8. Conclusion

Share this on social media:

8.1 System failures

As mutual trust and respect between the sectors start to break down, the whole system breaks down, and the scholarly publishing cycle as it current stands is felt to be broken: researchers are not getting (legal) access to the resources they need, publishers are being vilified (rightly or wrongly), and libraries are feeling increasingly powerless to provide the services their users require.

Simple mandates and diktats can have unintended outcomes as the consequences cascade through the system, whether that’s gold open access leading to ‘double dipping’ or an emphasis on measuring researchers’ impact shoring up the place of the premium journals. Accessibility, for example, is identified as the biggest issue facing scholarly publishing. A lack of accessibility may be driven in part by a lack of research funding and a failure to change the publishing model to open access. But in turn it drives piracy, reduces discoverability, and raises more questions about the relevance of the library. While cultural expectations suggest that change is coming, the slow pace of the change in publishing models and the move to open access is undoubtedly aided by the ‘publish or perish’ mentality of the researchers that puts a premium on publishing in those traditional journals with a high impact.

Despite unevenness in the marketplace, with huge disparities in the bargaining power of different parties, there are nonetheless commonalities of purpose between the different sectors, all of whom want to see the new knowledge discovered and shared so that it can be built upon.


8.2 Common themes

The scholarly publishing process is highly integrated, and it is therefore not surprising that there are a number of overarching themes. Principal among these are a need for goodwill, education, communication, workflow solutions, and adherence to the principle of least effort.


8.2.1 Good will and transparency

Many of the respondents from all sectors expressed a lack of goodwill and appreciation for the work of other sectors. Researchers are feeling abused; publishers are feeling unappreciated; libraries are feeling powerless. Too often the answer to the question ‘How they could help publishers’ is ‘why should we?’ It’s not only publishers who are vilified. Vocal open research advocates are seen as troublemakers, and librarians are either promoters of piracy, or irrelevant defenders of publishers and the status quo.

Greater transparency can have important implications in the rebuilding of trust between the different sectors. Transparency of publishing costs in the publishing sector will help dispel myths of them all being ‘money grabbing bastards’; transparency of subscription costs will enable researchers to make informed decisions about where they publish and provide support for library subscription decisions; transparency of the role of publications in HR decisions will help the most egregious practices to be challenged and provide greater understanding of researchers’ positions.


8.2.2 Education

Much of the current bad will and failure in the system is associated with a lack of education and understanding of the publishing process and the contributions of the different sectors. Researchers are unaware of the services and support libraries can offer, they don’t see the value added from publishers, and they don’t have the information they need to make better decisions.


8.2.3 Communication

The interconnected nature of the scholarly publishing lifecycle means that the solutions to any particular issue facing scholarly publishing are unlikely to be found within a single sector alone, but rather require greater communication among the sectors. For example, piracy cannot be solved by publishers alone; it requires an understanding of the working practices of researchers (who may have legal access to the same content) and working with libraries to make sure legal versions are as accessible as illegal versions. 


8.2.4 Workflow

The need for publishers to integrate their services into the whole of the research process is increasingly widely recognised. Publishing is not separate to research, but is a fundamental part of it, and publishers need to support researchers throughout the process, from bidding for funds, through capturing increasingly diverse research outcomes, to demonstrating the impact of those outcomes. Increasingly, the ability to monetise these additional services is seen as a way to enable open access, while also allowing publishers to make money.


8.2.5 Principle of least effort

The principle of least effort must be considered when implementing solutions to problems in the scholarly publishing cycle. Currently there are too many examples in the scholarly publishing cycle where the worst option is too often the easiest one to take: it is easier to access content through SciHub than through legal channels; it is easier to sign the author contract and deal with the consequences of breaking it later than negotiating with publishers every time.


8.3 Recommendations

Recommendations for each of the sectors are necessarily small. The focus is on evolution rather than revolution. The complexity of the system means the full ramifications of any sweeping diktat can have unintended and negative consequences, and it is unlikely that there is a single correct solution for the wide range of research that is carried out in different fields in different types of institutions (or no institution at all).

