Libraries and individual subscribers to journals have seen the problems that can occur when a publication moved or was sold from one publisher to another. Perhaps there would be an editorial change, leading to delayed issues. Perhaps all the subscription data wouldn’t be transferred or the data would be incomplete in some fashion. Subscription agents might not be informed, or might not be informed quickly enough and issues would be mislaid. In recent years we’ve seen articles that should be licensed for open access mistakenly lose that designation as the journal moved to a new platform. As the pace of journal transitions increased in the mid 1990s as the industry began a period of rapid consolidation, this problem became more acute. To address this problem, Nancy Buckley, then of Blackwell Publishing Limited, suggested a robust code of conduct for publishers to adhere to regarding the transfer of journal titles between publishers.
This led to discussions convened by members of the UKSG in April of 2006 and eventually the publication of Version 2.0 of the Project Transfer Guidelines in 2008. Project Transfer was eventually transitioned to NISO (the National Information Standards Organization — full disclosure, I am the Executive Director of NISO) as an ongoing maintenance initiative in 2015. The Transfer Alerting Service, a database managed by the International ISSN Centre, now contains more than 1,500 entries. The pace of transitions has been relatively consistent since 2012, with registrations in the system of somewhere between 150 and 250 titles moving from one publisher to another per year (2013 being the high outlier at 338).
Moving titles can be disruptive but there are other transitions in the community that can be equally — even potentially more — disruptive. With a majority of content now delivered to libraries and users electronically, other significant transitions can cause problems, that are perhaps less obvious but equally disruptive. Publishers often move their entire collection of titles, be they books or journals, from one in-house system to another, or from one hosted third-party platform to another. While these transitions don’t happen at the pace of journal transfers, they are not as infrequent as one might expect. Librarians have reported over 30 content platforms migrated from 2016 to the present.
No systems transition is ever easy and we all trust our vendors to support these transitions in a way that is seamless and worry-free. However, reality often causes problems even in the best laid plans. Hosted digital content systems and the delivery of scholarly content are complicated tasks, including both content format and linkages, holdings data, EZproxy and authentication configuration, security settings, and changes in functionality. Ensuring these processes go smoothly is in the best interest of the publishers making the transitions, the vendors supporting these systems, the libraries that purchase them, and the users who ultimately require the content hosted on them.
NISO announced the creation of a new working group last month that will consider these issues and propose a new set of recommended practice for when a publisher moves from one content platform to another. The project proposal outlines goals “to create recommended practices around platform migrations which would provide a standard process and recommendations to all parties dealing with online content platforms, which would improve communication both before, during and after migration.” Ideally, when it is completed this new recommended practice will address many of the similar issues that once plagued the transition of journal titles before the Transfer Code was released in 2008. NISO is seeking engagement from publishers, hosting solutions providers, library systems vendors, and librarians For those interested in participating in this initiative, they should contact NISO to express their interest. In the end, each publisher and vendor wants to provide the highest quality service. Ensuring that platform transitions meet the goals of the publisher and the end user is in everyone’s interest.