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Academic Publishing

There’s a lot happening in academic journal publishing: New digital publishing platforms are appearing, digital archives and repositories are making it easier for users to discover relevant research, university libraries are pushing back against high subscription prices, open access and preprint platforms are transforming the traditional academic publishing model, and research pirating sites are creating turmoil in the industry. False reporting has invaded journal publishing, and the peer review process is still a topic of contention. Here’s a wrap-up of some 2017 shakeups and what they might mean for journal publishers in 2018.

  • Research funders are launching their own open access platforms. One big frustration for researchers is the time it takes from paper submission to being published in a journal. Some organizations that fund research are fighting back by creating platforms that allow immediate access to submitted scientific papers. The Wellcome Trust was one of the first to create such a platform. It allows Wellcome-funded researchers to publish their papers and accompanying data as soon as they’re completed. Invited peer reviewers can then evaluate the papers and findings. Similarly, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is refusing to allow its funded research to be published in any journal that does not allow immediate access. Members of both organizations believe this model speeds up further research and results in better collaboration as well as more accurate findings.
  • Piracy sites continue to allow readers to go around paywalls. Despite losing a major lawsuit, publisher-pirating Sci-Hub and similar sites continue to publish research papers on the “dark web.” Started by a student as a way to circumvent the high costs of accessing academic research, Sci-Hub is an online database of 50 million pirated scientific journal articles that costs academic publishers $10 billion per year. U.K. structural biologist Stephen Curry told Nature, “Sci-Hub is obviously illegal. But the fact that it is so immensely popular, inside and outside academia, is a symptom of many people’s frustration with the status quo in academic publishing.” This is yet another sign publishers will need to adjust their traditional scholarly publishing strategies and operations accordingly.
  • False reports hit academic publishing. Even journals are not immune to “fake news.” Recent examples include two fake research papers based on Star Wars and Star Trek that publishers accepted for review, several of which even published the papers. Part of the reason behind this trend is the proliferation of predatory journals that rely on researchers and academics desperate to get published. Predatory publishers using disreputable publishing tactics are tarnishing the reputation of academic publishers. These journals use names similar to actual reputable journals but have lax peer review standards — or no peer review process at all.

What does this say about journal publishing in 2018? The main takeaway is that it’s important for academic publishers to continue to re-enforce quality peer review standards. The traditional peer review system may be under fire for various — and sometimes justifiable — reasons, but it’s the best way to maintain the expertise and integrity of academic publishing.

Looking ahead and staying current with what’s going on in the industry is imperative for publishers who want to be prepared for success in the coming year and beyond.

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