When Journal des sçavans, the first academic journal, was established in 1665, no one would have envisioned the current digital transformation of scientific research and scholarly journals and their accessibility.
Similarly, foreseeing the future of academic publishing might include several plots and tweaks because of the technological advances it has adopted. The arena is emerging with a long list of add-ons like the open-access arrival, the evolution of digital repositories, the inclusion of data aggregators, the introduction of preprints and electronic archiving.
There have been profound changes in the academic publishing industry since its origin, and they do have a significant impact on the current publishing world.
A Quick Bite of Academic Publishing Landscape
If you look at the publishing journey, it started with traditional publishing and was slowly replaced by digital publishing. And now, digital publishing is getting more diminutive because of the acceptance rate of open access publishing. Its initiatives like cOAlition and Plan S are about to rule the publishing world.
So, today the lifecycle of academic publishing includes a plethora of innovative digital systems and a technological hit where the growth rate is scalable and surpassing.
But, how were these innovations introduced for the development of scientific publishing?
Innovations and Discovery of Academic Publishing
We see that there have been four key processes that have innovated academic publishing. The most important initiatives that have made a huge impact on the scientific community are:
- The Peer-review Process
- Open-access Publishing
- Evolution of Publishing Models
- Rise of Preprints and Overlay Journals
In the following sections, we will discuss how these processes contribute to the development of scientific publishing individually.
The peer-review process was introduced to academic publishing in the 17th Century by the Royal Society of Edinburgh when they published a set of peer-reviewed medical articles. Peer review plays an explicit role in delivering high-quality articles and providing the readers with factual feedback on their work. It has occupied a pivotal place in academic publishing as it increases the network possibilities within the scientific community by encountering a reviewing system that involves the active participation of peer reviewers, professors, editors, researchers, and authors.
However, in many instances, the fairness of this process has been questioned due to the possibility of conflict of interests based on the rejection of papers. Despite the criticisms, the peer review process is widely accepted as the standard research evaluation method to certify the article. It has been stable for 350 years, and it stands out as one of the key pillars in ensuring trust in what is presented in scientific papers.
So what could possibly be the future of the peer-review process?
Some journals already include the peer review comments in the scholarly record to make the process more transparent, and this will likely be seen in more journals in the future.
In other words, the reviewers’ and authors’ comments should get published alongside the journal article for the reader's reference providing a broader review to the scientific community.
The open-access movement has been the largest innovation in the academic realm of journal publishing. The open-access publishing model works by helping the authors to retain the copyrights for their research works, and the paper is made freely available to readers, unlike traditional publishing, where access is through libraries or pay-per-view.
The author can publish the work in two models:
- Gold open access, where the author pays the Article Processing Charges (APCs) and makes the article freely accessible to readers.
- Green open access, where the author doesn’t pay any APC to get his article published in a journal but self-archives a version of his paper in the publicly accessible central or institutional repository like PubMed. This way, it benefits both the authors and the readers.
Many researchers are currently choosing open access publishing over traditional publishing, and unquestionably, open access has much more in store to intensify the future of academic publishing.
Earlier, in an independent study conducted on open access publishing, commissioned by the UK government, Dame Janet Finch had stated that "in the longer term, the future of academic publishing lies with open access publishing."
The Evolution of Publishing Models
Publishing models are required to transform your paperwork into a readable format and market them to reach the right audience.
The traditional publishing model has now evolved into three different models;
- Subscription Model: Institutions and libraries pay subscription fees to make their students' research work accessible to everyone.
- Open Access Publishing Model: Unlike the subscription model, researchers can make their work accessible free for the readers without any subscription. The only fees the researchers should pay would be APCs, which are also not mandatory in many open access journals. Some journals wave off the charges in the form of sponsorship or funding.
- Mixed-Publishing Model or Hybrid Model: It is a union of both open-access and subscription models. Many journals use both the subscription and open-access models and offer publishing services based on the author's requirements. These hybrid journals are subscription-based journals that allow the authors to make their articles gold open access post-paying APCs or after an embargo period.
Of these three discoveries of publishing models, researchers have started to opt for open access publishing as support for open access publishing continues to grow.
The Rise of Preprints and Overlay Journals
The discovery of preprints is another game-changer for academic publishing. Preprints allow authors to publish their articles in an unedited format and make them accessible to readers for free. As a result, it saves time and increases the author's credibility even before getting their work peer-reviewed and published. Furthermore, it helps to archive the final version of the articles and transfer them as Green OA, publish research datasets and codes, and most importantly, it helps to publish academic journals via overlay concept. Overlay journals select and publish an article that is already available online. Thus, they cut off the production expenses and encourage transparent publishing practices. Also, the Green OA or the self-archiving has been the transitional publishing model available for publishers to comply with Plan S. That's how the overlay journals are progressing in scholarly communication.
These are, therefore, the key elements that continue to advance academic publishing.
But, the question that strikes is where is the scientific publishing heading?
