12 must-know trends in scholarly research and the research communication ecosystem

The scholarly ecosystem has radically changed since the initial impact of digital technologies on our community in the early- to mid-1990s. As a community, we have collectively strived to both drive and embrace the sea changes that have resulted over the last 20+ years. Of course when faced with such a rapid evolution the forecasting or predicting of new or emerging trends has become key. It’s not always possible to reach consensus about what is happening or what may soon happen, but we can all agree that new landscapes will be characterized by both emerging technologies and conflicting demands.

As we embark on an exciting new year, here are our 12 must-know trends in the scholarly research and the research communication ecosystem.

1. Publishers will continue to ‘move upstream’

Major publishers will continue to ‘move upstream’ from their traditional position as content owners. Elsevier, for example, has repositioned themselves as an analytics business. As publishers continue to change and broaden their value propositions, they will increasingly seek to attract and engage researchers through a broader spectrum of touch points to maximise their opportunities for attracting and retaining authors and their research.

2. Off-campus access will become more frictionless

Aspects of workflow that continue to create friction will be resolved, or the problems caused by friction be further mitigated. We will continue to see progress in the mitigation of long-standing issues concerning off-campus access through specific approaches/alliances (e.g. CASA through our partnership with Google); through emerging standards (e.g. RA21); or through the emergence of new aggregation platforms (e.g. unpaywall).

3. The industry will continue to find responses to disruptive forces

As a result of (2) the industry will continue to counter the disruptive nature of both Sci-Hub and ResearchGate. Publishers will continue to explore new models to make the literature more accessible to its users wherever they are.

4. Research communication will continue to become more author-centric

The research communication ecosystem will become more author-centric. A significant accelerator of this trend is the increasing popularity of preprints in that they are both initiated and ‘owned’ by authors. One of the consequences of this trend will be to pressurize the concept of the journal as the cornerstone of research publication.

5. Author-centricity may cause the journal-focused ecosystem to fragment

The ecosystem traditionally focused on the journal article may begin to fragment as centers of engagement shift away from journals. To defend against this journals may start to consider new content models in which everything about an article is connected to the article and is visible from the article. This model could reposition the journal publisher as an expert navigator of research. Enabling solutions such as Nexus from Crossref will support this.

6.’Research objects’ will begin to become ‘unbundled’ from articles

The final published article will begin to lose its traditional primacy and become instead one ‘object’ in the research cycle. In the immediate term, the article (and the journal) will remain a critical component, but publishers will begin to actively engage with a broader range of outputs as well as keeping pace with rapidly changing policies and expectations.

7. Preprints in the life sciences will rise exponentially

Preprints in life sciences will grow dramatically over the next few years most likely doubling or quadrupling year on year.  medRxiv – a preprint service for medical papers — will launch in H1 2018, and a new ecosystem will also continue to develop around preprints in the life sciences.

8. Open peer review will gain momentum

Open (visible but anonymous) peer review will continue to gain momentum. Publishers will be under increasing pressure to embrace this trend or risk the separation of peer review from their domain.

9. New standards will continue to emerge

New standards and practices will continue to emerge and authors, librarians and publishers need to understand and prepare for them.  Examples are data citation (impacting authors and publishers); open reviews (impacting editors, reviewers, production); COUNTER 5 (impacting librarians and publishers); the solicitation of preprint authors (impacting authors and editors).

10. Smaller publishers will find new ways to add value through increased collaboration

Smaller society publishers will find new ways to add value by through collaborative models such as the exchange or transfer of manuscripts with authors’ permission via initiative such as the Manuscript Exchange Common Approach (MECA) and/or by creating new alliances such as the Life Science Alliance.

11. Mobile search for scholarly content will be better understood

All actors in the ecosystem will seek to address the striking disparity between use of mobile devices for ‘commodity’ search vs ‘scholarly’ search is striking (50% vs 10%).  Google’s data indicates that mobile use in the scholarly sector is ‘new’ use and not transferred from previous desktop use. It is critical that search demand of this magnitude be addressed.

12. Applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) will create and drive change in all aspects of the workflow

AI applications will further develop to meet the needs of readers, authors and editors.   A world in which articles are read by machine and some elements are written by machine is no longer the realm of science fiction. In the immediate term, AI will give us ways to dramatically improve the discovery of details in a research article by ‘micro-targeting’ specific content for specific research needs.

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