Looking at the two most complete researcher workflow portfolios, those owned by Digital Science and Elsevier, one of the glaring differences has been Digital Science’s lack of a citation database to compete with Elsevier’s Scopus. Today, Digital Science announced Dimensions, a new product that includes a citation database, a research analytics suite, and streamlined article discovery and access. An important innovation in a number of ways, Dimensions will offer stiff new competition for Elsevier and Clarivate.
On Friday, I spoke with Digital Science CEO Daniel Hook and Digital Science portfolio company executives Christian Herzog and Robert McGrath. I received a presentation and was able to ask questions about Dimensions. I received a live demo, but I have not used the product directly myself.
Metrics and analytics are sweeping through academia and scholarly publishing. Of course, the Journal Impact Factor has had a major presence for decades. In more recent years, the shift to managing research and its dissemination on platforms is opening up vast new opportunities for analyzing performance. There is growing interest in measuring not just the performance of journal titles, but increasingly of individual articles, academics themselves, their departments, and their parent universities. University research offices, academic libraries, research funders, and scholarly publishers, are among those with interest in research analytics.
A long-standing product category is the citation database, including Clarivate’s Web of Science and Elsevier’s Scopus. Given their importance for research analytics about journal submission, tenure and promotion, and other purposes, citation databases have proven to be a reliable revenue stream for their owners, even as the launch of Scopus in 2004 provided the first competition for Web of Science. Google Scholar has introduced additional competition, but its sustainability is often questioned. More recently, citation databases have become unstable as a product category, since more and more of the citation data is being made available by the not-for-profit CrossRef and others, but it has remained viable to date.
To support the growing demand for research analytics, entirely new categories of products have developed. For example, research analytics suites have been developed by several companies to allow universities, funders, and publishers to analyze research patterns, identify trends, and conduct comparisons. Notably, Elsevier and Clarivate built their respective research analytics suites, Elsevier’s SciVal and Clarivate’s InCites and Essential Science Indicators, atop their citation databases.
As a result, they have been able to continue selling citation databases through academic library channels while selling analytics suites through other academic customers, including provosts, institutional research, or university research officers. There are also non-university channels for these products, such as funders and publishers. Digital Science has had a product suite in this category, which has been branded Dimensions, and today’s news represents a relaunch of this product and a rethinking of both product categories, the citation database and the research analytics suite.
What is Dimensions?
The new Dimensions product combines a citation database, a research analytics suite, and modern article discovery and access functionality. Compared with its competitors, Dimensions provides expanded data and new integrations, an inclusive approach to content coverage, a “freemium” business model, and a modernized discovery and access experience.
First, Dimensions is built around a series of relationships. Citation databases are built around the relationships between publication units, such as journal articles, and including patents. Dimensions also includes relationships with grant funding and clinical trials, with extensive normalization for fields/disciplines and institutions. It is clear that Digital Science has built a powerful underlying platform that collapses the product categories of citation database and analytics suite into a single new product category. Digital Science will therefore market the same product to university libraries and university research offices, as well as to provosts and other academic channels.
Second, Dimensions is inclusive in terms of content coverage, rather than curated as is the case for Scopus and Web of Science. Of course, what reads to some as more inclusive can be seen by others as less rigorous selection, given the ways that citation databases have been policed to minimize exploitation of bibliometrics. Dimensions claims to include approximately a quarter more items than does Scopus, although curiously Scopus claims to track 60% more citations than does Dimensions (equivalent current figures for Web of Science could not be located on Clarivate websites). Instead of a curated index, Dimensions offers search filters. For example, when searching the scholarly literature, one can limit results only to those journals included in Web of Science, DOAJ, or other sources.
Third, Dimensions is built around a modern business model. Basic individual access, including powerful searches of the article database and links from it to grants and patents, is free and requires no registration. You will be able to try it here by the time this post goes live. This free version includes much of the functionality of Scopus and Web of Science, enough that it may undercut them at some types of institutions. Digital Science CEO Hook emphasized to me that the underlying citation “data are a commodity and should be made as freely available as possible. Where one should make a margin is by innovating on top.” Dimensions encourages individuals to register for the free service using their university accounts, so that more advanced features can be automatically enabled if and when their university licenses the institutional model — a smart move not only for that reason, but also because those accounts will no doubt be used in sales efforts to indicate the level of demand among university affiliates.
