East meets West as research grows

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In the first of a two-part look at publishing in China, Siân Harris asks people involved in research and in supplying research content in China about the challenges for finding out and communicating research results

Over the past 10 to 15 years there has been a dramatic rise in the number of papers coming out of China. According to figures from ISI, China’s annual output now exceeds Japan and the UK and is second only to the USA.

In the mid-1990s, China only published about 10,000 papers a year in journals indexed by ISI and only a handful of papers were high-citation papers (with over 20 cites). Now, as David Swinbanks of Nature Publishing Group pointed out, well over 100,000 papers come from China each year and about 2,000 of these are high-citation papers. And China is already fifth on the list of most frequently-cited source countries.

As Hubertus Riedesel, executive vice-president of physical sciences and engineering at Springer, observed, ‘China has been catching up in higher education development and R&D funding. As a result, the demand for quality scientific publishing has increased. China’s ranking in global academic output is constantly improving and today it is considered to be among the top five producers of academic papers.’

These impressive figures have inevitably sparked considerable interest from Western publishers over recent decades and there has been a steady stream of Western businesses signing up with representatives on the ground or setting up their own offices. One of the latest publishers to do this is the American Institute of Physics (AIP), which launched an office in Beijing in March. As Mark Cassar, publisher of journals and technical publications at AIP, explained, ‘Physics is an international activity. People just happen to live in different countries. But given its rapid growth in recent years, when we try to mirror the international spread of our authors in our reviewer pool and editorial boards, China takes on an increasingly significant role, so this was an obvious choice for our first international office.’

There are many different experiences and perspectives on Chinese research, and the challenges and opportunities of disseminating this research. In the first of a two-part focus on China, we ask different people about their experiences of Chinese research and information access. Look out in the October/November issue of Research Information for insight into the challenges and opportunities for Western and Chinese publishers in China.

Tony Zhou (left, pictured with business partner Boudewijn Heeren) is managing director of Inspirees International, which represents Western publishers in China and Chinese publishers in the West

With increasing numbers of university graduates (6.5 million every year) and governmental investment into high education, university library budgets have increased by 20 to 30 per cent annually in recent years.

China imports publications mainly from American and European publishers. Officially these have to be done via state-owned importers, which makes the importing more complicated. But big consortia, such as NSTL and CALIS, are able to negotiate the price directly with foreign publishers. NSTL has several hundred members, most of which are universities and research institutes in China.

STM is still the main focus but, in recent years, we have seen increased interest in social sciences and humanities and in non-English publications.

China is very open to new technologies, but also cost-driven. As the price of new technology and tools is lowered, we can expect much quicker adoption of new technology such as e-book readers in China.

Deborah Yang is Chinese but works for Charlesworth in the USA as its account manager and communication officer. She has experience of academic research in both China and the West

Chinese researchers have been making great progress in scientific research and publishing and they are looking to publish in internationally prestigious journals. The government and institutions offer a good range of incentives for this, including professional promotion, monetary rewards, funding opportunities, and other benefits. These incentives provide motivation to researchers, but they also create a great amount of pressure.

To improve the situation a good system for research evaluation is needed, rewarding researchers that contribute to long-term development in subject areas as well as those who make immediate impact in research. Also, the people who have power to evaluate the research and distribute resources should be subject experts in the research area.

New technology strengthens the connection between China and the West. For example, a great deal of communication can be done through phone calls, emails, online forums, or online symposia. But face-to-face meetings in China are still very important, and Western publishers should be prepared to visit China many times if they really want to cultivate relationships, and develop their ‘guanxi’ (business trust) in China. Publishers should also be aware that there can be translational issues. If they are looking to translate educational, marketing or promotional material, they should have a local expert check its relevance and appropriateness for the China market. The Charlesworth Group has seen and supported an increase in publisher desire to put some content into Chinese. This also includes the creation of Chinese language websites and the use of .cn domain names to help promote their brand and name within China and increase the findability of their content there.

Publishers often spend a lot on their brand and name in their core market, but not as much focus on how to really be known and welcomed in large developing markets like China.

