Making publishing platforms fairer

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As FAIR principles continue to shape scholarly research, platform providers are implementing new capabilities. Four industry figures tell Annabel Ola what needs to change to make research accessible to all


What is a publishing platform?

Jay Neill, VP of Publishing Products and Platforms, Wiley Partner Solutions: A publishing platform is a technology service delivering a collection of capabilities that are essential for the publishing process. This doesn’t need to be a single application: it can be a collection of applications as long as they work harmoniously to achieve the end result. If we define the act of publishing as including all stages from content acquisition to distribution, then a publishing platform could, and should, provide all of them.

Harsh Jegadeesan, Chief Solutions Officer, Springer Nature: When we talk about publishing platforms, we mean the websites and underlying technology that enables us to engage with our community – researchers, editors, academics, wider public – online. Through these platforms, we can empower researchers and our academic community and support the research workflow throughout its journey – from research to submission, publication to dissemination, from identifying open access (OA) funding to providing language editing and author services, to community engagement. Ensuring researchers have timely access to the correct tools and services is central to open up research.

Stacy Scott, Head of Accessibility, Taylor & Francis: If you believe, as Taylor & Francis does, that everyone should be able to access the same content at the same time, regardless of their reading requirements, then making publishing platforms accessible must be a top priority for publishers.

Melissa Wagner, Vice-President of Editorial, IGI Global: A publishing platform, or system, should help facilitate at least some – if not all – aspects of the publication process. IGI Global uses a proprietary system called the eEditorial Discovery Submission System to facilitate the publication of each of its books and journals. This system is provided to book and journal editors, book authors, book-chapter and journal-article authors, and reviewers free of charge in order to support with the efficient management of projects. It essentially acts as project management software that allows the publisher to be able to easily access projects for status tracking and ethical oversight, editors to directly communicate with contributing authors and manage all submitted manuscripts and the blinded peer review process, and for authors to be able to submit their work, track their submissions, and execute any needed actions – thus placing all aspects of project development in one place. The system supports both traditional and open-access publishing workflows. Once projects are completed, the publisher is able to pull the materials from the system for publication.

What key benefits should a publisher should look for?

Neill, Wiley Partner Solutions: A good platform should allow you to focus on your core business, on innovating and growing, and differentiating yourself. The platform should remove the burden of thinking about compliance, accessibility, security and business continuity. It should be modular and have easy integration points with other platforms in the industry. Your platform provider should be a partner to your business, not just a vendor supplying a technology service. That way, you will unlock value well beyond just operational efficiency, or increased user engagement.

Jegadeesan, Springer Nature: Publishers need to ensure that any platform it uses is fit-for-purpose – for now and for the long-term. Platforms should be accessible, adaptable, they should be simple to use and navigate, they should be built with the community in mind and, ultimately, should be there to enable us to better support our users. However, this cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach and some systems cannot be used ‘out of a box’ – research and scholarly communications are not static. We need to be mindful of this and aware of new technologies and processes. This is why Springer Nature takes a grassroots approach to many of our tools and services, working with and for the community; soliciting feedback and utilising our technical expertise, alongside that of our partners to build, refine and adapt. Platforms should reflect  the changing and growing needs of the research community, and that sits at the heart of our product strategy.

Scott, Taylor & Francis: The best place to start is by preparing an accessibility statement that outlines the ambitions for your platforms. Our statement, which received an ASPIRE score of 100% for its commitment to accessibility, sets the goal of meeting level AA of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 and Section 508 Standards of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act.

In practical terms, that means careful auditing of our sites by colleagues and our platform providers to identify accessibility issues, followed by ongoing behind-the-scenes updates to improve navigation, search and account processes. These often go unnoticed by most users, but they make a major difference to those who would otherwise encounter difficulties using these functions. Then there are the more obvious site enhancements in the form of new features. Some developments on our journals platform, Taylor & Francis Online, include introducing ReadSpeaker text-to-speech functionality. ReadSpeaker enables users to select any article and listen to it via audio, simply by highlighting or hovering over specific sections, or by pressing play to hear the entire article from start to finish.

Wagner, IGI Global: Key benefits of a system include complete access to projects through various stages of the editorial process, including proposals, contracts and agreements, chapter and article submissions, the peer review process and content finalisation. The ability to communicate via templated or customisable emails, as well as through a notification service, is critical – ideally with records and histories of those communications to support it – and robust reporting mechanisms. The ability for systems to be able to conduct API integrations and connect with other third-party systems or software the publisher is using is also important.

Why is it important for publishers to consider accessibility?

Neill, Wiley Partner Solutions: Accessibility means making your services available and easy to use for as many people as possible. There are statutory, ethical and business reasons to do this. No one should be excluded from using your services because of a disability, or neurodivergence, or even geography. The fewer people are excluded, the more usage you get and usage will generally translate to more complete delivery of your mission. In short, making your platform accessible is the right thing to do for your users, but also for your mission and commercial success.

