FEATURE
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Life through a lens

At Frankfurt Book Fair, Research Information heard claims that the use of video in scholarly publishing is ‘hockey-sticking’. Tim Gillett zooms in on the action

Just a few years ago, video was still a relatively new concept in the world of academic publishing. Even in the two-year period from 2013 to 2015, reports Alexander Street Press’s David Parker, there was little change in terms of the use and acquisition of scholarly video content.

The company’s senior vice president for editorial and licensing stopped short of confirming that it was experiencing the ‘hockey-stick’ effect (very fast growth after a relatively flat period), but told Research Information that there is now a ‘huge demand’ for hybrid multimedia. Indeed, at Charleston Library Conference, where we interviewed Parker, there were many sessions focusing on how libraries are increasingly engaging with video as a learning medium.

Parker said: ‘The fast growth that we are seeing is being driven largely by a low cost of entry. It’s relatively cheap these days to produce a video – and of course the fact that bandwidth has become much less of an issue is driving growth in a big way. Market penetration is still generally very low in global terms, so there is plenty of potential.’

As with any new technology, the growth of video has been driven by the limitations of its predecessors. The US company Research Square conducted a survey with Springer Nature, in which 37 per cent of authors said that they don’t know how to communicate their results effectively to the general public, and 47 per cent said that they have no control over the successful promotion of their research.

Research Square’s global communications manager Ben Mudrak explains: ‘These responses clearly identify a problem in research communication, and we are working to solve it through video content.

‘Our core video product is a one- to two-minute animated video abstract designed to communicate the significance of research results to a broad audience. We aim to minimise costs and reduce the amount of effort required by the author and publisher, so we do not require any on-location filming and have our team of science communicators generate a script directly from a journal or review article. Over the past year, we have had many researchers buy a video directly, but we also work with publishers such as Springer Nature and Wiley that are looking to create video abstracts on behalf of their authors.’

Mudrak also reports good business in the sector: ‘The current challenge with video is figuring out who will pay. Because publishers are unable to sacrifice already tight margins, the cost must ultimately be passed along to the author in the form of an increased APC or additional fee. For their part, authors are only beginning to accept responsibility for promoting their work, and to erase the stigma against self-promotion, but it may be years before a majority of authors see the value of a supplemental video and have dedicated funds for this type of content. Once these pieces align, we will see true ‘hockey-sticking’, with many more dollars invested in video and, likely, many more players in the space.’

Kiren Shoman, executive editorial director at Sage, argues that the value of digital – and particularly video – content in helping researchers showcase their work, or improve faculty engagement with students, is hard to ignore. She explained: ‘From our market research, we found that video (and particularly video that has been deliberately created to tie in to educational needs) increases the likelihood of people staying within the subject or feeling that they are getting more from the subject.’

Shoman continues: ‘About 92 per cent of faculty members surveyed in a recent SAGE Whitepaper said they use videos as teaching tools (either to break up lectures or as assignments outside of class), and about 68 per cent of the students said videos are part of their learning experiences. As a community, we have all begun to learn more about the challenges and opportunities of learning styles, and how students and the wider research community wish to engage with the material. This has undoubtedly impacted the way in which video is developed.

‘We know that learning is moving beyond the textbook as the nature of the relationship between learning materials and students continues to change.’

Despite the widespread recognition that video is on the rise, it certainly hasn’t been universally embraced across the industry.

Moshe Pritsker, CEO and Co-founder of JoVE, tells Research Information that traditional scholarly publishers haven’t fully embraced video publishing, ‘due more to inertia than active resistance’.

He continues: ‘The great advantages of video publication to the end-user aren’t obvious to many executives at scholarly publishing companies. These executives often lack hands-on scientific research experience and therefore do not have a first-hand understanding of the end users’ pains and how video can be a game-changer.

‘Also, video publication would require scholarly publishing companies to acquire new technical skills to conduct large-scale high-quality video production. They would have to invest and build video-production teams combining production skills with scientific knowledge at the Ph.D. level. Established scholarly publishing companies that are showing healthy profit margins and moderate growth each year are either reluctant or unable to invest significant resources in developing video publishing capabilities.

