STM : Towards a Service Economy

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At the splendid Publishers Forum meeting in Berlin last month , I had the pleasure of chairing a panel that included the CEO , Mark van Mierle , of veteran education publisher Cornelsen . Our panel was looking at Virtual and Augmented Reality , so it seemed natural to ask why his company was making a significant investment in these technologies . After reminding me that it was an area in which they thought they could make money , and that it took them away from failed or failing product lines in print textbooks and re-orientated them towards the service economy of education , he refocused us on another truth . Every now and then , he said , we need to rebadge and rebrand , so markets see us differently and the sort of people we want to employ are more likely to be attracted to us . With this valuable lens firmly in place , the two important acquisitions in scholarly communications that have taken place this week take on a new importance . Neither deal moves the graph of market size or share : both have huge significance for the market and the companies concerned .

It is always refreshing and slightly shocking when one’s wishes come true . When I wrote in this blog about Colwiz and in February that” As I left their Oxford offices the most frequent thought in my head was “why hasn’t a publisher invested and acquired this yet!”, I suppose I was father to a thought that had already crossed the minds of others . But Taylor and Francis have made a really valuable acquisition here , and one that puts them into the forefront of the emerging service economy . A collaborative research platform ( Colwiz – collective wizdom ) backed by a prototype big data environment for using artificial intelligence and machine learning in discovery and categorisation of results represents a five year forward programme of service derivation and development for T&F , while Colwiz will benefit hugely from the widely differing range of HSS and STM communities within T&F as the experimental base of their work . The usual messages apply of course : start-ups are tender plants , and grow best when managed less . Keeping inventive minds happy in process driven companies can be tough etc etc

But at the moment this is an event to celebrate . Rebadging T&F is long overdue . In former management contexts T&F was the milch cow that went on giving , but as academic research marketplaces change , content as data becomes commoditised , researchers cannot keep pace with the global rate of research reporting, more and more machine reading is needed to keep the map of what is known current and valuable , and companies like T&F have to re-invest and reposition . As a company currently with without a CEO and caught in a swirl of private equity supposition about its own collaborative future , this announcement must be hugely re-assuring to staff and researchers alike : Informa clearly have a plan for asset enhancement and are driving the company towards the future or research marketplaces .

Meanwhile , another staple of the industry is signalling its determination to rebuild and refocus . The Science side of Clarivate Analytics , based around Web of Science , was a famous Thomson Reuters cash cow . When Thomson bought ISI three decades ago , the ideas of Eugene Garfield and the use of the impact factor were already industry standards . While all sorts of evolutionary changes took place along the way ( Scholar One , Web of Science etc ) no one fundamentally wanted to rethink the model for research in a digital , networked research community , and one where library budgets were under huge pressure . And although many librarians felt that Web of Science was a cornerstone acquisition , as soon as alternative metrics became available and grant-funding bodies became uneasy that the impact factor was too narrow a guage , the pressure began to be felt to develop a response. Yet the attractions of the business model and the thought that they might divest seems to have slowed the thinking , so it is wonderful now to see Clarivate , under new ownership , new management and with a lively board of non-executive thinkers , getting stuck into change with the announcement , today , of the acquisition of Publons .

Peer review , once regarded as the last bastion of publisher control of journal publishing , has itself become a contentious area of activity . Set aside the questioning of pre-publication reviews , the suppression of ground-breaking work by self-interested elites , and the ” fake reviews ” issues . Think about the huge value of post-publication reviewing , the adherence of both Gates and Wellcome to F1000, and the continued growth of blogging and social media commentary around the scholarly workflow , from idea generation to post publication. Publons is the leading exponent of concentrating the gamut of critical input around scholarly communication and creating a reference environment within which all of this material can be shared . Of course , Publons could not exist isf we had not made huge strides – Orcid , Cross-Ref etc – in categorising authors , articles , and contributions within the network . But all of the enablers post-date the impact factor . If Clarivate is to re-establish itself as the value register of record then this is just the type of acquisition it must make . Its neutral position – Thomson sold its journals via Wolters Kluwer to Springer many years ago – is vital here , and a move of this type gives renewed faith that the job can yet be done . Certainly researchers yearn for the certainty that the impact factor once delivered .

And lets conclude where we started . Two important industry players who once appeared to be playing behind their strengths have re-asserted themselves this week .This sends a clear signal to researchers , markets , and above all to the young staff they will need to employ . We still do not know if , as was mooted in the Saale process , Calarivate Analytics will split , withe the patents data business going in a different direction to the Science business . But we do know that the Clarivate Science management , and the T&F management , are in a determined mood to rebuild their positions , which makes this one of the most re-assuring weeks in STM this year .

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