Jegadeesan, Springer Nature: You can’t serve your users properly or fairly without considering accessibility. Around 15% of our users have an accessibility need so, to deliver a good publishing platform experience, we have to work to eliminate barriers to creating, discovering and using knowledge. Publishing platforms need to be built with those that use them so we ensure all who wish to contribute or want access to vital research are able to, and they are not impacted by platforms that are not fit for purpose.

Scott, Taylor & Francis: What you publish on that platform also needs to be optimised for accessibility. A good example is the work we’re doing to provide content in EPUB3, a format that’s considered the most helpful for on-screen reading. The Taylor & Francis team recently completed a project to convert more than 360,000 published journal articles to EPUB and, now, all new papers are immediately available in both PDF and EPUB, which is a huge step forward in making the latest research accessible. All of our new eBooks are also published in EPUB format; a program that has recently received the Global Certified Accessible™ designation from Benetech.

Wagner, IGI Global: IGI Global, in particular, works with individuals all over the world and publishes extensively in the field of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. Thus, it is important that
our systems reflect our inclusive stance in order to ensure that all individuals are able to have a voice and can easily contribute their research.

How does a good publishing platform enable this?

Neill, Wiley Partner Solutions: The most accessible platforms will obviously comply with industry-standard guidance around making content navigable and readable for the visually impaired, or creating captions for video. That’s table stakes for accessibility. The best platform providers will be working with your users to identify groups that may be excluded from using the platform, even if that group is not covered under regular accessibility legislation. It’s a good thing if your platform partner stands their ground with you on accessibility matters. It means they are protecting you, your users and thinking about your long-term success.

Jegadeesan, Springer Nature: Ensuring platforms are accessible from the very beginning helps us, as publishers, to ensure everyone has fair and equal access to content. This is critical as it means collectively we can advance knowledge; build trust; contribute to the growing body of research; and make sense of the latest insights. All of which helps to inform solutions to society’s largest challenges.

Scott, Taylor & Francis: At Taylor & Francis, we will focus on alt text (alternative text). These are short descriptions of published images and graphics, which are especially important for ensuring those using screen readers can understand what the images represent. More than 2,000 Taylor & Francis eBooks now use alt text throughout and more than 100 key journals have started alt text trials.

All this needs to be supplemented with responsive individual support for users who need additional help accessing the content they want. So, if a publication isn’t already available in a format that works for them, customers can let us know and we’ll endeavour to provide it in a suitable format within one to three working days.

Wagner, IGI Global: A sensitivity to the devices that end users are utilising to log into the system is incredibly important. Also, how the end users are consuming the information in the system. Having data populating in things such as dashboards and reporting makes projects and content much easier to manage. Also, taking into consideration inclusive design that supports people with disabilities.

In your opinion, what does the future hold for publishing platforms?

Neill, Wiley Partner Solutions: Platform providers have focused in recent years on expanding their offering throughout the research journey, striving to produce an end-to-end seamless experience. There has also been a move away from a ‘feature war’ and into a period of consolidation around platform performance and efficiency that allows publishers to focus on their ‘value add’. I see this enablement continuing, but I also believe platform providers will start to innovate rapidly once more. The most likely direction in the future embeds artificial intelligence more comprehensively throughout the workflow, easing user journeys, facilitating accessibility, providing insights about platform users and aiding decision-making in the editorial process.

Jegadeesan, Springer Nature: In the future, we can expect to see broader changes across the industry; in particular, the continued drive towards open-access publishing and the creation of new products and services beyond publishing to support researchers and the research effort. The way in which publishers will have to attract researchers and the strength of their offering will also change.

Researchers and publishers want to see a move from fractured and generic experiences where there is one website to read journals, another to submit your paper, another to get PDFs, and so on. They want to see a unified and personalised experience – one that builds greater engagement and greater platform loyalty. Bringing these different moving parts together will aid the discovery of knowledge and make science more efficient and effective.

Scott, Taylor & Francis: Years of improvements have made a vast difference to the accessibility of our platforms, but we recognise that there is always more to do as requirements and technology change over time. That’s why we’ve signed the Accessible Books Consortium and Publishing Accessibility Action Group UK charters, which are great expressions of our industry’s ongoing commitment to making publishing platforms, along with the content hosted on them, accessible to all.

Wagner, IGI Global: They will continue to become more intuitive and user-friendly, while taking into consideration the various stages of the publishing workflow. They will likely also start integrating payment systems, as publishers continue to move toward a higher volume of open-access publications with a need to have full transaction processing embedded.

See also our recent Tech Focus on publishing platforms: Helping publishers and authors evaluate and disseminate content 


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