‘Finally, and maybe most importantly, the requirements of video publication are contrary to the current direction and ongoing main debate in the publishing industry. Most scholarly publishers, driven by government mandates and online activists, are currently busy integrating the Open Access publishing model and making it profitable. Yet recent studies have shown that about 80 per cent of published science articles are not reproducible. What does it matter if an information unit (article) is expensive, cheap or free if it is not reproducible? Solving the reproducibility crisis should be the scientific publishing industry’s top priority before we discuss open access versus subscription price modelling. The bottom line is that video remains scholarly publishing’s most effective solution to solve the reproducibility problem.’

Visibility and discovery are clearly still hugely important for researchers, but how are video publishers dealing with this?

Parker, of Alexander Street Press, explains that a powerful driver has been the widespread incorporation of text within videos, allowing them to be searched and discovered by researchers more easily.

JoVE’s Pritsker elaborates: ‘We make it easy for scientists, teachers, and students to keyword search our video library of more than 5,000 scientific video demonstrations.  Additionally, a full-text transcript accompanies each video and can be downloaded as a PDF. Finally, JoVE makes each video accessible in more than 17 different languages. So, in many important ways, a video article is even more accessible to researchers than a traditional scholarly text article.’

Shoman, of Sage, continues: ‘Every video on our platform has a corresponding transcript, and includes a large amount of associated metadata, with full abstracts. All of this helps optimise search, both on open free web and within the platform (using a full text search within the transcript). Furthermore, we are ensuring title level MARC records feed all video titles to major discovery service providers, enabling patrons to have full verified access to the videos.

‘We are also using text-mining tools and semantic enrichment to create relationships between content. As our videos sit alongside the book and reference material, they can be linked to and from our journal content, so that all of our resources are connected and inter-searchable. Providing our library customers with the tools to help their patrons engage with and use our video platform is a key part of our mission. In pursuit of this aim, we have also developed tutorials explaining how best to use different content types and how certain features of the platform will benefit their research or their teaching.’

Meanwhile Mudrak, of ResearchSquare, refers to the company’s Springer Nature survey, in which 31 per cent of authors stated that social media and video searches currently play a role in the article discovery process.

‘He adds: ‘There is a larger question here about the future of discovery and whether research will continue to find relevant articles though PubMed and Google Scholar searches. In their daily lives, researchers are finding interesting content – from political news to funny cat videos – through the recommendation of trusted friends and colleagues on social media platforms, and it is likely that research discovery will follow a similar process.

‘We are working with publishers to incorporate video into more traditional forms of discovery, but the real value will come from educating and empowering researchers on sharing their work through other channels. We help researchers in this process by providing not only the video, but also guidance on how and where to share the video for maximum impact. In this way, the question of visibility and discovery are tightly linked.’

So what of the future? Will the ‘hockey stick’ curve actually come to pass?

Pritsker does not doubt the potential, but recognises that there are still barriers to growth: ‘Video is already a permanent and vital component of scholarly publishing. End-user demand for video publication is growing exponentially. Yet, academic librarians hold the key to the future of science video publishing, because they determine what resources are being acquired by their institutions. As more academic librarians embrace video publication as an effective tool that saves significant time, labour and money for their users and institutions, the interest of many publishers will shift to finding ways to integrate video into their products.’

Mudrak argues that curation is likely to be the biggest challenge in an open access world where the journal brand no longer functions as a proxy for novelty and impact.

He says: ‘In this environment, it will be especially important for authors and publishers to communicate clearly why the article is worth reading, to help it avoid being buried in the big heap. Because authors are also being pressed by funders to communicate to audiences beyond colleagues in the field, concise and engaging communication to a variety of stakeholders seems to be the challenge of the future. Social media in general – and video content in particular – are well-suited to this challenge.’

But for Shoman, the continued rise of video is inevitable. She concludes: ‘The student of 2017 is vastly different from those of previous years. They expect digital content that is high-quality, relevant, mobile and accessible at any time.  We believe streaming video is here to stay. While key challenges continue to exist at the level of accessibility (on disability compliance), discoverability, impact (such as work on how video improves learning), publishers are assisting wherever possible in terms of each of these issues.

‘Key to SAGE’s publishing mission is to support dissemination of quality pedagogical and research content in a format that best suits the needs of the community. Video is a core part of that mission. For us, content continues to be key and the success of video is very much dependent on the marriage of excellent scholarly and pedagogical content, and engaging visualisations of that content or its authors.

‘ We are committed to being at the forefront of education and research and supporting the community with the content they need, in the format that suits their changing demands. Video has been a logical step and we are excited to see how it further develops to be a key tool for both teaching and research in the future.’  

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