Cooperative competition, or coopetition, has been around for some time. The digital economy has seemed to spark a renewed interest in inspiring the “cooperation of rivals” to some extent. Scholarly communication also has examples of where rival publishers have worked together to support an industry goal (e.g., CrossRef, ORCID, etc.).

This month the Chefs explore how coopetition might apply to scholarly communications answering the question: What does coopetition mean in scholarly communications?

hands holding jigsaw puzzle pieces

Lettie Conrad: I see coopetition in publishing across many venues and I think competitors-acting-cooperatively can be seen in action right here in The Scholarly Kitchen, among other industry publications and events from the likes of the SSP, ALPSP, and others. Of course, standards formation and governance is an important area where competing forces come together to shape the protocols and terms of engagement in our field.

Of course, standards formation and governance is an important area where competing forces come together to shape the protocols and terms of engagement in our field.

Perhaps most impressive, however, are those organizations that embrace the competitive landscape at the heart of their product strategy. Content and service providers that take an expansive view of the information marketplace are better poised for longevity — for example, those publishers who diversify their sales channels and distribute metadata “promiscuously” across many sectors. A great case study in coopetition is the Article Galaxy suite of integrated options for academic libraries — here, Reprints Desk hasn’t locked their technology into a siloed application, instead they’ve partnered with other providers to allow access to their platform via a number of existing library services.

Coopetition offers us a collaborative approach to modernizing scholarly publishing, where the “walled garden” has proven to have limited success. Given the pace of change in the information economy, these cooperative efforts make good business sense and align with the values at the heart of educational and scholarly enterprises.

Perhaps most impressive, however, are those organizations that embrace the competitive landscape at the heart of their product strategy

Alice Meadows: Although I hate coopetition the word, I’m a big fan of it in practice. As I’ve written before, cooperating — or collaborating — to compete, is an essential element of scholarly communications and, in particular, of the research information infrastructure.

My own organization, ORCID, is a product of coopetition. It’s the brainchild of a group of scholarly publishers, universities, associations, funders, and vendors who realized that there was a need for a researcher identifier that would work across all systems and sectors, disciplines and regions. They put their money — and more — where their mouths were, supporting ORCID not just financially but also through donations of time and expertise, and by being early adopters of ORCID identifiers, both as integrators and as users. And they continue to do so — our Board today comprises elected representatives from a mix of organizations from across the spectrum of scholarly communications, the majority of which must be not-for-profit, per our bylaws.

My own organization, ORCID, is a product of coopetition. It’s the brainchild of a group of scholarly publishers, universities, associations, funders, and vendors

There are huge benefits to being led by this group of coopetitors — for us and, I believe, for them. From our perspective, we get to hear from people who represent all our stakeholder groups, to understand the needs of their communities, and to get input and feedback from them as we develop and implement our strategies. They bring perspectives that we would otherwise be unaware of, have suggestions that we wouldn’t think of, and challenge us in ways that we can’t do alone. I think it’s equally helpful for them to get a more multidimensional view, not just of ORCID, but also of the whole scholarly and scientific landscape, as represented by their fellow Board members.

At ORCID as in all scholarly communications organizations, our overall goal is to support and serve the research community, and coopetition is essential to achieving this.

Karin Wulf: In 2005 historian Doris Kearns Goodwin was still recovering professionally from a plagiarism case that turned into plagiarism cases. And then she published a book that took her back into the oval office (or close enough). A staff member in Lyndon Johnson’s white house, Goodwin’s portrait of the Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln won a clutch of prizes. Then-Senator Barack Obama described it as one of his favorite books, and as president seemed to take inspiration from it for his own cabinet choices (Hillary Clinton chief among them). There was quite a lot of chatter about whether a “team of rivals” was a good or practical strategy. In theory, including competing perspectives among one’s advisors is an antidote to media bubbles and confirmation bias. Oh. And Steven Spielberg made a movie loosely based on Team of Rivals, too.

The idea of productive competition has plenty of history. Not only political, but athletic, artistic, literary, you name it. Competition assumes a winner and a loser. But most of this history suggests that competition makes the winner better — in effect, helps them win. Except team of rivals. The seduction of the team of rivals is the notion that competition can produce a better outcome for all concerned. But that presumes a common goal, and that the common goal is of more importance to the participants than their individual achievement.

In scholarly communications discourse there is a lot of invoking common purpose, but often not as much recognition for the ways that even traditional practices are far more team of rivals than sharpen the winner’s edge. Peer review done well (with transparent processes) is a classic example. The mutual goal of good scholarship brings experts together to review, support, and improve research. Among the serious consequences of bias and discrimination are the ways that they impede this goal.

Peer review done well (with transparent processes) is a classic example. The mutual goal of good scholarship brings experts together to review, support, and improve research.

In fact, the entire scholarly enterprise should be seen in light of common purpose, and our actions within that space assessed in terms of how well we help to collectively advance it. The Team is far more significant than any rivals.

Judy Luther: When the interests of two competing companies align, they may choose to cooperate on an initiative or activity that serves their mutual interests. The dual deposit aspect between preprint servers and publishers can be viewed as an example of coopetition in scholarly publishing. Preprints are the author’s original manuscript prior to peer review, editing, and typesetting. Preprint servers meet the need for rapid dissemination of research and many deposited manuscripts are subsequently published. However, the demand for peer reviewed and edited articles persists, even with Plan S and expanding models of peer review (open/closed, pre/post publication).

