (SpringerNature) publishes the largest OA megajournal, and Elsevier may be the largest OA publisher in the world. The appropriation of OA by commercial publishers is the new normal. These “OA publishers” seem comfortable with STM.

Hi Kent, thanks for putting up the clarification, in case others are unaware about how steadily the market is evolving in this way. I specifically worded my question around “all-OA or principally-OA” publishers, and not about non-OA publishers, for exactly that reason. I don’t think that even Springer Nature or Elsevier (to take your examples) yet can be categorized as principally OA, even though there is no question that they are major OA publishers.

Hi Kent,

You’re right of course that many publishers have gold OA journals and hybrid journals might be the norm at this point for subscription supported journals at this point. That’s why I put “OA publisher” in inverted commas.

Having said that, for traditional publishers that have started some OA offerings, it generally represents a small fraction of their business and for most of them, they’re doing so to meet a new market demand, not because they’re seeking to actively drive a transition to gold OA as the dominant business model. In that sense, there remains a difference between publishers like PLOS and Hindawi on the one hand and those like Elsevier. Wiley, and most society publishers on the other.

Thanks Phill. I’ve had less exposure to STM myself but when I did have a chance to attend and participate found everyone very interested in engaging new perspectives.

Not a lot to go on. It sounds like Peters went to the mat on a Gold OA related Board resolution and lost. Any record of that? Are STM Board meetings open? What does McKay say? More questions than answers.

Frankly I find this insinuation offensive. I originally went back to you before approving this comment to make sure you were willing to publicly make such an unsupported accusation, but you insisted that there must be some hidden conspiracy lurking in the shadows.

Do you have any evidence to back up your claims that the STM Association, Hindawi and the author of this post are lying? Or is this just rumor-mongering paranoia on your part? I will ask you to put up or shut up. Provide evidence if you wish this discussion thread to continue.

With all the post-election fake-news, filter-bubble and alternative-facts talk, why get so offended at suspicious readers asking questions if the story sounds fishy to ’em?

Exactly for the reasons you mention. When public figures can outright lie and make accusations of voter fraud and talk about non-existent terrorist attacks, I think that’s problematic. On this blog, we hope to have a higher standard — if you are going to publicly impugn the reputation of two organizations and one blogger, you better have something with which to back it up.

There’s a thick fat line between being inquisitive and impugning reputation. How you managed to read the latter into David’s questions is beyond me though…

  • saša marcan
  • Feb 13, 2017, 2:32 PM

Let me offer some clarity:
First, I have served on the Board of Directors for STM for several years. In my email response to the original comment, I stated clearly that no such trigger event occurred, no mystery initiative happened. The commenter refused to believe me. So now that makes the STM, Hindawi, the author of this post and me, all accused of lying to cover some unknown imaginary thing up for unknown imaginary reasons. These are accusations I take seriously, and as such demand serious proof to back them up.

Further, there is no clear motivation offered here, other than the random speculation of the commenter. If indeed there was some grand initiative that Hindawi wanted to implement and that STM refused to support, why would Hindawi choose to keep this a secret? Their blog post on leaving STM was a savvy bit of marketing, positioning themselves as an OA advocacy leader. If they did indeed have some plan to drive OA adoption that they previously hoped to make public via STM, why would someone in their position try to hide that plan?

Note that the commenter is not a publisher, has never been a member of a publishing organization such as STM, and has no experience in the sorts of cost/benefit analysis that publishers use to make decisions on spending the funds on membership to such organizations.

And since that comment was posted, there is a direct statement from Hindawi that no such initiative existed, no single trigger event.

Reputation matters in the scholarly communications community. For someone to accuse STM of a cover up, to accuse Hindawi of directly lying, and to accuse two members of this blog as being party to some nefarious conspiracy is an extraordinary accusation. And as we say in the scientific world, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Wildly flinging about unfounded rumors is damaging to the reputation of those accused. This goes beyond mere “inquisitive” behavior or asking for further information. This was a direct accusation, which I’ll repeat:
” It sounds like Peters went to the mat on a Gold OA related Board resolution and lost.”

