There is sometimes a feeling around scholarly publishing that its existence is self-justifying, and its margins are simply the price paid by the academy for a necessary service . If anyone doubts the entrenched complacency of many industry players ( and their owners and investors ), then they are invited to look at results from companies like RELX , published last week , which showcase a fine performance by the industry leader Elsevier . If not the growth engine in the portfolio any more , Elsevier still reports over 30% Ebitda , come OA , come Covid , come what may . 

Those of us , and I am one , who now believe that the current publishing system is crucially undermined , and that pure-play journal publishing is an increasingly high risk business , have advised publishers for years to concentrate on the wider services and solutions context of getting research disseminated, to look at the data needs and their implications , and to concentrate on the emerging digital needs of researchers , institutions and funders working in the same contextual network. 

And then , all of a sudden , you find yourself reading something rare – a White Paper from people who DO understand, who are addressing the whole workflow process of the researcher , who do appreciate the entire value equation at work here . The White Paper, entitled “ Imagining the Post Covid World of Scholarly Communications “ ( see link below ) comes from Cactus Global , an organization whose underlying DNA is in supporting the researcher , and not in journal publishing , but every journal publisher should read this , and then think long and hard about its implications . 

For me , the commentary on peer review and its automation has special impact . Think of a time when authors are able to pre-prepare peer review research and package it with the submitted article . The implications of that for publisher claims around costs and publishing time scales are one thing . The potential for this to lift peer review away from publishers altogether is another . I had similar feelings about the section on recommendation engines and author engagement , and about the democratisation of access . The writers here are fully conversant with the ‘digital first’ world inhabited increasingly by researchers but , apparently , by few of their publishers. .Above all , this team of writers envisage a future based on searchable data , and the primacy of data , metadata and data derived from usage is a backbone assumption . 

So what will the shifting of the tectonic plates described here produce ? Here are a few pointers that reading this paper induced me to think about : 

These questions remain for me , stimulated by an excellent and thought provoking paper . Through this type of discussion a digitally initiated , as distinct from a print world simulated , workflow and value chain for bringing  funding to research , research reports to users of all classes , evaluation of outcomes to and reputation management to all who need it will slowly emerge . The issues really are much more important than the future of publishing .