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Content marketing boosts open access adoption

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Open access (OA) is meant to bring us one step closer to open science. 

But the lack of widespread adoption of OA is often blamed for slowing down research progress. The truth is, accessing the literature is only half of the story. The other half is the obstacle created by the use of specialised language in the literature. That is, the inability to understand the meaning of the research represents an even greater hindrance than access to multidisciplinary collaboration and open science. It is, therefore, important to carefully consider developing value-added content that is designed to make the original OA research accessible to a wider audience. 

Open does not mean understood 

The next step on the path to a more open science requires OA journals to make research articles accessible to a wider audience. The time has now come for publishers to change the way they market research articles. As soon as they make the shift from journal-led to author-led marketing, they will become much more attractive to scientists. Indeed, creating accessible stories or interviews outlining the key findings of research papers provides authors with further reassurance that their work is being adequately promoted by their publisher. 

We know from experience that transforming complex scientific papers into clear, concise and compelling digital stories helps increase visibility. Used as part of a publisher’s content marketing strategy, these accessible digital stories become value-added assets because they offer a unique value to the reader. And in this case, they also contribute to research impact. 

Academics may be new to the idea that marketing tools can be applied to their research. But if a research article is not marketed and marketed correctly, then its reach is limited to a small circle of specialists (if even that). Effective engagement with a wider audience increases impact and opens up opportunities for multidisciplinary cooperation. For that to happen, published research needs to be made visible and understood to scientists in other disciplines and beyond.

Funders, policymakers, journalists, investors and indeed the general public are also important audiences for a researcher. Research funding agencies and institutions increasingly require that research output is made public as a means of promoting transparency and accountability. Thus, the right content approach can help clarify the significance of research and help to persuade funding panels, inform policymakers or encourage industry collaboration. 

By indirectly attracting attention to the original research, content marketing activities also contribute to an increase in both paper downloads and submissions: two of the main challenges faced by library or national consortia and publishers.

OA impact requires making sense of research in an accessible language 

As we move forward with the adoption of OA, academic and research institutions need to start asking themselves who is responsible for the marketing and promotion of research papers their scientists publish. This could not be more important, given the new library and national consortium-level Article Processing Charge (APC) deals. Ensuring that enough scientists avail of these pre-ordered OA publications is a challenge for publishers and their customers. Therefore, publishers and consortia alike need an effective content marketing approach to fully benefit from any deals they broker. 

To guarantee success, an effective content marketing approach requires content that makes sense of research in accessible language. This is now a must. But this kind of value-added content requires specific skills, which many scientists don’t have. In the past — and present—publishers have repeatedly tried to demand that their authors produce plain language summaries of their papers. Some publishers even put their skilled editors to the task of then attempting to polish these scientist-produced summaries. The result is often a jargon-filled, ‘longer’ abstract intelligible to neither experts nor a wider audience. Such demands should not be made of scientists; scientists should continue to do what they do best: scientific research. 

Likewise, it makes sense to leave such value-added content to the professionals that do that best – science writers. An expert science writer not only can understand the science behind the research, but they are also skilled at interviewing researchers, drawing out the significance of key findings and methods, and translating this into compelling science stories. Accuracy is paramount; therefore, it is essential that these stories are also checked by science editors, familiar with the style that is required to reach wider target audiences. 

OA-style funding for content marketing

There are many ways in which these value-added stories can be funded. The most obvious source may be the marketing budgets of publishers or societies. But, the library and national consortia in charge of negotiating transformational deals with publishers should also be more proactive in including such services in the deal. They could allocate a fraction of the total OA deal budget to content marketing. 

Publishers working with consortia have an interest in ensuring that scientists included in the deal actually use the APC provided as part of their deal. Typically, the APC is calculated based on previous publication levels. To ensure that publication volumes remain the same, publishers and research institutes must adopt effective content marketing approaches that support the uptake of pre-ordered APCs. 

For scientists whose papers are not included in consortia or publisher marketing efforts, we envision the possibility of authors themselves selecting which of their research papers merit being professionally turned into accessible digital stories – in the form of a proper plain language summary, a news-style article, an infographic, or a Q&A interview, for example. This approach requires OA publishers to include the option of adding a marketing fee to the APC. Ultimately, this does not fundamentally change the way resources are spent vis-a-vis publication, but rather represents a shift in who bears the costs of such marketing efforts. 

Sabine Louët is founder and CEO at SciencePOD

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