How is the Pandemic Positively Changing the Academic Publishing as a Whole?
Academic Publishing

How is the Pandemic Positively Changing the Academic Publishing as a Whole?

Arunav Moitra
Arunav Moitra

One thing that has continuously dominated every aspect of our lives since the start of 2020 is the Covid-19 pandemic. It has impacted our individual lives, economy, education, food availability, social gatherings, outdoor activities, mental health, and scholarly research. At the same time, the pandemic has been turning the tables for scientific and medicinal research. As a result, a high volume of research work is filling the journals and preprint servers. The amount of covid-related research work done in the pandemic years is so high that it covers every aspect related to it.  Scientists and doctors are working effortlessly to find ways to stop virus's future mutations, advancement and save precious human lives.

One thing that we must admit is the fact that the publishing industry is going through a substantial transformational journey. It is widely accepting the new digital technologies and making the transition from restricted access to open access. The long stretches of lockdowns, severe outbreaks, and hindrances to research activities proved to be the biggest problem the publishing sector faced in a very long time. Nevertheless, the industry took it as a challenge and brought the electronic publishing model into practice. As the model has open access and increasingly uses preprint servers for faster peer-review, the outcome is in the form of surging readership, an extensive repository of free research content, and the growing need for high-quality content which can be exclusive.

Building on these opening remarks about the new changes in academic publishing, let us look at the things in a more detailed manner to understand the whole transformation better.

1. Shifting Towards All Things Digital

The publishing industry is working on complete digital delivery of the research materials and papers via electronic mediums to our own devices and systems. This approach is becoming mainstream for small and medium-sized journals and publishers. These journals want to attract a new audience and present papers belonging to a particular niche. The established journals and traditional publishing houses quickly adopted the hybrid digital and print model for publishing and distributing research content. In a way, the hybrid model will help them maintain their strong presence and keep pace with the changing times. At the same time, universities are also going digital and are modernizing their systems for online publishing and content discoverability.

2. Use of Preprints and Quick Peer-review

Thousands of researchers and scholars had never posted any of their findings and results to a preprint server, but the raging pandemic is forcing them to decide in this regard. The academic world, especially those involved in scientific and medicinal research, was racing against time and fellow members from the same field to get their observations, findings, results, and analysis out as soon as possible to positively impact the overall pandemic research. For many researchers, this approach of posting the findings on a preprint server, easy sharing of data, and quick peer-review has been highly beneficial. They have received instantaneous feedback and solved many of their queries through quick peer-review. They regarded it as a turning point and want to continue doing it in future research works too.

A Nature analysis shows, "More than 30,000 of the COVID-19 articles published in 2020 were preprints - between 17% and 30% of total COVID-19 research papers (depending on the database searched). And, according to Dimensions, one-tenth of all preprints this year were about COVID-19."

Sources: Journal papers: Dimensions & Nature tabulations; Primer (for PubMed estimate); Preprints: Dimensions; N. Fraser & B. Kramer https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.12033672 (2020)

3. Transparency and Democracy in the Virtual Realm

Pandemic harmed the ground study, on-field collaborations, and traditional printing of papers. As labs, libraries, and university press were not accessible, research scholars' and publishers swiftly transitioned to the virtual realm. Even the seminars and conferences are making their debut in the digital space. The most significant benefit of the virtual realm is its transparency and democracy, which makes the research work easier to get published. The journals and publishers are using transparency as an integral tool to push forward their premium paid content. At first, they are creating a loyal audience base and increasing readership by providing free research materials. Then, they are asking them to pay for the premium and high-quality content so that the journal can sustain itself. It is proving beneficial to both readers and publishers and establishing a trust factor.

4. Era of Open Access

The open-access model is genuinely revolutionizing the publishing industry. It is also the need of the hour as it bridges gaps and limitations of academic publishing. In the 21st century, it is people's right to have access to research papers and studies. The open-access movement is helping those who lack resources and are financially incapable of accessing quality research materials. A considerable amount of scientific studies and research papers are in the hands and control of large institutions and publishing giants. That means there is a restriction in the distribution, access, and exchange of these scholarly outputs. So, the Plan S initiative by cOAlition S, an international consortium of research funding, gives a level playing field.  It mandates that the research funded by government grants must publish in Open Access journals or platforms.

5. Use of Additional Impact Metrics and the Need for New Content Formats

The rise in digital publishing has also led to several new performance and impact metrics to measure the research work's reach, effect, impressions, and engagement rate. As more and more academic articles and studies are publishing digitally, there is an urgent need for innovation in content delivery and increasing outreach and user engagement. The new content formats could be simple summaries, interactive videos, infographics, podcasts, content in the form of games and polls, and interaction with public figures and domain experts.

6. Importance of JATS XML and Metadata

The rise in the use of JATS XML by the publishers is contributing towards greater digitalization. It is enabling the publishing industry to move towards machine learning and artificial intelligence. In simple terms, Journal Article Tag Suite is a set of XML (Extensible Markup Language that encodes documents) attributes and elements that determine the semantics and structure of a journal article. So, it helps in the standardization of journal articles and is highly customizable. Go through this article to know more about JATS XML.

At the same time, metadata is also helping publishers go digital by providing context and giving critical information to the raw data. It is now integral to the discovery and validation of a journal.

7. Transformation In Scholarly Communication

If we look at things positively, then the pandemic has been like a catalyst that is bringing widespread transformation across the scholarly communication space. The sector is working to communicate and propagate research ideas, path-breaking initiatives, and results that benefit society. It includes stakeholders from scholarly communities, the publishing industry, institutions, and service-oriented companies. The most noteworthy change is the accelerated publishing of research works in medicines, biological, and health sciences, especially respiratory systems and immunology. The publishing industry is changing its operating model to suit the new normal. Currently, scholarly communication is becoming more informal, user-friendly, interactive, and has greater public participation.

Conclusion

The academic publishing industry and journal publishers are embracing the digital transformation like never before. Digital publishing is in full swing and has now become a new normal in this pandemic era. By using new technologies, the industry is on the verge of becoming transparent and encouraging a hybrid model for disseminating scholarly content. They are benefitting heavily from the use of metadata and machine learning. The publishing industry is opening up to new horizons, which are full of opportunities and possibilities. In a true sense, the pandemic has transformed the outlook of academic publishing, and now it is becoming more data-centric, digitalized, democratized, transparent, and on the path of providing open-access content to countless readers.

Therefore, proper metadata, new JATS XML publishing standards, data sharing, support for data mining, and conversion of research files into machine-readable format have genuinely transformed the whole publishing industry.