Making a Few Elsevier Predictions

At this point it is no secret that Elsevier intends to be and is becoming (or maybe already has become?) the leading provider of scholarly metrics and analytics.

Mendeley’s Stats is an impressive author service to track the performance of one’s own publications that rivals the tracking in Google Scholar with an attractive and intuitive user interface. The release of CiteScore in December competes directly with Clarivate Analytics’ Journal Impact Factor. Last week’s announcement of the unsurprising acquisition of Plum Analytics from EBSCO evidences the comment at the ALA Midwinter 2017 Hunter Forum by Lisa Colledge, Director of Research Metrics at Elsevier, that Elsevier will continue to invest in securing data sources that will allow Elsevier to develop more metrics.

These metrics activities are no doubt important inherently; however, at the encouragement of some colleagues, I’d like to look out a bit further in time and share a few thoughts about the implications I see. I’m going to do so using the provocative but risky format of making predictions. We can check back in a few years and see how I did!

Flips Journals to Open: The pivot to metrics and analytics underscores that Elsevier is on a trajectory to convert its journal portfolio to being open and no longer behind a paywall. Elsevier is already a leading open access publisher and initiatives to deliver author manuscripts to institutional repositories, among other projects, indicate a shift to making publications more and more discoverable and accessible. Discovery and access generate data that are critical for developing useful metrics and analytics. I go back and forth on how many years before this conversion of everything to open reading (including backfiles) will become reality but I am confident that it will happen, especially after this Twitter exchange with William Gunn, Director of Scholarly Communications at Elsevier – https://twitter.com/lisalibrarian/status/809220294489624576 (it is a long thread of conversation but this link goes to the most relevant point in the exchange). As a side benefit, fighting off piracy becomes far less and maybe even a non-issue. My current thought is the timeline is about six years.

Publication Services: I also predict that coming soon from Elsevier is a suite of new publication services that leverage the metrics and analytics. I expect to see these two services develop in parallel, though with the roll out of the first coming a year or two before the second.

One of these publication services will be author-facing, though probably sold to institutions. (Note – at universities I expect that this will not be a sale to the library but, like PURE, to the campus research office.) Researchers invest tremendous amounts of time and energy in identifying journals to which to submit their manuscripts, formatting the manuscripts, and engaging with reviews, editorial responses, etc. These processes have been somewhat automated over the past years but with relatively few efficiencies gained and no sense that placement of manuscripts has become more effective because of automation. The rise of predatory journals has made this process even more onerous. Every author I know would prefer to spend this time and energy on other tasks related to their scholarship.

Elsevier’s patent for “Online Peer Review System and Method” (http://pdfpiw.uspto.gov/.piw?Docid=09430468) shows clearly that this process is ripe for improvement and the patented process describes the future experience of a scholar submitting a manuscript that will be matched through fingerprinting with its best possible potential publication venue and then cascade (or waterfall) through review and editorial processes and on to publication. This manuscript submission and management product will be sold to institutions as improving productivity of their researchers by decreasing the effort to manage manuscript submission and review and as improving institutional control over institutional quality metrics (which are heavily dependent on publication metrics). It is even possible to imagine that institutions might centralize the management of this process in ways parallel to the central review and management of grants and the centralization of researcher profile management (e.g., with PURE). I expect to see this marketed within two years.

When the “Online Peer Review System and Method” patent was granted, many pointed out that the idea of cascade/waterfall treatment of a manuscript by a publisher’s review and editorial system was not such a unique proposition. However, and with the caveat that I am not a patent expert by any means, I think that response missed a critical component. As Elsevier explains in the section on prior art: “existing systems only offer a shared database among sister journals, whereas a shared database is not available for non-sister journals, for example, journals that are not owned by related entities. Thus, it is impossible for these existing systems to accommodate the user’s request to switch from a sister journal to a non-sister journal.”

This intention to provide for the transfer of a manuscript “from a sister to a non-sister journal” is what will make this online system different it appears – and is also the basis for my belief that Elsevier will offering a parallel service, not to authors or to institutions, but to other publishers offering them access to the best manuscripts as well as a manuscript review and editorial support platform. Attracting quality manuscripts is critical to publishing quality articles and being separate from a large-scale and wide-ranging manuscript submission and review process will increase the challenge for smaller publishers in doing so. By joining into a partnership arrangement with Elsevier, smaller publishers would be able to place their journals into the waterfall process. One can anticipate Elsevier using resultant data from this process to make acquisitions of well-performing titles over time. I think we see this in three to four years, maybe faster.

This leads to my final thought specific to academic libraries. I’m not certain if it is intended to be a complete shift or just a significant one but one can’t help but notice that Elsevier is already increasingly selling services directly to other campus units rather than the library. Many people have asked the question re the role of the library in an open access scholarly communications system. The predictions I’ve made here about Elsevier make that a even more pressing question than it might have seemed.

I’ll leave it at this for now. I may be wrong; I may be right. I’ll probably change my mind on some of the details and possibly the timelines. I’m sure Elsevier has a lot more in the works than what I’ve predicted here. But, I thought I’d put this out there for comment and reaction. I look forward to hearing people’s thoughts.

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