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What is the added value of a traditional publisher?

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Lyubomir Penev was interviewed as part of Research Information's report The Scholarly Publishing Research Cycle 2018

What do you see as the biggest challenges in scholarly publishing today?

The scholarly publishing arena is probably more dynamic than ever. While issues such as discoverability of content and penetration of open access on the market seem to be addressed more and more adequately by new technological solutions, there seems to be an expanding dissatisfaction among researchers and libraries alike, when it comes to other problems, such as 'double dipping' and pressure to publish in high-impact journals. On the one hand, hybrid model journals are getting increasingly infamous within the community, on the other, researchers are often still pressured to publish in them through conservative and dated institutional criteria. Initiatives such as the so-called 'Plan S' are looking to halt the 'double-dipping' practice and promote open access by constituting a change in institutional criteria, where they are struggling to catch up with the fast-paced changes in the landscape. Although indisputably positive, this trend is still affecting mostly Europe and countries within the EU, which still constitute a small percentage of the world’s scientific outputs. 

Another pressing issue, especially in the context of smaller society- and university-press-owned journals, is keeping up with technological advancements and new trends, especially in the rapidly developing field of semantic publishing. Many respected, old titles find themselves in a position, where despite rigorous editorial practice and publishing good science, they lose authors due to the inability to provide industry-accepted standards in areas such as discoverability, archiving, promotion, machine-readability and presentation of published content. While these services are all available on the market, restricted budgets often mean that smaller organisations cannot really take advantage of them. This is exactly where we see the role of holistic solutions, such as ARPHA Platform (www.arphahub.com). By providing all these services in an end-to-end journal management, hosting and dissemination environment, such options allow smaller journals to modernise and grow at minimised cost and efforts. An additional burden to smaller budgets, which can be to an extent alleviated by choosing the right partnering platform, is the increasing need of advanced marketing and promotion in the context of scholarly publishing, which requires a new set of professional skills and effort. 

What can publishers do to help overcome these challenges in scholarly publishing?

The current dissatisfaction with scientific publishers is an obvious issue, with practices, such as 'double dipping' and services, such as the reprint servers, becoming the reason for the community to ask: what exactly is the added value of a traditional publisher? From our point of view, as a fully gold open access publisher and technology provider, there is an urgent need for publishers to demonstrate transparency, when it comes to forming their price policy, alongside a strong will to develop and adapt technologically together with the needs of the community. This is exactly why we have projects such as the Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO) journal (www.riojournal.com), in our portfolio. RIO demonstrates our will to work towards true open science, where outputs along the full research cycle are published alongside the final peer-reviewed research article. These include research proposals, data, methods, negative results, presentation abstracts, software descriptions in a single research project collection. Opening the research cycle in this way does not only stimulate re-use and help researchers avoid duplication of work, but can also promote collaboration and interdisciplinarity. The real value to publish in RIO also comes from the fact that upon publication all these outputs become citable and discoverable. This functionality is, in fact, enabled on all our journals thanks to our publishing platform ARPHA, which is specifically developed to provide high level of automation and technologically advanced workflows, not only on terms of dissemination of archiving, but also for semantic enhancements of published content and integrations with industry’s leading service providers. 

What can the library sector do to help overcome these challenges?

The obvious answer is to negotiate deals with larger publishers and refuse to accept pressing terms, when it comes to subscription packages. However, there is another great strength that lies with libraries, when it comes to changing the publishing culture towards open access and open science. Researchers often consult their institution’s library when it comes to choosing a publication venue for their research and even when editors are looking for new platform or publisher of their new and old titles. The real role of libraries here is to be fully up to date with emerging new options, so they can help their researchers make the best choice that also reflects their personal view of the future of the publishing industry.

What can researchers do to help overcome these challenges in scholarly publishing?

Many members of the research community are already doing it! Despite old-school rules that measure their impact, many researchers are finding a way to juggle with points and merit systems and still publish good science in forward-thinking, open access venues. It seems the idea that there is more beyond traditional research merit systems is increasingly growing on the research community, this is also greatly helped by new metric tools such as Altmetric and Dimensions, which add a new layer to the ways in which we understand impact.

Lyubomir Penev is managing director and founder of Pensoft Publishers