As some readers at this place already know , the boring fact is that I started work in the publishing and information industry in October 1967 , and am thus over fifty years as an observer of change in these parts . And , in what some regard as a fifty year dotage , , I am prone to remark that change is the new normal etc etc and pour scorn on the wealthy publisher who I approached for work in 1993 and who replied “ tell me when your digital revolution thing is over and then help me to cope with the next five hundred years of the post-printing world “ . And I quite see the point . Revolutions are not for everyone . And there were comfortable years in my twenties when it seemed possible to believe that Longman ad OUP, Nelson and Macmillan , could go on ruling the post colonial world of school textbook publishing with nothing more exciting than a revised Latin syllabus to stir the waters of their creativity . Yet in truth the world of print , from the rise of Gutenberg to the fall of the house of Murdoch , has been full of change . It just happens faster and more completely now .
In the old world ( my personal calendar divides at 1993 , Year 1 ,when I did my first internet strategy consultancy job : Appearances to the contrary my age is only 25! ) we bought and sold companies on valuations that reflected something of their ownership of unique , proprietory content . In the deals that I did for Thomson in the early 1980s , and particularly in the building of the then large law database Eurolex , ownership and exclusivity were critical . Journeying to Luxembourg last week , I reflected on my first visit there in 1980 to negotiate the rights to put the judgements of the European Court of Justice online . Reporting triumphantly to my chairman , I recall him saying – “ but surely they are worthless if everyone can get them ? “ Since that day the following earthquakes have taken place : cross-file searching that gave real utility to collections of documents held online ; the Internet and the Web , which permitted exposed content to be treated and searched as if it were all in the same place ; and then the ability to scrape , copy , transmit and , in the age of SciHub , mass-pirate that allegedly precious content , proprietory or not .
And so we emerge into the Age of data . It took a decade for the content world to understand that the Web was not just a place where you took the formats of yesterday , reloaded them digitally and pursued the same business models . By 2005 much of this had been done , and over the next ten years we had some really interesting Web formats , many new variant business models , and the first tremors of the new ‘shake . We call this round of shifting and grinding tectonic plates the Data revolution , and you need to look closely at micro movements to see it happening . In an area like science research , always a useful bellwether , the last quarter showed real progress in terms of the reaction of major players . In landmark announcements in the past three months Springer Nature have indicated that their SciGraph now contains over a billion metadata items ( https://www.springernature.com/go/group/media/press-releases/one-billion-metadata-facts-now-on-springer-nature-scigraph/15313528?utm_medium=spredfast&utm_content=SpringerNature_Press%20Release&utm_source=twitter&utm_campaign=SpringerNature_&sf176646201=1. ) while Elsevier have cleverly released their Unified Data Model (UDM) to a club of Pharma companies (https://www.dataiq.co.uk/article/elsevier-opens-data-model-life-sciences-innovation) . In short this means that the largest traditional content players in the sector are awakening to two critical factors in the post-content world – the content-about – thee-content will be more important than the content itself , and that your data model will be the most important means you have of communicating with your customers .
This column has many times rehearsed the market moves away from research and towards workflow . We have dwelt here at almost embarrassing length on the device as a solution rather than a primary access point . In the research world we can clearly see the emergence of a tools and services economy , in a market that has moved away from budget restricted purchasing points like the library and towards a total concentration on researcher support . Many publishers would love to go on living in a traditional publishing world – especially in scholarly societies dependent on journal income – but as Roger Schonfeld has indicated in two recent Scholarly Kitchen articles , it is simply no longer possible . If even Titans like Elsevier and Springer Nature are moving off the floodplain and seeking higher ground , everyone else needs a lifeboat . This is a consolidating market too – acquisition and failure are increasing , though who would want to buy traditional journals at present ? Consolidation here means outlets decreasing , more preprints and an increase in informal availability and transmission ( ResearchGate ) .
But the move to a data driven market where metadata searching is routine and text and data mining is a fluent part of most research processes implies that everything is available to be swept . Academic publishing is a paywall world where use of advanced mining techniques has to be negotiated with data holders . And publishers building analytics will find that you need a centrality of deployment to make them meaningful . As Roger Schonfeld indicates , this implies a partnering spirit that is alien to the capitalist spirit. And Danny Kingsley , director of Scholarly Communications at Cambridge said in an LII speech at the beginning of this month , the risk is that while the public purse can pay for some initial innovation , these funds cannot be reliably sustained – with the result that companies she named like Elsevier were buying their way into the academic service economy . This obviously worried her more than it does me – people fleeing for the hills cannot be too picky – but it does raise the interesting question of where the value now lies that underpins these players . It is not surely in the copyrights . It may be in the software . Increasingly it will be in the analytics , but this will be a fast moving game of winner -takes-all. – for a moment . And how many big service companies do you need – I suggest a market leader and a competitor to keep him honest is enough . This is the trouble with earthquakes , you end up sitting somewhere unfamiliar waiting for the aftershocks .
To those who have reached this point , thanks and seasonal greetings . More funeral rites next year , for which I wish you every happiness and success- especially if you are tackling the enigma which is the networked digital society .