Last week’s blog on growing STM sparked some debate, mostly around the realization that if existing powerful publishers who work in research article publishing drive business development towards the workflow of researchers and towards the implications of data analysis and visualization, then current business models may collapse in time – and much else with them. For many publishers this may be expressed as a struggle to “buy time” – prop up the existing business model while culturing the new one. And a part of that culture change is almost never discussed publicly in STM circles. It is the skills changes that will have to take place as publishers (article and journal vendors) have to move from satisfying the generalized, “Big Deal” based procurement requirements of powerful research librarians, library network tsars and institutional information management to coping with the market of many, the precise needs of a researcher, a project or a department. While I have not been to a library-based meeting in over a decade without someone raising the plight of disintermediated librarians, no one seems worried by the idea that the front part of the publishing pantomime horse is innovating in development terms a sequence of product and market shifts that the sales and marketing back legs have no clue how to sell.

This thought struck particularly forcefully this week when I read an article ( posted on the Elsevier website on 26 June. Ten years ago I played a brief part as a judge in a competition called The Article of the Future (AotF) organized by Elsevier’s David Marques. Then our aspiration was simply to make the article a born digital environment, not a digitized print artifact. A decade later that is triumphantly achieved, and now the question is the other way about: the article is something which can only exist digitally, and may never again be satisfactorily “printed”. The value in an article, for Elsevier, can only be revealed inside ScienceDirect. The data cursor and interactive plot viewer that enables you to look at the author’s data points will only be available there. Presentation which puts the article in a central pane with a column of navigation on the left and references and tools on the right will be the way to view an article there. Here Kitware SAS have installed a 3D molecular viewer and 3D archaeological viewer – authors upload the model as a supplementary file, and the service then copes with both ribbons and “balls-and-sticks” modelling. A neuroscience 3D imaging package follows.

Then there are the Executable Papers. Just as f1000 has been insisting that data files must accompany articles where relevant, so Elsevier has been experimenting with the journal “Computers & Graphics”. One of the things an article was always intended to do but never managed on paper was to “achieve the full reproducibility of key scientific findings”. Here is a dream of scholarly communication coming closer. Then add some tools: Elsevier show an interactive (Google) map viewer, a chemical compound viewer, interactive phylogenetic trees, and MATLAB figures. And here at last are simple links to connect articles with data held in data repositories, and alongside them links to a PubChem Compound viewer that they have built jointly with the National Center for Biotechnology and Information. Finally, for authors publishing in this AotF format, why not add some AudioSlides? Here, in a voice file with some slides, you can add introduce the concepts and add your own view, outside of the article itself but attached to it, on why this may be important. If article publishing is researcher marketing, this must be a great advance.

So here we have scholarly communication back in the hands of scholars, in the context of wholly digital networked exchanges. With f1000 now creating a logic for post-publication peer review, we can envisage the complete disappearance of the second and third tier journals, with the high brand top journals selecting their articles as post-initial publication edited versions, reflecting some of the feedback and adding more data and supplementary information. In some fields the data and its modelling and the researcher conclusions will stand alone as citable “papers”. The Big Deal argument collapses, as it already threatens to do, into a discussion on database access, and Open Access (more of a threat to librarians than publishers). While publishers use the added value digital article game as a way of bridging the move into workflow markets, they need to know that this is a temporary bridge: in less than five years what seems futuristic today about the Article of the Future will be part of the desktop toolset of every scientist preparing an article for initial publication in his own repository. The emphasis then, and the business of many who call themselves publishers now, will be on selling those tools, creating the services that integrate content in to the context of the research enquiry, enabling the retention and cross-referencing of knowledge, and tracking the benefits – and costs – of lines of research. The race to the Electronic Lab Manual and its successors was never more apparent.

And in this world where are the Research Librarians? One cannot argue with those who point out that important roles of preservation need to be tackled, or that research teams, departments and individuals will all need support and advice. But if those tasks are information management roles within the research team, supported and funded just like the publication of articles, then the infrastructure of buildings and people and budgets surrounding the word “library” may become an anachronism. Publishers who see this as a major release of resources may be tempted to rejoice. Those in sales and marketing who loved the years of brokering “Big Deals” may cry, for the world that beckons requires them to do what every other digital marketplace has had to do, often with limited success: understand the working lives of ultimate end-user customers with an understanding of how they might save time and trouble in the search for greater productivity, better decision making, and improved compliance with research benchmarks and good practise.


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