A Vision to the Future
The optimal representation of scholarly publishing must include instant and universal access, which is not only for scientific communities but also for the global society.
The standard directional workflow and the key functions of scholarly communication should be updated based on the knowledge-sharing perspective to achieve global expansion and share the knowledge.
What are the key functions, and how do we update them?
The key functions are the steps involved in scholarly communication:
- Preparation of the manuscript to share the knowledge,
- Registration of the article in the journal to make them available,
- Certification to demonstrate high-quality research,
- Dissemination of published content to make it more accessible, and
- Archival of research to preserve the work and ensure long-term availability.
Now that we have an outlook on the future of scientific publishing, let’s look into how well-aligned it is with the following five cardinal directions to scholarly communication.
1. Accessibility and Usability
Effective dissemination indicates the robust efforts to make the research work accessible and easily discoverable by anyone across the world. With the introduction of open access publishing, the research work has been made publicly available. Thus, the readers can refer to journal articles an infinite number of times and cite them for references. So, the hybrid journals should publish more articles encouraging the effective dissemination of the work without levying APCs. As a result, accessibility and usability can be leveraged on a global scale.
2. Archiving to Safeguard the Future
Archiving is one of the essential life cycles in the publishing industry. As digitalization is ruling academic publishing, the preservation techniques have gone viral to keep the article available for the long term and make it accessible to the world whenever they need it. So, it is a crucial step to be followed by all the publishers to keep the content intact and preserve it digitally rather than in physical formats (which are fading lately). Moreover, when publication is stopped or discontinued, the archiving helps to retrieve the data from archive storage and prevents digital decay of the content by preserving it for a longer time. It ensures the long-term availability of your research paper and provides easy access to the readers. Hence, archiving should be a must-follow practice for the publishers and authors.
3. Community Building is Going to Set the Future Bright
The evolution of digital publishing has significantly impacted the research-associated processes and workflows, including community-building between the researchers. Substantially, it led to the introduction of various discussion forums and research communities in an effort to create a global network of researchers to enhance their article visibility and stature. These distributed knowledge networks act as a platform to broadcast researchers' work and create engagement on their latest or relevant work, which is a great way to gain citations and readership. It also helps researchers collaborate on research projects with others and get worldwide exposure to their work. As a result, it ensures effective research communication between researchers and research communities. Hence, building and sustaining discussion forums encourage the connectivity and cooperation of researchers and scientific communities at a higher rate, upholding reliability and integrity.
4. Promoting and Establishing a High-Quality Research Culture
The peer-review process is the solitary quality filter of scholarly publishing, which evaluates and certifies the research work. Thus, certification is the critical stage of research communication that ensures the outputs are technically sound, well-presented, and fully evidenced.
Alongside, it’s the peer-reviewers who perform the quality check to identify whether the article meets the ethical and quality standards of publications.
Though the reviewers follow an unbiased and standard protocol of research evaluation, the quest for transparency and fairness still exists. As discussed in the innovation and discovery section above, the peer-review process is significantly changing with time. Unlike pre-publication peer review (traditional publishing), which impedes the rapid dissemination of work or sharing research findings, the peer-review process will be transparent in the future (many journals are already embracing the transparent peer-review process). Furthermore, the certifications and evaluation process will eventually promulgate the previous versions listing all the research outputs, thereby promoting a high-quality culture by recording and presenting all the versions of the review process to avoid conflict of interests and bias.
5. Making Scholarly Publishing Affordable
Cost-effectiveness is the primary issue for all the stakeholders involved in the scholarly communication tableau, from researchers facing issues related to the cost of disseminating the articles on subscription journals or hybrid journals to service providers facing issues related to the cost of publishing software and typesetting services.
To end this, leveraging and harnessing digital technologies to develop journal management software and rendering it at affordable pricing will work as the magic sword for the publishers to hasten the publishing process. In addition, for authors, more and more open access journals should be made available to disseminate the work for free against paywalls. In the same vein, the research funding schemes should be proposed to support their experimentation and allow evidence-based, high-quality research findings to reach the communities.
For the good of the whole publishing ecosystem and to combat the pricing edifice, scholarly publishing should be made as cost-effective as possible.
By looking at the exponential growth of academic publishing, it is evident that the digital era and the influence of the internet have widely supported the growth and development of the scientific research arena. So, it is unpredictable to measure the scale of academic publishing vibes. But, the upcoming innovations and technologies will set the open-access publishing landscape vibrant, and we can witness a more significant invention in terms of scholarly publishing.
So, what are your thoughts on the future of academic publishing?
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I would like to extend my gratitude to Jens Nielsen, Professor at the Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden and CEO of BioInnovation Institute, Copenhagen, Denmark, who took his time to review this article and shared valuable insights on the same. He is the editor-in-chief of FEMS Yeast Research and has published more than 700 papers that have been cited more than 68,000 times (current H-factor 119), and co-authored more than 40 books.