Platforms and pipelines in academic publishing

Two days of discussions about academic publishing covered China's role in OA, Plan S, value propositions, book publishing and much more. The event was not without controversy!

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International politics 

After the mention of China as supporting Plan S, the country received additional attention from other speakers. Gerard Meijer, Director of the Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society, contributed an anecdote about China's approach to OA during the Quo vadis, Science? panel discussion. At the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA)'s Open Access Conference, held in Berlin December 3-4, 2018, a Chinese delegate said he had orders "from the highest level" to switch to OA and that, in China, orders are always followed. It's not clear what that "highest level" might be, but Meijer was certainly impressed. Nor can we check this anecdote, since, ironically, the OA meeting was not open; it's by invitation only. 

Rafael Ball, Director of ETH-Library Zurich, Switzerland, challenged the notion of holding China up as a role model, given its authoritarian government. "I prefer democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression," he said. In an angry response, Meijer called the question "unacceptable." He said he was only reporting from the OASPA meeting, not making a judgement.

The rationale for China's interest in OA, noted consultant Matthias Wahls, is to gain influence internationally. Chinese STM journals make up about 5% of the total market and OA is a way for the country to further open up the journal market.

The opening session on Wednesday concentrated entirely on China, with Ed Gerstner, VP Publishing Nature Research Open Access, in conversation with Eefke Smit, Director, Standards and Technology, the STM Association, talking about his experience living and working in the country. Gerstner found much to like in China. He disputed the notion that orders are always followed. Instead, how to implement the declarations issued from the government are worked out lower down. He believes that China is using science to build national pride and sees no problem with the country wanting impact. The notion of "open," however, will be with Chinese characteristics. In one of his few criticisms, and a pretty mild one at that, Gerstner bemoaned the similarity of Chinese author names and wishes they would all sign up for ORCID for disambiguation purposes.

Keep calm and listen

Not all of the presentations at APE2019 aroused strong debate or even a degree of acrimony. Case studies from Angela Cochran, American Society of Civil Engineers, about what happens to independent publishers when mergers and acquisitions occur; from Lauren Kane, BioOne, about migrating from a traditional platform to a more innovative partnership agreement; and from Jonathan Hevenstone, Atypon, about moving from platforms to research-centric pipelines gave the audience a "lessons learned" approach to issues that they might also be facing.

Academic publishing is not solely about scientific articles. The role of books came under some scrutiny as well. Particularly in the humanities, it's books rather than articles that matter. The move towards OA books, to a certain extent, parallels that of other open initiatives. The closing panel of APE2019 concentrated on ethics issues surrounding peer review. This could have been a hot topic, engendering rancorous debate, but since it came at the end of a very intense two days, it invited questions but nothing on the order of the vitriol surrounding Plan S and China.

What's clear is that the scholarly publishing industry is undergoing significant changes and its role going forward is subject to much debate. The debate will doubtless continue next year at APE2020 (, 14-15 January 2020.

Marydee Ojala ( is the editor-in-chief of Online Searcher and co-chair of the Internet Librarian International conference.

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