The dual deposit aspect between preprint servers and publishers can be viewed as an example of coopetition in scholarly publishing.

The assignment of a Preprint DOI for the author’s original manuscript acknowledged its role in the publishing landscape as preprint servers began to proliferate. bioRxiv furthered this status by offering the option for authors, as they deposit their manuscript in the preprint server, to have it transferred to publishers and submitted for review and potentially publication. Wiley endorses depositing preprints in non-commercial preprint servers and posts their policy statement online. Last year the American Society for Microbiology enabled dual deposit by allowing authors upon submission to an ASM journal to opt for their manuscript to be deposited in bioRxiv. Since then a number of publishers have partnered with bioRvix on dual deposit.

recent article appearing in bioRxiv compared the quality of reporting between preprints in bioRxiv and articles in PubMed. They concluded that peer-reviewed articles had significantly better reporting scores although the observed differences were small and further research is planned. The researchers acknowledged a conflict of interest as their organization is an ambassador for ASAPbio which has advocated for the use of preprints. This article reflects the tension between publishers and the role of preprint servers as competitors in the life sciences.

Jasmine Wallace: Coopetition is not a word that I necessarily like spelling or pronouncing; but as a concept, I stand strongly in agreement. The idea of two potential rival organizations working together to explore, develop and research new products or services is superb; and with its ultimate goal, being both parties gaining a competitive advantage, coopetition could aid scholarly communication in the effort to remain sustainable. In fact, some of the improvements needed to achieve a sustainable future cannot realistically be achieved by one single organization. In that regard, coopetition can help to eliminate certain barriers to sustainability, such as budgets, training, and time.

Take for example, when my organization (American Society for Microbiology) decided to partner with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. We knew they were already leading in the preprint-sphere we were considering. The partnership gave us the opportunity to work with another organization in the industry to provide a more comprehensive solution to meet our customer needs. Many of our members were already raving about bioRxiv and had a growing desire for preprints. Perhaps we could have spent resources to develop our own server; however, we decided to expand our relationship with bioRxiv. The partnership has led to an increase in preprint usage, and more importantly, has aided us in helping our membership further disseminate their science. Coopetition has the added benefit of potentially shifting the customer’s perception of your organization’s ability to deliver innovative solutions.

…we decided to expand our relationship with bioRxiv. The partnership has led to an increase in preprint usage, and more importantly, has aided us in helping our membership further disseminate their science.

On the other hand, one negative aspect in coopetition is partnering with the “wrong” competitor. To help foster a more positive outcome, do your research before entering into one of these types of relationships. Keep in mind that the resources you decide to use will be shared and the capital for your organization will be divided. Each party will be entitled to a portion of what you collectively develop. Don’t shy away from self-analysis, be honest with your organization’s strengths and weaknesses. Focus primarily on areas where your organization is not as strong as your competitor when deciding on who to partner with. Strive to pair with an organization that shares similar goals, but that are operating at the top of their respective domains.

Strive to pair with an organization that shares similar goals, but that are operating at the top of their respective domains.

Angela Cochran: Scholarly publishing has a long history of cooperative competition. That said, if I had a nickel for every time someone asks why societies don’t work together to be a “bigger” entity, I’d be rich.

Where I currently see opportunities is in streamlining submission requirements. As an industry, we are failing our authors by making the submission of papers difficult and time consuming. Some publishers do allow flexibility in initial submission, which is a start; however, authors invited to revise their papers get stuck doing all that work eventually.

Where I currently see opportunities is in streamlining submission requirements. As an industry, we are failing our authors by making the submission of papers difficult and time consuming.

The entire process should and can be easier. Authoring tools have programmatically attempted to format manuscripts per the requirements of individual journals. This is a waste of time. The format of the journal article has remained largely unchanged across multiple disciplines. What varies is the writing style and reference formatting.

I think it’s time for the publishers to cooperatively review these requirements and for the sake of our authors, our vendors, and our staff doing quality control, streamline these requirements. Third parties are trying to solve this problem for us by either inserting a process before submission or doing the messy work for the author. These services will continue to add expense to the process and we really don’t need more hands in publishing a single paper.


Now it’s your turn!

What do YOU think coopetition mean in scholarly communications?

How can the cooperation of “rivals” enhance research and its communication?

Ann Michael

Ann Michael

Ann Michael is Chief Digital Officer at PLOS charged with driving the development and execution of the organization’s overall digital and supporting data strategy. Working collaboratively across PLOS, and through industry collaboration, her team will facilitate the strategic evaluation and evolution of PLOS platforms and processes. Prior to joining PLOS, Ann was CEO of Delta Think. There she gained broad exposure to society and commercial scholarly publishers, librarians and library consortia, funders, and researchers. She focused on strategy and innovation in scholarly communications. Ann is an ardent believer in data informed decision-making and was instrumental in the 2017 launch of the Delta Think Open Access Data & Analytics Tool, a comprehensive, interactive, regularly updated data set with diverse visualizations and extensive analysis, which tracks and assesses the impact of open access uptake and policies on the scholarly communications ecosystem. Ann is a Past President of SSP, a Board Director at Joule (a Canadian Medical Association company), Board Chair of Delta Think, and a member of the Learned Publishing Editorial Board. She has a MS from SUNY Stony Brook in Policy Analysis and Public Management and an MS in Business Analytics from the NYU Stern School.

View All Posts by Ann Michael

Discussion