Great week to end a year of tumult. While politics is an aberration, the continued development of the electronic publishing networked world is a continuing delight. In a week I found myself starting the new London Info International meeting in the grey hinterland of London Dockland’s ExCel, and ending it speaking in an auditorium in the National Academy of Sciences Keck Centre in Washington DC. And the uniting theme was not for once despair at the prospects of Trump or Brexit. Instead what brought us all together was the advent of an author driven publishing world where self publishing is now the expected reality, and where the reality of toolkits to make acts of sophisticated self-publishing regularly possible is becoming more apparent daily.

Once again academic and research information leads the way, but what is happening there points as ever to wider societal changes. For me, a deeply prejudiced witness, the unifying thesis here is now clearly apparent. As I said in London and repeated in DC, the breakthrough age of Open Access is now past its zenith. This does not mean that it ends anytime soon or that it does not create new growth points in certain disciplines or geographies. It does mean however that the emerging “new normal” becomes getting an article onto a pre-print server, posting it on a repository or exposing it in services like figshare or F1000. Speed is important as is reputation. We lack good ways of underling authorial reputation, which is why services like Kudos are so important. Whether, in a world of post-publication peer review and networked assessment, we are published in a formal journal, open access or not, is becoming irrelevant. Indeed, the real emerging battleground is whether the article is the best way of communicating results, and I expect to see fragmentation around it continuing to grow. From sectors like cell signalling, where data analysis is cited, given a DOI and communicated to HSS disciplines where it remains a standard for posting results, through the many areas of life and social sciences where it is becoming hard to publish an article credibly without releasing evidential data, this pattern of differentiation is becoming obvious. Yet we still conduct discussions using format, ex-print, terms like journal, book and article as if they meant the same in all instances.

My day at London Info International was called “The Rise of the User”, which was hugely appropriate. But of course, the reason why scholarly communications is the first area always impacted by changes to the dynamics of communications is that it is here that the author and the reader are the same people. This is a world of researchers writing for the people that they themselves read. And, more obviously than elsewhere, writing, publishing and communication is an important part of the workflow of scholarship. As we know from B2B markets in particular, that workflow expression is vital. We can know see how the injection of critical information service organization into decision-making environments can have a profound effect on productivity and risk management. This is what we are squaring up to in research.

As we move to become a self-publishing society, we will automate the ways in which we add metadata and build our publishing into the knowledge structure around us. In the foreseeable future the self-publishing professor will add links which expose all of his previous communications, from blogs to books, and which also expose her experience or ranking or reputational data. It will take time for this to evolve, but as I travelled last week between places it was fascinating to see Wiley announcing a new Author Services deal to help authors get into journals, and Cambridge University Press team with Overleaf to do much the same. This is what we should expect as publishers see how far the barriers to self-publishing are diminishing. I have long watched services like work on smart applications for solving one of the bumpy parts of the road – proofreading – on the road to authorial self-relization. Librarians keep telling me how difficult it is to get researchers to engage in publishing tasks without apparently realising how large a part of librarianship in the future will be engagement in publishing support. And at London info International I was able to get some briefing upon, a really interesting attempt to wrap up the whole package for the research team. These are early stages, but this week I have had a strong feeling of the decks being cleared for action.

And what happens in the longer term. All this week I have been repeating my October mantra from the STM conference at Frankfurt. When APCs get onerous enough Funders become publishers (F1000+ Wellcome). My 2027 market leadership forecast, that the biggest players will be IBM Watson Science, concentrating on experimental repeatability through data analytics (did anyone note the significance of the investment by Digital Science in Transcriptic?) and Gates, concentrating on a service defining reputation and trust in research, which I have nicknamed Guru until they oblige by inventing it!) remains on my slide deck. This week audiences were muted in their reactions: stunned that someone should be so dumb, or shocked at all those publishers getting sold or turned into services and solutions providers, I wonder? Thanks for reading me this year, if you have been and joyous festives before facing all-change 2017.