Antoine Bocquet is associate director Asia-Pacific, Nature Publishing Group, and executive vice president of NPG Nature Asia-Pacific


Chinese libraries moved from using pirate photocopies of print titles, to buying legitimate print subscriptions, to purchasing large site licences for databases of content within a very short period of time. As such, many collections are very heavily based on recently-acquired electronic content. Most Western publishers started selling site licences in China around 2004 and offered large amounts of content at substantial discounts. Most of these companies are now struggling to adjust their prices as the Chinese libraries, the CALIS consortium and the Ministry of Education in China resist fiercely any significant price rises. Usage from China is rising at a great pace each year, and cost-per-download rates are now much cheaper than in the West.

The Chinese academic market consists mainly of a core group of about 100 universities and 87 Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) institutes. Although there are perhaps 600 universities in China, the 500 smaller institutions cannot afford electronic content, or do not have the research interest to buy foreign journals. As such the market is not as large as many people think; much of the purchasing power, and scholarly need, is in the hands of a relatively small number of customers.

Most Chinese scientists, even younger scientists, have sufficient English ability to understand foreign publications. Probably the greatest challenges are cultural differences, including the lack of accountability that we often find in Chinese research. However, there are many successful collaborations now, particularly as many Chinese scientists have returned to China after considerable experience working in the West.

Nicola Gulley is editorial director of IOP Publishing, which has had an office in China for the past 10 years

Some of the Chinese physics journals are the very best in the country and there has been increased funding in science over the past five to 10 years with growth in output of research material as a result. There was considerable focus on the print journal 10 years ago as online access was sometimes difficult or expensive. This has now changed and online access is much easier, particularly in new buildings that have internet access factored in from the beginning.

One big challenge is overcoming the language and cultural barriers. In some areas this is less pronounced, but there is still a preconception that articles published in Chinese journals are not as high quality as those published in the established Western journals, which is not always true.

Language is still a barrier, but many scientists speak English, with many of the top researchers having studied outside of China for many years. However there can be issues in communicating within different frames of reference. This issue is not unique to China (for example, there can be communication issues between UK English and US English that can lead to misunderstandings).

The amount of research going on within China is enormous, and this has been seen by the growth of articles published. However the visibility of some of this research has not grown as quickly. It has improved over the past 10 years but there is still more work to do here.

Given the recent investment, I predict that research publishing will continue to grow. In many areas of physics research China publishes the highest number of articles, followed closely by North America. Currently, a lot of those articles are published in Western journals, because they have higher impact and higher visibility, but as research publishing in China grows, the impact of the home journals will also increase.

David Swinbanks is publishing director, Nature Publishing Group and CEO of NPG Nature Asia-Pacific


The leap in citations of Chinese papers has only happened in the past few years and many editors in the West have not yet woken up to the dramatic increase in high-quality research coming from China.

Understandably, what editors tend to still see is the flood of rather low-quality papers coming out of China. But recently leaders of top institutions and universities in China have been stressing the need to improve the quality rather than just the quantity of their scientific output. And this change is happening. A decade ago we published only a handful of papers (fewer than 10) in Nature journals among the thousands from the rest of the world. Now China’s output in Nature journals is well over 100 per year. This is still behind countries like Japan (with over 200 per year) and the UK and USA, but it will not be long before China surpasses Japan and starts challenging some of the top Western countries for output of high-quality research.

A challenge for Chinese researchers is access to science websites based outside China. Universities and institutions are charged for the download of content from websites based outside of China. The charges are significant and all but the best-funded institutions place restrictions on their users accessing offshore websites. As a result, Western publishers either have to set up some sort of mirror site or caching site within China so users can access their content without additional charge or enter into a contract with CERNET, the internet network for universities in China, so the Western publisher in effect pays the downloading charges on behalf of the user.

Yan Shuai, director of journal publishing at Beijing Forestry University and president of the Society of China University Journals

The Chinese government has a very strict policy on publishing. Any organisations that want to publish a new journal have to register with the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP). Once the application is approved, GAPP will issue a China Serial Number (CN) and then the journal can have an ISSN. Sometimes a journal is only given a CN, which means that it can only be distributed inside mainland China. Chinese local governments also do an annual check on journal publishing every spring.

