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What’s in store for the future of academic publishing?


Jan Reichelt knows the academic publishing industry inside out. In 2008 he cofounded academic social network and reference management tool Mendeley, overseeing the growth of the platform after its takeover by publishing giant Elsevier in 2013. As such, he is one of the few individuals with experience both building a tech company that’s challenging the industry standard and working within a traditional scientific publisher. We talked to him to find out out how he sees scholarly publishing evolving in the future and what he believes are the biggest challenges facing researchers today.

Morressier: You launched your latest venture, Kopernio, last year. Could you explain what it does? 

Jan Reichelt: We founded Kopernio to focus on a major problem in science: How can we improve access to millions of research papers, and hence speed up the communication of scientific knowledge? There are about 2.4 billion requests for research articles per year from the research community. However, each article download is usually preceded by lots of clicks, re-directs, logins, and popups, usually on different publisher platforms and databases. Kopernio is a software and online platform that boils down the typical journey of 5-15 clicks to get to a research paper to a one-click experience. The time scientists save could be spent much more productively on actually doing research.

Morressier: How do you view the scholarly publishing industry at the moment?

Reichelt: I see three areas that could use significant improvement. One is workflow optimization – how can we make scientists, their teams and the way they do research more productive and efficient. The second part, closely tied to this, is analytics. The more we know about what research scientists would like to access, share and discuss, the better we can help individual researchers and groups to have more efficient conversations and get to discoveries faster.

Lastly, the academic publishing industry has focused on the final paper for a very long time. However, a lot of early scientific research contributes to this final outcome, including pre-prints and conference presentations. The more we facilitate the creation and dissemination of early scientific content, as well as help with its evaluation and impact, the more we can support the academic community by revealing research trends and findings at a much earlier point in time. We can also help depict the “scientific journey” in full from its inception – from conferences and pre-prints to the final paper, and the impact of different discoveries along the way.

Morressier: How do you see the major publishers evolving in the future?

Reichelt: Of course, many publishers are also looking at the areas I just mentioned. They are trying to figure out new ways to serve the research ecosystem and are testing technologies and business models, including by acquiring companies like Mendeley that have proven there is demand for products and technologies “outside” of the traditional domain of scientific publishing. Other parts of the publishing community that don’t have the appetite for risk, or the means to invest in companies, seem to go for specialization in certain verticals and/or fields. Sometimes there’s also a mix of the two. And finally, there are some publishers who haven’t decided where they would like to position themselves yet.

Morressier: What is your view on the growing open access movement?

Reichelt: The publishing industry will continue to slowly convert towards Open Access as one of the existing publishing models. However, I don’t see this as a revolutionary development that will switch to 100% open access from one day to the next. The scientific publishing industry, compared to other industries, is quite slow moving. So while Open Access will continue to grow, the traditional publishing models will also continue to exist for quite some time, and so we will see a portfolio of publishing models addressing different types of demands in the market.

Morressier: Do you think scientists will ever have enough incentives to move away from the prestige of high-profile journals and publish in different ways?

Reichelt: For the foreseeable future there will still be a huge incentive for researchers to publish in top-brand journals. That is partially due to legacy, evaluation methods within the researcher community, and partially quality control. However, over the last years we’ve also seen researchers increasingly publish in so-called “mega journals” such as the Public Library of Science (PLOS), where the novelty of the findings is not always a deciding factor for whether a paper is being published or not. PLOS and similar publications are already a part of (or at least making their way into) tenure discussions.

Something that might also help is the growing awareness of the value of the scientific content that becomes more visible before the final published paper, which usually happens at the end of a year-long journey. High-quality pre-publication content includes conference presentations and posters, pre-prints, and research data, for example. As scientists become increasingly incentivised to share their early-stage research, I believe this will grow in importance as a way to share knowledge and evaluate research, in addition to publishing in high-profile journals.

Morressier: What are the biggest challenges in science and scholarly publishing today?

Reichelt: It still takes a surprisingly long time for someone to publish – up to two years in total. We need to look at models that enable researchers to communicate high-quality pre-publication research earlier, faster, and in different ways. We should also look at how we can further support researchers in collaborating with one another, for example through more transparent peer review and getting “credits” for such work, as it is an important contribution to science. In essence, we should see how we can complement the current world of scientific publication and communication with additional “systems”, tools, and platforms that move science forward as a whole.