The Brief
from Clarke & Esposito

August 9, 2018 • Issue #5
A monthly roundup of what we've been reading and thinking about
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The lead story of the past month is the acquisition of Aries Systems by Elsevier. Kent Anderson provides an analysis in the Scholarly Kitchen, noting that the acquisition follows Elsevier’s development of its own peer review management system (Evise), which the company has struggled to widely deploy. Anderson further notes the similarities to Wiley’s acquisition of Atypon and the fit within Elsevier’s overall move toward data and workflow products—and its competition with Clarivate on that front. Angela Cochran frames the acquisition in the larger context of other merger and acquisition activity in the market and the implications for independent publishers.
Source: Elsevier, Scholarly Kitchen

The other big story in STM in the past month is the closure of the National Guideline Clearinghouse (NGC). First reported by the Daily Beast, the shuttering of NGC was a result of budget cuts at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). NGC was an important resource for physicians. As Ivan Oransky writes at STAT, “The value of the clearinghouse was that it put guidelines through a vetting process, allowing doctors to have more faith in their objectivity, and that it put all of them in one place rather than forcing doctors to scrounge through various academic journals and websites.” NGC was developed by the ECRI Institute and Silverchair Information Systems under contract to AHRQ. ECRI has announced it intends to develop a replacement resource, launching Fall 2018. In the meantime, guidelines are not available. In addition to being a disservice to both physicians and patients, the closure of NGC serves as a reminder as to why centralized, government-managed databases (see also: PubMed Central) may not be reliable mechanisms for long-term preservation of knowledge or for making research more accessible.
Source: Daily Beast, STAT, ECRI Institute
Elsevier vs EU Consortia Standoff Update: According to Nature, Elsevier has finally decided to cut off access to Elsevier content for researchers in both Germany and Sweden until a deal is reached. The stakes could not be higher. Joe is quoted in the Nature article: He observes that the highly public nature of the standoff means that "any deal Elsevier does with them becomes the de facto deal for the entire world” (meaning for other publishers in Europe and perhaps elsewhere). Joe also wonders to what extent it is within Elsevier’s power to cut off access in an age when multiple instances of most copyrighted content can be found somewhere online, with Sci-Hub the tantalizing option for many researchers. The standoff continues.
Source: Nature
Commenting on the standoff in Germany, David Worlock proposes an audacious way forward. Asking, What would Steve Jobs do? Worlock explores the possibility of Elsevier making its entire chest of tools available to the German consortium for the price of the digital content, and then flipping the model and giving all the content away for free. Putting aside whether this is how Jobs would have acted (we see him more likely to ask, Why is everybody so interested in this bozo content?), Worlock’s radical suggestion may indeed be on Elsevier’s road map for the future, but perhaps a more distant future. (How else to explain the many investments in SciVal, Scopus, SSRN, Mendeley, bepress, and now Aries Systems?) However, while this may be a strategy for Elsevier, we do not see this as a viable approach for other publishers who have not made similar investment and who lack expertise in software and data science.
In other Elsevier news, the company has just inked an agreement with Impactstory to integrate Impactstory’s Unpaywall within Scopus. This will enable Scopus users to access links to 7 million open access articles. It is perhaps helpful to view this deal in light of the recent acquisition of Kopernio by Clarivate Analytics. Clarivate of course owns and operates Scopus competitor Web of Science (Clarivate also owns and operates ScholarOne, the chief competitor to Aries Editorial Manager—see #1 above). The Kopernio acquisition left Scopus in “feature deficit” versus Web of Science. We hypothesize that Elsevier plans to closely study Unpaywall—and monitor its usage on Scopus—to determine if it will build its own service (given that Impactstory, a not-for-profit, is unlikely to sell to Elsevier).
Source: Elsevier
Cambridge University Press released its 2017–2018 Annual Report for the fiscal year ending April 30, 2018. CUP reports that, factoring out currency fluctuations, revenues were up by 4% to £316 million. It also reports that its operating profits rose 25% to £17 million. Oxford University Press also released its 2017–2018 Annual Report, reporting a slight dip of 0.9% to £840 million. OUP’s Academic division, however, saw substantive growth. Overall, OUP contributed £206 million to university coffers.
Source: Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press

Springer Nature announced their new “SN” imprint of open access publications. SN Applied Sciences and SN Comprehensive Clinical Medicine are the first two journals in the series. This appears to be both a shrewd extension of the Scientific Reports and Nature Communications editorial funnel and a strategy to better support “read and publish” deals, which are alluded to in the press release.
Source: Springer Nature

