At the splendid Publishers Forum meeting in Berlin last month, I had the pleasure of chairing a panel that included the CEO, Mark van Mierle, of veteran education publisher Cornelsen. Our panel was looking at Virtual and Augmented Reality, so it seemed natural to ask why his company was making a significant investment in these technologies. After reminding me that it was an area in which they thought they could make money, and that it took them away from failed or failing product lines in print textbooks and re-orientated them towards the service economy of education, he refocused us on another truth. Every now and then, he said, we need to rebadge and rebrand, so markets see us differently and the sort of people we want to employ are more likely to be attracted to us. With this valuable lens firmly in place, the two important acquisitions in scholarly communications that have taken place this week take on a new importance. Neither deal moves the graph of market size or share: both have huge significance for the market and the companies concerned.

It is always refreshing and slightly shocking when one’s wishes come true. When I wrote in this blog about Colwiz and in February that “As I left their Oxford offices the most frequent thought in my head was “why hasn’t a publisher invested and acquired this yet!”, I suppose I was father to a thought that had already crossed the minds of others. But Taylor and Francis have made a really valuable acquisition here, and one that puts them into the forefront of the emerging service economy. A collaborative research platform (Colwiz – collective wizdom) backed by a prototype big data environment for using artificial intelligence and machine learning in discovery and categorisation of results represents a five year forward programme of service derivation and development for T&F, while Colwiz will benefit hugely from the widely differing range of HSS and STM communities within T&F as the experimental base of their work. The usual messages apply of course: start-ups are tender plants, and grow best when managed less. Keeping inventive minds happy in process driven companies can be tough etc etc

But at the moment this is an event to celebrate. Rebadging T&F is long overdue. In former management contexts T&F was the milch cow that went on giving, but as academic research marketplaces change, content as data becomes commoditised, researchers cannot keep pace with the global rate of research reporting, more and more machine reading is needed to keep the map of what is known current and valuable, and companies like T&F have to re-invest and reposition. As a company currently with without a CEO and caught in a swirl of private equity supposition about its own collaborative future, this announcement must be hugely re-assuring to staff and researchers alike: Informa clearly have a plan for asset enhancement and are driving the company towards the future or research marketplaces.

Meanwhile, another staple of the industry is signalling its determination to rebuild and refocus. The Science side of Clarivate Analytics, based around Web of Science, was a famous Thomson Reuters cash cow. When Thomson bought ISI three decades ago, the ideas of Eugene Garfield and the use of the impact factor were already industry standards. While all sorts of evolutionary changes took place along the way (Scholar One, Web of Science etc) no one fundamentally wanted to rethink the model for research in a digital, networked research community, and one where library budgets were under huge pressure. And although many librarians felt that Web of Science was a cornerstone acquisition, as soon as alternative metrics became available and grant-funding bodies became uneasy that the impact factor was too narrow a guage, the pressure began to be felt to develop a response. Yet the attractions of the business model and the thought that they might divest seems to have slowed the thinking , so it is wonderful now to see Clarivate, under new ownership, new management and with a lively board of non-executive thinkers, getting stuck into change with the announcement, today, of the acquisition of Publons.

Peer review, once regarded as the last bastion of publisher control of journal publishing, has itself become a contentious area of activity. Set aside the questioning of pre-publication reviews, the suppression of ground-breaking work by self-interested elites, and the “fake reviews” issues. Think about the huge value of post-publication reviewing, the adherence of both Gates and Wellcome to F1000, and the continued growth of blogging and social media commentary around the scholarly workflow, from idea generation to post publication. Publons is the leading exponent of concentrating the gamut of critical input around scholarly communication and creating a reference environment within which all of this material can be shared. Of course, Publons could not exist if we had not made huge strides – Orcid, Cross-Ref etc – in categorising authors, articles, and contributions within the network. But all of the enablers post-date the impact factor. If Clarivate is to re-establish itself as the value register of record then this is just the type of acquisition it must make. Its neutral position – Thomson sold its journals via Wolters Kluwer to Springer many years ago – is vital here, and a move of this type gives renewed faith that the job can yet be done. Certainly researchers yearn for the certainty that the impact factor once delivered.

And lets conclude where we started. Two important industry players who once appeared to be playing behind their strengths have re-asserted themselves this week.This sends a clear signal to researchers, markets, and above all to the young staff they will need to employ. We still do not know if, as was mooted in the Saale process, Calarivate Analytics will split, withe the patents data business going in a different direction to the Science business. But we do know that the Clarivate Science management, and the T&F management, are in a determined mood to rebuild their positions, which makes this one of the most re-assuring weeks in STM this year.


Name (required)

Email (required)


Speak your mind