A blend of traditional and new to optimise the discovery of knowledge

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The year 2018 saw a massive boost in the move towards open access in scientific publishing, particularly in Europe. In light of this significant shift, publishers need to build out and modernise their services and adjust their business models to ensure they continue to play an important role in the scholarly ecosystem.

These changing parameters also provide fertile grounds for startup and technology companies to grow. Workflow tools, new research platforms, and data and analytics services are launching in quick succession to serve both researchers and the entire scientific community. In fact, a collaborative spreadsheet already lists over 700 tools and innovations in scholarly publishing. Many of these technology companies are challenging traditional subscription-based business models in publishing and are instead monetising via services and insights that are built on top of an open science framework.

In combination with their agile work structures and fast-paced environment, these companies represent the “new” in the industry. Publishers, with their prestige, vast research repositories, and reputation, represent the “traditional”. While these services are extremely valuable, as the ecosystem moves forward I believe that publishers stand to benefit significantly from working together with technology companies. Publishers can learn from technology companies’ modern workflows and new, open-access friendly business models, helping them stay one step ahead in a fast-changing industry. A collaboration between the two also ensures that researchers gain access to the best foundation of knowledge and can make progress faster.

One example of how this collaboration benefits publishers, technology companies, and researchers alike is in the ways in which research is first disseminated. Researchers are increasingly looking for more options when it comes to sharing and discovering data, in particular metadata, negative results, and other pre-published research. In fact, the main reasons they aren’t sharing this information more often is because they don’t know how to organise this information in a presentable and useful way, plus they’re unsure where they can publish it.

Technology companies are filling this gap. Preprint servers have, for the most part, become an accepted and celebrated fixture in the research community. Platforms are springing up to support collaboration, boost early-stage research discovery, connect researchers with funding bodies, offer data management, and much more. These platforms, tools, and servers have one thing in common: They all gain access to researchers’ data and metadata prior to publication. As such, they provide a more accurate picture of the current status of science than published articles, which researchers spend months or even years working towards. Knowing who is working on what, which research topics are coming up next, and major trends in science is highly advantageous for publishers and all businesses that are downstream in the workflow. These analytics and insights into early-stage science are a burgeoning industry and allow technology companies to monetise without charging for access to content.

Not only do these technology tools provide publishers with insights into the future of research, but in partnership with publishers these workflow tools help to open the entire value chain of science and track research from ideation to published paper. Publishers can benefit from securing a relationship with scientists from a far earlier stage, rather than first coming into contact with authors when they publish a paper. This direct connection with the researcher helps them stay close to scientists throughout the entire research process. Meanwhile, being able to access each step of the research process from beginning to end is massively advantageous for the entire research community. By knowing what others are researching right now, scientists can avoid doubling up on the same work and can build on one another’s work way earlier, helping them make progress faster and accelerate their breakthroughs.

While we have a way to go before researchers embrace sharing their data as openly as outlined above, there are signs that the next generation of researchers is already moving in this direction. This is the same generation that grew up with the internet and that is accustomed to information being freely accessible and discoverable. As such, they have different ideas and expectations for how they should be able to share their research. They embrace data-driven, efficient, and well-designed workflow tools, and are more willing to release their pre-published data provided they receive the proper attribution for their work. By integrating tools that boost the discoverability and accessibility of research, publishers can build a relationship with and engage the scientists of the future.

Science is all about discoveries and breakthroughs, and technological advancements play an essential role in driving progress forward. As 2020 approaches, publishers should see that the shift in scholarly publishing represents an exciting opportunity to digitize and open up academia rather than a threat. The closer they work together with technology companies the better they can adjust to the changes and learn to integrate business models that are in favour of open science. Only by doing this can they secure their important position in the industry and help to democratise the dissemination of knowledge.

Sami Benchekroun is the the CEO and co-founder of early-stage research platform Morressier