Physics Today covers the release of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report “Open Science by Design: Realizing a Vision for 21st Century Research” (the full report can be downloaded here). The aim of the report is to provide a framework for the “research enterprise and its stakeholders as they build strategies for achieving open science.” The report is ambitious in focusing not just on a slice of the research workflow but the entire research process, from research planning and data collection through publication and data archiving. It addresses processes, tools, technologies, legal issues, obstacles, policies, and much else. We predict this report will become a much-referenced resource for years to come.
Source: Physics Today, National Academies Press


We have been reflecting on a piece by Mitchell Aboulafia on higher education’s “real productivity problem.” Published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, this is a heartfelt article on the growing tendency in higher education to measure everything, which in turn puts a priority on quantity over quality. Such an emphasis permeates the entire culture of the academy, as though the world of research and teaching could be measured in ways similar to that of Wall Street, where the bottom line is, of course, a number. This essay comes just as we contemplate the host of metrics that are brought to bear on scholarly publishing and the heated debates about particular measures. Are we measuring too much? Have we reached a paradoxical point where the measures of quality are in fact beginning to interfere with the creation of quality?
Source: Chronicle of Higher Education
A recent piece by Gordon Freedman, president of the National Laboratory for Education Transformation, traces the history of Open Educational Resources (OER) and points to what has and has not been accomplished. The history points to the pivotal roles of Creative Commons and, in particular, the Hewlett Foundation in getting OER into the mainstream of thinking about education, both in the K-12 and Higher Ed worlds. Gordon’s thesis is that as far as OER has come (perhaps not quite as far as Gordon believes?), it has yet to come to grips with the more fundamental issue of educational transformation. It is all well and good that OER are free and thus available to populations that would otherwise be shut out of educational opportunities, but what of the objectives of education itself? How can OER create a more personalized learning experience that would yield a more highly educated society? We note that OER are open in two senses of the word: free to the end user and configurable by teachers, administrators, and students themselves. Perhaps OER’s future will focus more on that second definition of “open.”
Source: LinkedIn
Universities don’t track where PhD recipients end up working except for those graduates who land academic jobs. The American Historical Association aims to correct this data gap by tracking down and documenting where all of the 8500 people who earned a doctorate in history (from a US university) from 2004 to 2013 landed jobs. AHA’s Where Historians Work project is an ambitious and important effort that has provided a much better view into the career options and choices beyond the academy. Graduates include chief executives (174), lawyers (43), writers (59), editors (82), clergy (21), airline pilots (3), actors (1), marketing professionals (11), and legislators (5), among a great many other non-academic roles. Too often both universities and professional associations (which are, of course, both biased in this respect) view careers outside the university as failures. In an age where tenure-track positions are harder to come by, it is useful to acknowledge the number of doctorate-grantees thriving outside of the academy. We hope to see other professional associations (and many even universities themselves) conduct similar studies for other majors.
Source: Chronicle of Higher Education, American Historical Association

De Gruyter acquires Düsseldorf University Press.
Source: De Gruyter

Moodle and Blackboard, the two largest LMS providers to higher ed, part ways after a 6-year partnership.
Source: InsideHigherEd


An article from McKinsey & Company demystifies blockchain and takes a look as strategic business value for blockchain in major industries, offering guidance on how companies can determine where that value justifies major investment. Click the “Technology, media, and telecom” sector in the first infographic to see promising use cases that should ring true for scholarly publishers (subscriber authentication, data management services, digital identity management, digital content licenses). All that being said, when presented with a potential use case for a blockchain we recommend always asking, “Would a database work just as well?” We suspect that 99 times out of 100 the answer will be affirmative.
Source: McKinsey & Company

Encyclopaedia Britannica has decided to enter the “fake news” wars with a Chrome browser extension, called Britannica Insights, that brings up links to EB’s authoritative articles in relevant Google searches. This will allow the user to fact-check Google search links against EB. There is a tradeoff here, obviously: EB’s traditional rigorous editorial oversight comes at the expense of the sheer breadth of, say, Wikipedia, not to mention the billions of resources on the Web itself, whose provenance is uncertain or even malicious. Apparently the business model is B2B, with EB licensing (or seeking to license) the plugin to search engines. One such deal with YouTube is now in place. But even as we laud this attempt to put the good and true at the center of consciousness, the inherent limitations (the need to use Chrome, the need to install an extension, the topical limitations) are notable. Joe, an EB alumnus, is thankful that, in his current roles as C&E’s Senior Partner and as blogger for the Scholarly Kitchen, he now only has to fact-check the press releases of professional and scholarly publishers and not the entire Internet.
Source: Wired