Building a better scholarly publishing system is likely to be more diverse than more homogeneous, and for this to be achieved, it is better for the system to evolve one decision at a time. Of course, this requires that the majority of researchers have the requisite knowledge to make informed decisions, something that is not currently the situation.


8.3.1 Recommendations for researchers

Researchers must be allowed to research, and the system should be set up to help them access and disseminate research in the way that best helps them and science as a whole. This does not, however, relieve them of all responsibility in helping to bring such a system about. They need to make decisions that stop enabling the worst practice of the system and promote a healthier system.

Recommendations for researchers:

1.  Take an interest in the scholarly publishing ecosystem. It is essential that researchers look beyond their own immediate interests.

2.  Work to disentangle publication from promotion and tenure. Make changes where possible (e.g., in funding committees and hiring committees) to bring the current ‘publish or perish’ culture to an end.

3.  Look at the best practice in other fields. There is huge diversity between the fields and plenty of opportunities to learn.

4.  Make use of the rights researchers already have. Make use of green open access policies where they are available.

5.  Choose open and transparent publishers. Or at least the more open and transparent publishers.

6.  Reward publishers that are innovative and take risks.

7.  Don’t hand over your copyright. Either negotiate or go elsewhere.

8.  Discover what your library can offer.

9.  Be willing to accept the cutting of subscriptions.


8.3.2 Recommendations for publishers

Publishers are a diverse group, but the commercial success of the biggest publishers increasingly sees all publishers cast as villains of the publishing cycle. Publishers undoubtedly add value to the scholarly publishing cycle, but that value is not always seen, or seen to justify publishers’ prices.

Recommendations for publishers:

1.  Have flexible pricing models. This not only includes the ability to unbundle subscriptions from big deals, but also combining subscriptions with open access author processing charges, and experimenting with alternative (e.g., usage) models.

2.  Don’t double dip. Any financial advantage is more than outweighed by the bad will the practice generates.

3.  Be transparent about costs. Be transparent about the costs of publication and the costs of subscriptions.

4.  Be transparent about publishing decisions. Experiment with open peer review, embrace non-sexy results, replication studies, and pre-registration of studies.

5.  Embrace open access. Scholarly expectations have changed, and publishers must find models that work with open access, rather than fight against it.

6.  Embrace open standards. Open data and metadata up to the wisdom of the crowd and machine learning.

7.  Facilitate responsible sharing.

8.  Diversify. Improve the scholarly process, and monetise the services you offer, rather than the product researchers create.

9.  Demonstrate the added value of publishers. Not only through metrics, but through increasingly open peer review.


8.3.3 Recommendations for librarians

The institutional relevance of libraries is increasingly questioned at a time when libraries are needed more than ever before to help researchers navigate an increasingly complex information ecosystem, to make research as accessible as possible, and defend scholarly publishing from the worst excesses of commercialisation.

Recommendations for librarians:

1.   Educate library users about the whole of the scholarly publishing process. Too often researchers are stuck with their own domain perspectives.

2.   Provide users with information to help them make better publishing decisions. Unless researchers have easy access about the most appropriate, open and transparent publishers, they cannot be expected to make the right decisions.

3.   Don’t sign non-disclosure agreements. Unless you can share information about costs with researchers, researchers can’t make informed decisions.

4.   Advocate for users, not publishers.

5.   Be prepared to cut subscriptions.

6.   Facilitate open access.

7.   Facilitate the development of new open access journals and new presses.

8.   Work with publishers to develop better solutions for discoverability

9.   Form consortia to advocate for a more equitable publishing ecosystem.






This report was commissioned by Research Information magazine, published by Europa Science, and undertaken by David Stuart, Stuart Information Research.


About Research Information

Research Information is a multi-platform resource for those working in scholarly publishing, whether as a publisher, librarian or researcher.  


About David Stuart

Through his company Stuart Information Research, David specialises in the provision of the information research services organisations need to be successful in the data age. Whether gathering new knowledge, developing content, or measuring the impact of existing content, Stuart Information Research can provide the support you need.