This statement is entirely untrue, and has been refuted by all parties involved. You may think this is an overreaction, but the careers and business success of those involved depend on their reputations, and baseless rumor-mongering is damaging to those reputations and should be called out as unfounded.

  • David Crotty
  • Feb 13, 2017, 6:02 PM

Requiring professional qualifications and evidence for asking questions and thinking out loud in the comments section just seems a bit ivory towerish and filter bubbly is all. Suggesting that public statements are all truth and nothing but even more so.

  • saša marcan
  • Feb 15, 2017, 2:59 PM

When I (or the authors on the blog I edit or a society for which I serve on the board) are publicly accused of lying or conspiring to hide the truth, I think that goes beyond “thinking out loud.” I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask for evidence to back up such speculation, do you?

  • David Crotty
  • Feb 15, 2017, 3:16 PM

It’s completely unreasonable, especially considering that the faux-accusation part of the story appears to have taken place in your private correspondence after the original comment.

And because I’m having a hard time figuring out what would constitute sufficient evidence for suspecting that there’s more to the story than what is told.

  • saša marcan
  • Feb 15, 2017, 3:40 PM

Sorry, no, you’re wrong. Slander is a serious offense, and even speculating about it seems reasonable enough justification to call for actual evidence beyond “I’m just guessing.” The email conversation took place because I was willing to privately offer testimony that the accusation was false, which the original commenter refused to accept. You’ll note that I, at his request, posted the comment on the blog, allowing just the sort of speculation you suggest is important, but then I responded with a demand for evidence. None was offered.

and because I’m having a hard time figuring out what would constitute sufficient evidence for suspecting that there’s more to the story than what is told.

How about any evidence whatsover? I have a feeling that maybe you cheat on your taxes or beat your spouse. Is it okay for me to publicly speculate on such matters, even though I have no evidence to show they’re true? If I post this accusation in response to every comment you leave on this blog, would you find that offensive or ask me to support such accusations? I’m just thinking out loud, and sorry if it slanders you and harms your reputation.

  • David Crotty
  • Feb 15, 2017, 3:51 PM

Doesn’t bother me unless it’s a *real* dirty secret of mine that you’re speculating about. Otherwise, I don’t catch feelings over a bit of trash talk.

The evidence, though — does ‘any’ cover ‘circumstantial’ or is it more of a documents-and-transcripts-please type of requirement?

  • saša marcan
  • Feb 15, 2017, 4:53 PM

Thanks, I’ll be sure to start spreading rumors about you and that incident with the wok, the trampoline and the doberman pinscher.

The evidence, though — does ‘any’ cover ‘circumstantial’ or is it more of a documents-and-transcripts-please type of requirement?

Circumstantial evidence would have at least established some context for suspicion. I might even have settled for a suggestion of motive, which was entirely lacking here and frankly contradictory to the whole notion being presented (a company makes a big stink about something to get a publicity boost yet is covering up the mysteriously secret thing it is promoting about itself). I’d even have been okay with someone who had experience with these sorts of groups or these sorts of financial decisions stating that it seemed at odds with that experience. Here you had none of that, just a suspicion pulled entirely out of thin air. To me, that’s not enough to damage the reputation of a company that has worked very hard to build a good name for itself, let alone the other parties involved.

  • David Crotty
  • Feb 15, 2017, 7:31 PM

If something like that happened, I didn’t hear about it. I’ve never sat on the board, so I can’t say for certain but I very much doubt there was some gold OA showdown that everybody is sworn to secrecy about.

I hear that the STM association store their board minutes in Area 51, so you could try there. That seems like a lot of work, but Lord Lucan is such a good archivist that it just makes sense.

David- I would like to state for the record that there was no single point of conflict between Hindawi and STM that resulted in our decision to leave the association as you have suggested in your comment.

Thanks for the clarification, Paul. I was just speculating since no specific reason has been given for the breakup. Perhaps you can say what Hindawi thinks STM should be doing that it is not?

