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The Brief
from Clarke & Esposito

June 6, 2018 • Issue #3
A monthly roundup of what we've been reading and thinking about
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STM & PROFESSIONAL PUBLISHING

1       
The lead story of the last month is of course the cancellation of the most awaited IPO in the industry on the eve of its issuance. Our friend and colleague Roger Schonfeld has penned an excellent postmortem on the withdrawn offering. While Springer Nature blamed the cancellation on a “softening” European IPO market, as the inimitable David Worlock points out there is scant evidence of a wider trend (see Spotify). What then might explain this course of events? There are two theories. The first theory is open access. Springer Nature’s own prospectus points out that despite being among the largest (perhaps the largest, depending on the yardstick) open access publishers in the world, it turns out that OA is just not a very profitable business model and increasing pressure (especially in Europe) to move further in the direction of OA publishing is not a propitious sign for revenue growth. The second theory is that Springer Nature is simply saddled with too much debt from its prior private equity masters and that too much of the IPO raise was going to pay down this debt and not to funding future growth. These theories are not mutually exclusive. We suspect most investors were focused on the debt but Springer Nature’s own guidance on the OA business was not exactly bullish.
Source: Reuters, Scholarly Kitchen, DavidWorlock.com
 
2
The publish-and-read (P&R) model (combining subscriptions and open access APCs)  continues to gather steam in Europe, with Sweden’s Bibsam Consortium being the latest country to announce the non-renewal of a traditional Big Deal (with Elsevier) as it seeks a new P&R agreement. As Nature reports, the propagation of the P&R model is part of a coordinated effort among European consortia. Negotiators from European consortia met on May 2nd, shortly before the Bibsam announcement, in a closed meeting in Berlin. While the P&R model sounds ideal for both publishers (what is not to like about an even bigger Big Deal?) and European consortia (who can claim progress toward the European Commission’s goal of making all research freely accessible upon publication by 2020), the devil is of course in the details. Steven Inchcoombe, Springer Nature’s chief publishing officer, notes that these P&R deals are northern European in orientation because of “strong support for open access from research funders, institutions and governments. But unless more money is available to pay for such deals, they are unlikely to become more popular.”  
Source: Times Higher Education, Nature
 
3     
Meanwhile, in North America, the Big Deal may also be facing pressures. Using Florida State’s recent cancellation of its license with Elsevier as the hook for the story, Inside Higher Ed surveys the environment and concludes that Big Deal cancellations are gaining momentum. We have no quarrel with the people interviewed in this piece, many of whom are colleagues (and Joe is quoted on the role of Sci-Hub in Big Deal-unmaking), but we wonder how strong the trend is? We have examined some of the recently canceled deals and concluded that the institutions had been paying above-market rates. So are Big Deals being tossed aside or is this simply a matter of a more efficient market?
Source: Inside Higher Ed
 
4
Do preprints siphon citations away from journals? An analysis by our friend and colleague Phil Davis suggests that they, in fact, do. It is not just preprints. Searching Web of Science, Davis uncovers citations to papers “as if they were published by the arXiv, PubMed Central, Academia.edu, and ResearchGate.” These latter examples lead us to wonder if this is first and foremost a story about the shoddy editing practices at some publishers, who are clearly not performing even a basic reference review? 
Source: Scholarly Kitchen
 
5
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has released a 5-year strategic plan for data science, to maximize the value of data generated through NIH-funded efforts and accelerate biomedical discoveries and medical breakthroughs, and has created the to-be-filled position of Chief Data Strategist. Key to the plan is the NIH Data Commons, which will leverage cloud-computing environments to democratize access and use of data and analytic tools and allow multiple datasets to be queried together. NIH will also refocus its data-related funding priorities to cover the utility, user service, accessibility, and efficiency of operation of data repositories.
Source: National Institutes of Health
 
6
Meanwhile, China is on track to surpass the United States in terms of spending on scientific research this year. The country already produces more scientific articles than any other.
Source: Washington Post


HIGHER EDUCATION
 
7
As the competition for AI technology heats up, many companies have begun the aggressive recruitment of researchers. The New York Times has a thoughtful piece on Facebook’s new AI labs, which will be staffed by former academics, to the loss of the universities that helped to develop them. There are multiple policy issues here, not the least is the question of “seed corn”: with so many AI researchers now moving to commercial firms, who will train the next generation? This touches on another issue, which we monitor regularly: the points of intersection between enormous tech companies and scholarly communications. Our little world built around research publishing can be upended whenever a Silicon Valley dragon wags its tail. We witnessed this first hand on an assignment we undertook for a client a couple of years ago that involved interviewing a number of researchers working in robotics. One day several of them wrote us to say they could no longer speak with us as they had all been hired by Uber.
Source: New York Times
 
8
Librarians have long had a skeptical view of Wikipedia, but perhaps the tide has changed, as the opportunity to edit and enhance Wikipedia is increasingly viewed as a way to stimulate the environment for open access texts. “Efforts are increasing around the world to grow local editing communities around specific interest groups, volunteers, and educational initiatives into more formal organizations, called affiliates.” We are interested in this development because of the implications of open collaborative networks and the possibility to create new information products across communities of users.
Source: American Libraries

TECHNOLOGY

9
The best writing in tech this past month comes (unsurprisingly) from Ben Thompson over at Stratechery. Thompson delineates, in a pair of must-read posts, between two philosophies in tech: the “computers are an aid to humans, not their replacement” philosophy versus the “computers doing things for people” philosophy. The first – famously encapsulated by Steve Jobs’s “bicycle of the mind” metaphor – is the way that Apple and Microsoft generally think about things. The second is the modus operandi of Google and Facebook. These two philosophies lead to two different market approaches: the platform versus the aggregator. A platform is, to quote Bill Gates, “when the economic value of everybody that uses it, exceeds the value of the company that creates it.” Platforms connect 3rd-party suppliers and end users to the benefit of all concerned. Aggregators, by contrast, use their network effect to intermediate and control such connections, creating value largely for themselves. Worth reading both articles in their entirety.
Source: Stratechery
 
