Millennials, Generation Z and the future of scholarly publishing

Alvin Toffler defined change as ‘the process by which the future invades our lives’. Toffler’s famous thesis is that too much change too fast results in a ‘future shock’ as we struggle to maintain the pace. It’s interesting that one consequence of our rapidly changing world is a cultural shift that positions rapidity – of delivery, service and access – as an end in itself.

The considerable changes in the amount of information we can access and the ease and speed with which we can access it has affected all generations. However, the effect is most marked when looking at Millennials, 81% of whom were, according to Time Magazine’s famous definition of Millennials as the ‘me, me, me generation’ could just as easily be called the ‘now, now, now’ generation. Millennials are now, in the US at least, the dominant demographic. Therefore, their attitudes, needs and expectations become the most significant drivers in many B2C and B2B sectors. Hot on their heels are PeerJ) and “accelerating the publication of peer-reviewed science” (PLOS ONE). But the reality may be different. Indeed, whether OA has speeded up the publication process is a point worthy of consideration – especially in the case of Mega Journals such as PLOS One. Anecdotal evidence suggests OA journals, in general, are not necessarily faster than their non-OA counterparts but for Mega Journals, authors perceive that publication is faster because there are fewer requests for the revisions that tend to slow things down. In other words, the paper is submitted, and it either gets published or not.  However, there is no doubt that the market increasingly demands ‘accelerated’ timescales to publication. Even if time to publication is not always a researcher’s first priority, it always features in the top set. And the coming shift to preprints will further disrupt the market as researchers will be able to obtain a preprint timestamp and then may again become more sanguine about the time it takes to publish the article of record.

Two recent studies also are of further interest when considering the nature and impact of demographic change with specific regard to changing expectations of speed to publication:

  • First, a 2014 Palgrave Macmillan / Nature survey was analyzed by
  • Second, a more recent (2017) study of 116 science and social science Early Career Researchers (ECRs) shows that, though the speed of publication is a factor more traditional criteria (such as journal IF) are still are more important criteria for ECRs when deciding where to publish. ECRs (defined in the study as having a maximum age of 35) sit squarely of course within the Millennial demographic. We will be presenting the findings from this study at our Spring Publishers’ Meeting in London.

Though the future is unknown, we do understand that changing demography will shape the future of scholarly publishing and drive continued systemic change, specifically regarding online services. Some current trends and changes that we think can be partly understood as underpinned by these evolving demographics are:

There is no doubt that new technologies, approaches and behaviors will continue to generate tensions between tradition and innovation, between the way things were and the way they may be in the future. Demography is, of course, an unstoppable force. Because of this millennials will only have a short amount of time to recast our industry in their own image before they, in turn, will need to consider the emergent Generation Z.  

And as Mary Visser writes in

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