David,

As I wrote in my post the reason to the best of my understanding is:

“…they’re looking for an organization that will provide greater support for new ideas and act independently as a force for change in the industry, rather than simply a neutral platform. ”

Also, in the context of Hindawi being a founding member of OASPA and Paul Peters being the President of it:

“…they are now in a much stronger position to advocate and lead either independently, or through organizations like OASPA…”

Thanks for sharing these insights. Do you think that in the future there is likely to be an organization designed around open access publishers and other yet-to-be-invented new business models?

“an organization designed around open access publishers”

Isn’t OASPA a candidate as such an organization? (Maybe not: I might be missing something.)

OASPA looks to be the high priced OA publishers, excluding the 1000+ low priced Beall’s list publishers. So the rapidly growing low price LMIC business model is excluded.

David, looking at OASPA’s membership criteria I don’t see anything about size of APC. Do you have some reason to believe that OASPA specifically excludes publishers for being low-cost?

Yes Rick, many of the numerous criteria are either out of reach of the low cost LMIC journals or inconsistent with their general practices. It might even be argued that simply being on Beall’s list violates this criterion: “Members should not indulge in any practices or activities that could bring the Association or open access publishing into disrepute.”

  • David Wojick
  • Feb 14, 2017, 6:52 AM

As Walt says, OASPA seem well positioned to fill that role and perhaps they will. Hindawi are a founding member of OASPA.

Interesting post. We are fully engulfed in Identity Politics of all shapes and sizes. I am not a historian but I would venture a guess that populations (of which scholarly communication is one) ebbs and flows over time between a society for all and a society for everyone. What I mean is that we can have 1-2 groups that broadly represent the majority (a society for all), or we can have multiple societies serving the interests of different populations (a society for everyone). I would further guess that when the tide rises for everyone, there is little concern about not being represented on 100% of the things important to you as long as you aren’t opposed to what your chosen representatives want to do. On the flip side, when margins get tight and groups within the population start to feel outnumbered and under-represented, there can be a desire to find a new representative that speaks more to your concerns.

Right now in scholarly publishing, we are seeing this by way of the big publishers getting bigger and having a louder/larger say in the groups that “represent” us all. Technology acquisitions and policy proposals do sometimes feel like new initiatives are favoring large publishers. I have talked over the years with a number of people who feel like the society publishers (as one slice of the population) are getting pushed further and further to the margins. As I attend meetings this spring, I am supposed to also be thinking about which of these societies we should remain a member of or maybe join for the first time.

When disenfranchised groups decide to start their own club, or change an existing club to align more with their goals, we lose a little bit of something. We go into the trenches and stop listening and learning from each other. Eventually we figure that out and the pendulum swings again.

Thanks Angela,

That’s a great comment. We’ll have to see how things pan out. Maybe the organisations and people with varying viewpoints inside the industry will start to become more separate as communities.

Would the decision to leave the STM Association have anything to do with an enormous increase in the number of published articles in some Hindawi journals? Did this increase suggest a dramatic change in Hindawi’s peer review procedures? For example … Abstract and Applied Analysis grew from 299 articles in 2011 to 1584 in 2014 … when it was apparently dropped from Web of Science.
It has published a total of 5221 articles, to date, of which only about 700 since 2014

I don’t think so.

If anything Hindawi’s peer review process has become more robust. What’s changed is that Hindawi are increasingly establishing their brand. As I mentioned in my post, there was a time when some academics viewed them with suspicion. At one point they were on Beall’s list until they were removed after discussions.

I think the truth is that they’re becoming more popular and recognised as a brand. So in a way, it is connected to greater amount of content, but only because they’re strong enough to start advocating for gold OA outside of the STM association.

Phill: I like your reasoning–but in any case Hindawi’s overall numbers are *not* growing rapidly, at least not based on DOAJ entries. I’ve gotten that far in my 2016 update to Gold Open Access Journals (I’m in the “S”s now), and it looks like Hindawi peaked in 2014, with small overall decreases in 2015 and again in 2016.

Thanks for the clarification, Walt.

I made an assumption based on the original comment and should have checked the numbers myself. Either way, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of a drop in quality at Hindawi, which was what the original commenter was concerned about.

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