The institutional model, called Dimensions Plus, has an annual price tiered according to institution type from approximately $10,000-30,000, providing more of the use case for the research analytics tools. It will appeal to universities that want to search and analyze research grants, clinical trials, and patents, and conduct various kinds of analyses, visualizations, and comparisons. There is also a version including tools designed to appeal to a publisher or research funder. For early institutional adopters, the base price will include access to a powerful API that will allow additional services to be built on or integrated with the underlying database.
And finally, as a result of integrations with ReadCube, for much of its article content Dimensions features indexing of article full text for discovery and can offer a seamless reading experience. On the discovery side, fulltext is indexed for 50 million articles, either from a public source like PubMedCentral or arXiv or from a publisher when it has an agreement in place for ReadCube to make its content discoverable. Dimensions is therefore a more powerful discovery tool than the other citation databases, which do not index article full text for discovery. This development raises the interesting question of whether Elsevier could use Mendeley holdings as a way to bring full text searching to Scopus as a kind of “non-consumptive use” (STM’s “voluntary principles for article sharing on scholarly collaboration networks” appear to be silent on the matter).
On the access side, because “we want to replicate the simplicity of SciHub,” Dimensions uses the ReadCube PDF reader to display articles inside the Dimensions service, enabling truly seamless access to them for universities that choose to enable the feature, at an annual price of an additional $3,000-7,000. This integration of all university journal licenses into the Dimensions user experience will work for all content licensed from whatever publisher (including majors like Elsevier and Springer Nature). In addition, over time, every registered ReadCube user will receive a Dimensions account. As a result of the full-text indexing and seamless article access, and if it expands to cover more content and draw in many registered users, it is possible to see Dimensions growing into a primary discovery starting point for scientific researchers. It will be interesting to see if this possibility draws more publishers to pay for ReadCube integration — or if it leads more to a risk of attrition among them.
Beyond the features of the product itself, today’s Dimensions news is an indication that competition is continuing to heat up in scientific analytics and literature discovery.
Christian Herzog emphasized to me his view that Dimensions’ value to publishers is stronger than that of Scopus precisely because Digital Science is not tied to a publisher like Elsevier. This caught my attention because I have been so curious if Digital Science would eventually be merged into Springer Nature following its IPO. I asked Hook about the development timeline for Dimensions, and he indicated that development work began about 18 months ago, although the roadmap was in place earlier than that. It may be of interest to industry observers that this timeline syncs up perfectly to July 2016, exactly when BC Partners, part owner of Digital Science sibling Springer Nature, failed in its effort to acquire the businesses now known as Clarivate. The timeline for the development of this Dimensions launch clarifies for me that there almost certainly was a time when a merger of Digital Science into Springer Nature was anticipated, whether or not such a merger will take place in the future. It also underscores that Digital Science entering the citation database product category cannot be a surprise to its competitors.
Dimensions is comprised of contributions from six of the Digital Science portfolio companies. This is worthy of note. Dimensions is the strongest indication to date that Digital Science is growing beyond a sector-specific financial investor. Dimensions is a reflection of what deep integration looks like by a sophisticated corporation.
Today’s news provides further evidence that, as competition rises for the discovery and analytics elements of the emerging researcher workflow sector, it does so in a way that strengthens the underlying march towards integration among a very small number of major players.
Of course, we can expect to see others attempt to compete with what is, in one way of thinking, the Clarivate, Digital Science, and Elsevier troika. What can we expect to see from the Center for Open Science? From ResearchGate? From the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s Meta? Each of these three is nipping at one or more significant aspects of the workflow and are deserving of continued attention.
For the largest providers, portfolio dynamics are if anything more important than individual products. Will Elsevier be inclined to continue its various partnerships with Digital Science? Will the collaborations through CrossRef, which are closely scrutinized by certain strategists, shift anew? How big a “moat” is the Journal Impact Factor for Clarivate’s other products? Will the significant pricing pressure likely to be experienced by Scopus and Web of Science as a result of Dimensions limit the opportunities for lock-ins with, respectively, Pure and Converis? Will Dimensions create new opportunities for lock-ins within the Digital Science portfolio?
Others publishers that are not in the workflow game have considerations of their own. Will they view Dimensions as a positive development, by stiffening Elsevier’s competition? Or negatively, not least because the discovery and access features of Dimensions may further reduce their opportunity for a direct relationship with authors?
Ultimately, this emerging battle of the research workflow portfolio titans matters tremendously for academia. Universities are faced with the need to develop a strategy for outsourcing core research infrastructure if they are to benefit from the competition in the research workflow platform market. Innovation and competition in this market is ultimately good for scientists themselves, their universities, and science itself.