Greetings from Frankfurt, where I find myself attending, for the 49th time, the greatest book show on Earth, despite claiming for 25 years that my days here are done. Yesterday I moderated the STM Association’s Futurist Panel, where three brilliant men (Phil Jones of Digital science, John Connolly of Nature and Richard Padley of Semantico) spoke brilliantly about the Future of Science Publishing, In order to get us all in the mood for change, I introduced them by quoting the Outsell market report for Science information and scholarly communication for the year 2027. Yes, I said 2027 (not difficult if you are a real Worlock!). And here it is:

Outsell Annual Report 2027

“The clear market leaders, IBM Watson Science and Gates Science Services announced their intention to secure the complete commoditisation of content in a new accord to be signed in 2028. Brad Biscotti, Gates Chairman, announced in his annual statement that they felt that content-based competition was no longer appropriate. “By creating and maintaining a huge central database of scholarly communication between us, we can best serve science by competing vigorously in supporting the research process with intelligent software tools. Our two companies have created a self publishing marketplace – now it is time to move on to increase the value derived from research funding. We shall be changing our name to Gates Smart Research as we roll out our first generation of virtual laboratories.”

His opposite number at Watson Science, CEO Jed Gimlet, issued a matching statement: “This long decade of buying publishers and building self-publishing draws to an end as any research team anywhere has available to it online services and solutions for concluding and publishing research articles and evidential data within days, or at least a week, of project completion. Our tried and tested post- publication peer review systems give an accurate guide to good science, and continue to re-rate research over time. We have maintained some of our strong brands, like Nature, Science and Cell, so that republication there could add additional rating value. But
our duty to science is to ensure that everything is in one searchable place and subject to cross searching by any scholar using his own data mining protocols. In making this move we recognise that the production of research findings is now so vast in terms of numbers or articles and available data that creating content silos creates risk from non discovery of prior research.”

Outsell comment on these statements: “There is some special pleading here, of course, since the decline of library budgets in the last ten years meant that article downloads have rapidly declined, while rising volumes of self-published papers create problems for researchers who fundamentally have ceased to read new research. IBM’s intelligent science module, Repeatabilty, used in over 80% of laboratories, needs far more data than an article typically contains, leading to calls to reassess the usefulness, format and content of articles. And when a Repeatability process succeeds or fails, it automatically creates a new citation, enriching the metadata attached to the database and requiring a mandatory notice to all previous users. IBM think this is a cost they should share with Gates.

Gates in turn would point out that almost no one reads articles now. Almost all enquiry is robotic, governed by research protocols mandated by funders and implemented at project inception and regularly during the research process. This may lead researchers to check some findings, though many of the enquiries are satisfied at a metadata level. Their major program, Gates Guru, uses this type of intelligent machine reading to provide a metrics-based rating system for scholarship and institutions. Guru, following Gates landmark deal with the Chinese Government in 2025, is the universally accepted standard and there is no university or researcher
who does not subscribe to it at some level.”

(DISCLAIMER – this is a work of imagination, not of Outsell, and they should not be blamed for my heresies)

Unusually for such events, we had a good 45 minutes of discussion. Many intriguing and interesting points were raised. There were fewer than usual change – deniers, though a few arguments were tinged with the “say I can go on doing it like this for a few more years – please” frame of mind that consultants to this sector are very used to encountering. It almost seemed for a moment as if we as an industry accept that real change is afoot – and we are several phases in already.

Until I got a beer in my hand, and a smiling, intelligent, successful publisher said quietly “that deal you mentioned between Wellcome and F1000 – you don’t think that will succeed do you? I mean, they will never make money!” And all of a sudden the best part of a decade had flashed past and I was back in that same room at the same time room interviewing Harold Varmus, co-founder of PLoS, in front of the same crowd. He told them about the launch of PLoS1; they said megajournals would never succeed. I rest my case!

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