Most Chinese journals are owned by societies, institutes and universities. They are seldom published by commercial publishers. Anybody who wants to be an editor has to have recently passed a national examination. The ‘responsible editors’ also have to take part in training programmes approved by GAPP. Another difference between China and the West is that Chinese journals pay more attention to SCI impact factors than foreign journals do.

Compared with those in the West, Chinese researchers don’t have many chances to carry out international projects and it is difficult to attend international meetings. Language is a problem; only a small portion of editors and researchers can write and speak English fluently. The West can help with this by sponsoring some projects or developing joint projects and by Western researchers spending time in China.

Access to foreign websites such as journals, societies, and conferences can also help to eliminate barriers between China and the West.

Adrian Stanley is CEO of The Charlesworth Group (USA). He has also worked in China for four years helping set up Charlesworth China. Charlesworth sells and markets Western content to Chinese libraries and provides global publishing services


Charlesworth China directors proposing a toast

The pressures on Chinese researchers to publish in high impact international journals are similar to those on Western researchers. Having their science and work recognised is important. There are also benefits and recognition to Chinese authors in showing the world how the science and research in China is continuing to develop at a rapid pace. China is a very important source for content and authors for publishers and not all have fully recognised this yet.

There are many Chinese language journals, over 5,000, and a smaller number of English titles in China. Now, though, there are more incentives for Chinese researchers to publish in higher-impact, international journals. There is a growing interest for Chinese publications to better understand international copyright and licensing opportunities. I believe Chinese publications will continue to develop.

As well as working closely in the Chinese publishing market, The Charlesworth Group helps organise and facilitate a large number of national online agreements through consortia, bringing Western publishers’ content to China. Language does not seem as much of a barrier to researchers as perhaps it was in the past. However, navigating and finding the right content can be a challenge, especially as many universities still hold individual print subscriptions and are making the transition to online campus-wide access.

There is also a lack of knowledge and understanding in the West of where the best research is happening in China. Top Western universities like Harvard, Oxford or MIT are all well-known names with prestigious reputations that can instantly be recognised and geographically located. The top universities in China like Tsinghua University, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Peking or Zhejiang University are far less well known, but will be finding their place on the international research map (see below).

On the content sale side for Western publishers, there has been a lot of change in the market. The two largest consortia have been evolving and changing: CALIS – the Chinese Academy of Library Information System, will now be known as DRAA – Digital Resource Acquisition Alliance of Chinese Academic Libraries. There was also central funding available for the purchase of country-wide licences. We are noticing that institutions are buying more content as online site licences or as regional consortia. Having good people on the ground who know and understand the rapid pace of chance is very important. There is considerable positive change and much to learn working in and with China.

Victor Li is country manager of Swets’ China office


Frans Van Ette, commercial director, region East, of Swets, with librarians from the National Library of China

The period from the late 1990s to 2004 was the so-called golden period in the industry in China. During that period, libraries ‘competed’ to buy online resources. But after that period, many libraries felt that they owned enough resources so they became very cautious about adding any new products and services.

During that golden period, many major foreign publishers set up offices in China. Their sales people promoted products to librarians by visiting them directly and aggressively. Libraries dealing directly with the largest publishers was a challenge for us. We needed to build a strong sales team to build effective relationships with customers. When we promote Swets’ access management solutions, such as Swetswise Online Content, Title bank and Linker, many libraries think of them as luxuries. We have needed lots of perseverance to make customers understand the value of such solutions.

The tendency to cut print journal subscriptions is also happening in China, as in the West. We need to invest heavily in time and human power to close deals for online products. In addition, for each and every order, according to governmental regulations, foreign vendors need to pay authorised local agents substantial commissions.

Although the communications between China and the West have been increasing fast, language is still a barrier to some extent. Not many Chinese researchers speak fluent English. However, most Chinese researchers can read and write English very well, which means that they can share information about research with the West effectively through academic journals.

Some of the top Chinese universities

1 Peking University
2 Tsinghua University
3 Fudan University
4 Zhejiang University
5 Nanjing University
6 Shanghai Jiao Tong University
7 Wuhan University
8 Renmin University of China
9 Jilin University
10 Sichuan University

Source: Chinese University Alumni Association 2009 (map prepared by Adrian Stanley)