Despite a beautifully written blog on the F1000 site , the launch of ORC  ( did not get quite the blaze of commentary that I expected . Perhaps it was the timing , as researchers move away on summer holidays . Perhaps it was a bit sparing in terms of detail – more of a land claim than a plan . Perhaps it was unfashionably big thinking – most of the great conceptualisations of Vitek Tracz have taken some years before publishers have realised what they meant – and in that same moment that they have to buy them . And after all , F1000 sat there for a year or two before leading funders realised it was the perfect funder publishing vehicle . So we should not expect an ORC ( Open Research Central) , be it a Tolkien nasty or a Blakean benign , to be an immediate success , but it certainly lays down potential answers to one of the two key post- Journal Publishing questions .


As we move remorselessly into a world where no individual or team can hope either to read or keep track of the published research in any defined field without machine learning or AI support, primary publishing becomes less important than getting into the dataflow and thus into the workflow of scholarship .  It still helps to be published in Nature or Cell , but that could take place after visibility on figshare or F1000. Get the metadata right , ensure the visibility and reputation management can commence . So the first question about the post journal world is ” Who keeps score and how is worth measured ?”  And then we come to the next question . If the article is simply a waystage data report , and all the other materials of scholarly communication ( blogs , presentations etc) can be tracked , and the data from an experimental sequence can be as important for reproducibility as the article , and reports of  successfully repeated experiments are as important in some instances as innovation, then the scheme of Notification and communication and cross-referencing must be open , community-owned and universally available , so how does it get established ?


As I see it , Vitek is proposing the answer to the second question . His majestic conception is to establish the open channel which completely substitutes current commercial publishing. Using the ideas of open post-publication peer review that he piloted successfully with F1000 for Wellcome and Gates , he will try to cut off the commercial publishers at source by depriving them of article flows for second and third tier journals , even if branded journals still survive as republishers of the best of the best . This is a well-aimed blow , since second tier journals with high circulations and less costly peer review are often the most profitable . . Of course , China , India and Russia may not move at the same rate as Europe and the USA . And , again , the move in some disciplines to erode article publishing into a data dump , a summary finding and a citation , will happen more slowly in other fields and may never happen at all in still others . . But the challenge of ORC is quite clear – here is an open vehicle with open governance that can do the job in a funder-dominated marketplace .


But I am still intrigued by the answer to the first question . Who is the accountable scorer who provides the summary reputation  scoring . The data leader in the current market is almost certainly Elsevier , but can they become the ultimate player in reputation while remaining the largest publisher of journals ?  Wiley appears to be in strategic schizophrenia and Springer Nature need to clear an IPO hurdle ( and decide on buying Digital Science – a critical decision here ) , so the Big Publisher market seems a long way away from coming up with any form of radical initiative. As I have suggested , peer review , if it ceases to be a pre-publication requirement, may once again be the key to all of this . If indeed peer review becomes important at the initiation of a research project- project proposal selection and evaluation of researchers members (the funding award ) – and post-publication , where continual re-evaluation will take place for up to three years in some disciplines , then several attributes are required . This is about a system of measurement that  embraces both STM and HSS , yet is flexible enough to allow for discipline-based development . It requires a huge ability to process and evaluate metadata . It needs to be able to score the whole value chain of researcher activity , not just the publishing element . And for neutrality and trust by researchers , funders and governments it cannot be a journal publisher who does this .


In fact the only company who can do it without starting again is  the one who has done it already in the transition from print to digital . Much of the skills requirement is there already at Clarivate Analytics , the former Thomson IP and Science . The old Web of Science unit , inheritors of the world of ISI and Gene Garfield , pointed clearly in this direction with the purchase of Publons , the peer review record system earlier this year . After years of working the librarian market , however , the focus has to change . As Vitek demonstrates , funders and researchers are primary markets , though there will be a real spin-off of secondary products from the data held in a compressive datasource of evaluation . And new relationships will be needed to create trusted systems for all user types . The current private equity players still  need to invest – in a semantic data platform which can unsilo multi-sourced data and analyse it , and in  some innovative AI plays like Wizdom.AI , bought recently by Taylor and Francis . Although it is relatively late in the day , and I could argue that Thomson should have been investing this opportunity five years ago , there is still time to recreate  the old Web of Science positioning in a new , rapidly changing marketplace .  When Clarivate’s PE  ownership break it up and sell it on , as they will within 3-5 years , then I am sure there will be good competition for the patent businesses ..


But the jewel in the crown , with a huge value  appreciation ( and a potential exit to funders ) could be the integrated science side of the business . And in order to get there , all that Clarivate need to find is the strategic leadership to carry out this huge transformation . When we see what they do in this regard , we shall see whether they are up for the challenge .





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.

« go backkeep looking »