10
Another must-read tech – and general business strategy – article this month comes from Eugene Wei on his blog Remains of the Day. Wei is a product strategist, with stints at Amazon, Hulu, Flipboard, and Oculus. He writes about the concept of invisible asymptotes, primarily with illustrations from Amazon. By invisible asymptotes, he essentially means factors that inhibit growth. Wei discusses the formation of Amazon Prime as a way to circumnavigate the chief barrier to growth at Amazon at that time: shipping fees. It is a long read but worth reading in its entirety as the concepts are generalizable.
Source: Remains of the Day
 
11
We have been active in the library automation sector and have come to rely on the work of Marshall Breeding. We were thus pleased to see that Breeding has just penned a 2018 update on library technology. There is a strong overview here of the various vendors in the space, including information about the number of installations of their products. Of particular interest is the summary of the many mergers and acquisitions that have taken place in the past year, with no sign that the pace will slacken in the coming years. This promises to be a dynamic area for some time to come, driven in part by expanding notions of what precisely constitutes a library platform and how best such platforms should be developed and implemented. Lurking in the background of these discussions is the question of whether it will remain possible for libraries to integrate services and modules from multiple sources.
Source: American Libraries

12
We are delighted to report that Klout is (finally) shutting down. The site was a kind of h-index for social media, as if any good could come of that.
Source: Business Insider

13
Microsoft acquires Github (for 7.5 billion). This is causing much consternation in open source communities with particular concern over the role of Github as an archive. Our view is that Github was never designed to be an archive. But if one is using Github as an archive, would you rather have that service run by a startup or one of the most mature tech companies in the world known for its positively stubborn product support (see: Bing, Microsoft Academic) and long product life cycles (Microsoft is still issuing security patches for Windows 7)?
Source: Bloomberg, The Verge

14
Every year Mary Meeker publishes a huge report on Internet trends. Meeker is currently a partner with the blue-chip Silicon Valley venture capital firm KPCB (formerly Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers); formerly she worked as an analyst on Wall Street. We are still digesting the information in this year’s deck, which has over 250 data-packed slides. Slide after slide tells the ongoing story of the growth of Internet activity, with usage rising around the world and increasing digitization of more and more aspects of our lives (we were interested to learn we are not the only ones spending time on Nextdoor, a platform for neighborhood communications). But there is one slide (so far) in this masterful deck that gave us pause, as it shows that the growth in smartphone shipments has fallen to zero. With the smartphone world now dominated by two operating systems, leaving little room for new entrants, we anticipate that the market leaders (Apple and Samsung) will be seeking ways to extract more revenue from existing customers.
Source: KPCB

 
15
NFX, a venture capital company, has just published “The Network Effects Bible” on Medium. The article is a bit abstract, but it is nonetheless a clearly written explanation of what network effects are, why they are important, and how an organization can create them. (The definition of “network effects” used here is a service whose value for each user increases every time a new user joins the network.) It’s NFX’s claim that 70% of a company’s value derives from network effects, a figure we need not endorse to acknowledge the importance of the phenomenon. The important question for academic and professional publishers is how to create network effects for their products, which are serving already established networks of researchers? How might libraries better create network effects that add value to their services and for their communities
Source: Bloomberg, The Verge 

MISCELLANY

16
Evan Gow has posted a useful how-to piece on web marketing. Its focus is largely on self-published authors of books, but it makes a case for how to use social media to bring attention to your work. The outline here will be of interest to all online marketers (and familiar to some). Note that this piece is being passed around the Internet with the alternative title “Book Marketing for Pirates.” It has nothing to do with piracy except for a joke, as the list of recommendations yield an acronym in pirate-speak: AARRR.
Source: Medium
 
17
Our friend and colleague Keith Collier has returned (after a fashion) to Clarivate Analytics (he was at the company in its previous incarnation within Thomson Reuters) in the role of Managing Director of Publisher Services, a newly created leadership role. Keith was most recently at Research Square.
Source: Clarivate Analytics 
 
18

An amusing story of the keyboard: why we continue to use the QWERTY format even though others are superior for speed and accuracy. Behind the chuckles is an illustration of the economic principle of “path dependence,” which explains why some things turn out as they do and why many things are hard to change. As we struggle with typos and autocorrect, we found ourselves reflecting that many things in scholarly publishing that seem like obvious candidates for change persist nonetheless, path dependence having marked out their future. We anticipate that these keyboard stories will not come to an end until Alexa and Siri do all our typing for us.
Source: BBC

 
FROM OUR OWN PENS
 
19
Joe has posted two pieces on the Scholarly Kitchen this month. The first is about conversations he has been having with financial analysts who are tracking Springer Nature’s since-withdrawn IPO. But will that IPO return at some point? Most of these calls begin with the question of whether scholarly publishing is in permanent decline, but Joe argues that the perception of publishing is not really representative of the actual performance of the best-managed companies.
Source: Scholarly Kitchen

20
Much ink has been spilled with regard to Sci-Hub’s impact on publishers. In a second article, Joe explores what it would mean for libraries if Sci-Hub or other sites of dubious legality become the de facto point of access for most researchers.
Source: Scholarly Kitchen
***
Trust those who seek the truth. Doubt those that find it.  —André Gide
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