Artificial intelligence has largely been focused on two goals in medicine: 1) to glean new insights from research data and scholarly literature, and 2) to automate aspects of the clinical workflow. IBM’s Watson is squarely positioned to do both. It has been billed as both a clinical decision support tool and an analysis engine for knowledge discovery. A recent report from STAT suggests, however, that the reality is trailing the marketing by some distance. Watson (and specifically Watson for Oncology) has reportedly recommended unsafe and incorrect cancer treatments. The STAT article requires a subscription but this follow-up article from Gizmodo provides a good overview.
Source: STAT, Gizmodo
DNA is the new hard drive.
Source: Digital Trends 
On the 5th anniversary of the shuttering of Google Reader and with it the ongoing development of the RSS standard, Aral Balkan reminds us of what we have lost. We remain steadfast users of RSS (via Feedly), but not every website uses RSS and many use it poorly. There is an argument to be made that the decline of RSS has resulted in more people relying on social media for their news and other information, which has in turn intensified filter bubbles and made the dissemination of fake news easier.
Source: Aral Balkan (
AAP releases 2017 stats on the US book business. Book revenues continue to be in slow secular decline across all categories except trade. Meanwhile, publishers in the UK had a record year. (Note that these two data sets, US vs UK, are a bit apples and oranges in terms of what they are measuring so comparisons are not straightforward.)
Source: Association of American Publishers, The Bookseller

In a recent piece in the Scholarly Kitchen, Robert Harington explores the implications for publishers of the quiet launch of the Amazon Global Store and how this relatively new feature on Amazon is putting pressure on both individual retailers in a particular locale and on publishers. So, for example, a publisher may be selling books in an advanced economy at one price, but selling the same books in a developing economy at a lower price. Amazon subverts this marketing strategy by taking the low-priced books from the developing world and making them available as substitutes for the higher-priced books sold in a developed country. This upends the business and distribution models of many publishers, including scholarly and professional publishers, many of whom aim to encourage global distribution of scholarly books through price variation.
Source: Scholarly Kitchen

The impact of Amazon on bookselling is indeed remarkable, even for Amazon. While Amazon may have a fearsome (and well-deserved) reputation, Felix Salmon argues in Wired that, contrary to popular perception, there is no category other than books where Amazon has pushed its competition to the margins.
Source: Bloomberg, Wired


Kurt Vonnegut effectively killed the semicolon; Adam O’Fallon Price aims to resurrect it.
Source: The Millions

Chickens are the new Tesla.
Source: Washington Post

Leonardo Da Vinci’s “to do” list. “Ask Maestro Antonio how mortars are positioned on bastions by day or night. Find a master of hydraulics and get him to tell you how to repair a lock, canal and mill in the Lombard manner. Draw Milan.”
Source: Open Culture



Joe penned two pieces on the Scholarly Kitchen in July. In the first, he notes that many people in universities would like to take back control of scholarly publishing from commercial entities. But what’s stopping them? The overarching answer is that the academy is unwilling to accept that publishing must operate in a marketplace and is thus bound to compete at least in part on those terms. The comments on this piece are animated, which suggests that perhaps this post struck a nerve.
Source: Scholarly Kitchen

In the second piece, Joe summarizes a project we have been working on for some time with Ithaka S+R, the Library Acquisitions Patterns project. In this project we set out to uncover what the current landscape of book acquisitions looks like in academic libraries. The special aspect of this project is that Ithaka was able to get access to the actual data libraries use to run their operations (from the integrated library system, or ILS). This takes the guesswork out of the data-gathering. Some of the preliminary findings are surprising; most notably the sizable role of Amazon in acquisition. A full report, with more data sources, is forthcoming this fall.
Source: Scholarly Kitchen

Clarke & Esposito is seeking an Associate. This is an opportunity for an individual looking for an intellectual challenge as well as work-life balance and flexibility. The individual selected for this role will have the opportunity to work on business strategy projects with the top executives at not-for-profit societies, publishers, universities, software companies, and other organizations working in professional publishing and communication. It is a great position for interacting with all segments of the industry and learning about how many different organizations operate. For inquiries or applications, please contact John Hartnett ( at Jack Farrell and Associates, who is conducting the search.
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