Technology innovation helps information outlook

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What does 2009 hold for scholarly information? Siân Harris reports back from the Online Information show

The economic climate was a common topic of conversation at the Online Information show in London in December. Companies did not readily admit to concerns for their own businesses but there was a general feeling of uncertainty about what 2009 might bring to the information industry in general.

However, there is hope for the industry, according to the observations of Victor Camlek, vice president of market intelligence for the Scientific business of Thomson Reuters, in his seminar. He showed a graph of the financial growth of four major companies – Elsevier, Wolter Kluwer Health, Taylor & Francis and Thomson – between 2000 and 2004. The graphs, based on data from EPS Market Monitor, showed hardly any evidence of the 2001 recession.

The reason for this was illustrated by his next graph, based on OECD data of global R&D expenditure between 1991 and 2005. This data showed some slowing in research spending, but no major declines during past recessions.

While this is reassuring, Camlek did add a note of caution. He observed that previous recessions occurred prior to Web 2.0 and the uptake in semantic capabilities. They also occurred earlier on in the history of search engines. He suggested a number of indicators to watch in measuring the possible effects of economic conditions. These include subscription renewals, corporate financial performance, textbook sales, corporate R&D trends and R&D funding patterns. Other indicators are corporate investments, scientific funding indicators, product development pipelines, STM student enrolment patterns, leadership changes, academic budgets, and mergers and acquisitions.

Access and technology

Camlek’s presentation on STM information trends did not just consider financial concerns though. For him, the big stories in the sector come instead from changing business models and new technology.

‘I’d wager that open access (OA) is still the big story,’ he asserted. ‘We’ve seen a lot of momentum in this in the last year.’ For example, he mentioned Springer’s purchase of BioMed Central and the recent formation of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA).

However, Camlek noted that, even amongst the people who should be benefitting from open access, the benefits are not clear.

Open archiving mandates are a related growing trend, as Camlek observed. He noted that Harvard’s recent announcement of an OA mandate carried a lot of weight. The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the European Union also have large-scale OA mandates.

Camlek commented that enforcing such mandates is a challenge although, interestingly, it a challenge that publishers are becoming willing to help address. Oxford University Press, Nature Publishing Group and Taylor & Francis have all released tools to help authors comply with their funders’ mandates.

Such trends help to blur the traditional boundaries between roles in STM publishing. ‘In some places publishers compete with institutions with the rise of the institutional repository as a publisher,’ said Camlek. ‘There is a valid potential for publishers to miss out. Publishers need to compete more on a workflow basis and support users in a more embedded way.’

Partnerships and developments

One way that publishers are adding value is with new technology. Many publishers are forming partnerships with technology companies in order to enhance their products and services. New technology such as social networking and collaboration tools is at the centre of these partnerships and new developments.

So what will STM publishing look like in the future? Camlek believes that this is a hard question to answer considering how much has changed over the past 10 years. A decade ago, he said, the industry was neatly arranged in ‘silos’, with companies easily recognisable as being a primary publisher, a secondary publisher or an aggregator, for example. Today, these distinctions are disappearing and STM companies now compete and collaborate across various ‘silos’ he said.

Whatever happens in the future, however, Camlek believes that technology will be a core driver of innovation in STM information. It will impact business models, search and retrieval, collaboration, text analytics and ultimately, the policy makers and users.