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Tech focus: publishing platforms

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Report reveals what is considered important for users in the scholarly community

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Publishing platforms are digital solutions designed to help publishers and authors promote and disseminate content. 

In its simplest form, a platform is an accessible location to host content and make it discoverable. Authors can be restricted in what they can get published due to stringent testing processes, which restrict the spread of information. Publishing platforms allow authors to share their insights on a digital platform, and promote the sharing of information with their intended audiences. 

A publishing platform needs give publishers control of all the key functions that they needs to run their online business and drive growth: how their content is hosted, presented, marketed, and sold. It needs to support all of a publishers’ content, products, and websites, and be easy to customise, extend, and link to third-party systems. An effective publishing platform increases the value of a publisher’s content and the impact of their digital brand with websites that adapt the features of successful consumer websites specifically for research content.

There are conflicting opinions on what makes a good platform.

John Sack, Highwire founder, told Research Information: ‘Platforms are largely perceived as a commodity within the scholarly publishing sector. Yet what elevates one platform above the competition is one that places the end-user customer at the forefront of the experience. Enhancing discoverability and improving access to journals for the end-user are crucial for a platform to stand out. 

‘If a user doesn’t know that a piece of content exists in the first place, there is no use for a publishing platform anyway. So by offering a platform that can encourage the discoverability, visibility and dissemination of academic content; that’s how platforms can stand out over the competition.’

Marty Picco, VP for product development, Atypon, concurs: ‘Ongoing investment in its development and a shared source of R&D are key. An online publishing platform and associated technologies are critical to any publisher’s success, but publishers don’t all have the wherewithal to make the kind of investment in technology they need to remain competitive. 

‘By choosing a platform for which technological innovation is continuous, publishers can benefit from the R&D, compliance, and new feature development done for other publishers and as platform improvements. Beyond specific functionalities, a platform should be a way to leverage the ongoing development of new features and the benefits of R&D across numerous publishers.’

This year, communications agency TBI has been carrying out research, on behalf of eLife, into the use of publishing platforms within the world of scholarly communications.

The centrepiece of the research was an online survey, which was distributed to respondents within the learned and professional publishing industry. The main aim of the survey was to identify what’s most important for publishing teams in identifying and selecting a journal content hosting and delivery platform, and also where their current platforms fall short.

The survey was completed by 221 respondents, almost half of which represent smaller presses publishing less than 2,000 articles per year (n= 108) – university and library publishers, non-profits, and academic or professional societies. These organisations typically have a limited publishing portfolio consisting of in-house journals and other small, third-party journals. They are also slightly more likely to use vendor-provided publishing platforms or open source platforms to host and deliver their content, and in most cases their operations are managed by a publishing technology team consisting of just one to five people (56.5 per cent), or no dedicated technology team at all (19.4 per cent).

The most important factors for small presses when selecting a publishing platform are, perhaps unsurprisingly, focused on clear pricing and business continuity. The top-rated factors among respondents were a smooth implementation of any new system (100 per cent deemed this highly or somewhat Important), a complete transparency of pricing (97.7 per cent), proven and reliable security (97.7 per cent), and with any downtime addressed quickly (96.4 per cent). 

Respondents from smaller presses were also keen on solutions that encompass the whole publishing workflow (74.3 per cent deemed this highly or somewhat important, compared to the average of 62.6 per cent across all cohorts), presumably to reduce the need for integrations and management of multiple systems – a situation that can prove challenging for organisations with a small, or no, dedicated publishing technology team.

The second half of the survey asked respondents to indicate satisfied they were with how their current platforms met those highly or somewhat Important needs. These findings highlighted that many of the key shortcomings focused on the development and deployment cycle for new features – in particular, small presses want improved reporting (36.4 per cent were either somewhat or highly dissatisfied with their current platform in this regard), full control over platform changes (35.7 per cent), and a willingness of the vendor to change the platform to meet their needs (39.1 per cent). In aggregate, these findings point towards a dissatisfaction with current hosted solutions’ flexibility, with some commercially-available platforms charging a premium for updates.

The findings from the survey are consistent with a previous programme of qualitative research undertaken by the team at eLife. These findings were used to inform development of the roadmap for Libero Publisher – a free and open-source publishing platform, which launched its initial demonstration version in July 2019.

Iliyana Kuzmova, marketing director of the ARPHA platform, explained: ‘In the still rather small world of independent end-to-end platforms there are a few major points that people should look at to make sure they are not getting stuck with something that won’t allow them the flexibility and technological solutions they are looking for. 

‘Among these are: Is the platform truly end-to end? Does the platform provide consultancy and technical support? Is the platform integrated with the industry’s major service providers? Does the new platform that you want to switch to reduce time, effort and funds to your editorial office? Does a platform enhance your content to attract readership and citations?’

Kaveh Bazarghan, of River Valley Technologies, reflected: ‘Platforms should “just work” on all operating systems and on any modern web browser, with little or no user instructions. All platforms should be “responsive” and usable on any mobile device. Clients rightly expect full scalability with no slowdown. A well designed platform will simply scale indefinitely by adding more servers – just like Gmail and Amazon. 

‘Modern mirroring and backup architecture allows systems to have virtually no downtime. This is essential for platforms, especially in hosting. Platforms should be limited only by the speed of the internet connection of the user. In particular, heavy use by one client should never affect the operating speed of another client. Any modern platforms should be able to connect to other third party platforms using industry standard APIs. For instance a peer review platform should be able to export all files and metadata fully automatically to a production vendor.’

Highwire’s Sack concluded: ‘Platforms are largely perceived as a commodity within the scholarly publishing sector. Yet what elevates one platform above the competition is one that places the end-user customer at the forefront of the experience. Enhancing discoverability and improving access to journals for the end-user are crucial for a platform to stand out. 

‘If a user doesn’t know that a piece of content exists in the first place, there is no use for a publishing platform anyway. So by offering a platform that can encourage the discoverability, visibility and dissemination of academic content; that’s how platforms can stand out over the competition.’

 

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Silverchair

Platform & Services for Your Mission

Silverchair designs and builds websites to host scholarly content, creates specialized features and interfaces for interacting with that content, and empowers publisher autonomy with a suite of user-friendly, self-serve management tools. As the leading independent platform provider for publishers who seek both advanced technology and a team dedicated to strategy and service, Silverchair provides distinctive online sites, unique products, and advanced technologies to STM and humanities publishers, professional societies, and the federal government, propelling their content to greater reach and impact.

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CABI

 

CABI’s Global Health database has re-launched as part of a major upgrade including a new user interface on the award-winning platform, CAB Direct.

Earlier this year Global Health, CABI’s public health database, re-launched with a user-centred interface and a variety of new features providing access to more than 3.2 million records on public health, including full text, CAB reviews, CABI book chapters and news.   New focused theme and region sections, along with smart searches, have been introduced to support study, research and practice at regional, national and international level, keeping users up-to-date on news and research in their field or region.

Global Health users can also benefit from the new features available on CAB Direct including ORCID iD allowing authors to claim their publications directly via the platform, as well as an increased download limit to 100,000 records giving researchers access to greater result sets and supporting systematic reviews.

www.cabdirect.org/globalhealth