In the second part of this episode, Nikesh Gosalia and Robyn Mugridge kick off their discussion by addressing the two main barriers that prevent societies from adopting open access — financial risk and differing mindsets. Robyn breaks down the concept of transformative agreements; these are contracts intended to ease the transition toward open access, but their effectiveness remains questionable. Next, Robyn shares her predictions for the future of academic publishing, such as the increasing popularity of short-form content and possibly even a TikTok for science. She thinks that the publishing industry is going to change from the siloed industry it is currently into being more collaborative, encouraging fluid team effort. She talks about the Frontiers for Young Minds program, a current effort by Frontiers to popularize science among the youth. Robyn also acknowledges the role of AI in publishing and how AI can be used to boost publishing quality without replacing human decision-making. Robyn then talks about her personal strategies for staying updated with changes in the industry, from real-life conferences to email newsletters. To wrap up, Robyn shares a key piece of advice for those starting out in publishing: find your niche.
Robyn Mugridge is the Head of Publishing Partnerships at Frontiers in London. A strong advocate for open access, Robyn is a member of the ALPSP Education Committee. She has over 7 years of experience in the publishing industry with different organizations, including the Springer Nature Group and NIHR Journals Library. Reach her through Twitter or her blog mugspubs.com.
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That's an interesting choice of word, 'accomplishment'. If done well, transformative agreements can accomplish a lot in transitioning journals. Unfortunately, I don't think it's in the best interest for a lot of publishers. If you've committed to 100% open access, subscription deals are not going to exist. You're not going to judge APC. Then, is it too much of reliance on transformative agreements? What happens at the end of this transformation, at the end of the 5 years, let's say, they do flip all of the journals to open access. I think having some sort of APC is actually a good thing. I think short-form content versus long-form content has a slight issue around trust in science. I believe that short-form content is really going to take over soon. It might also make the public want to find out more. Absolutely. I know that Frontiers has a very interesting initiative called Frontiers for Young Minds. Increasingly, we are seeing that the teenagers are not so interested in science, and we want to help them to be more interested in science, more interested in different areas of science as well. Thank you for joining us again. This is a continuation of the previous episode. As always, here's your host, Nikesh Gosalia. Now that you've started working more closely with societies in terms of securing partnerships and helping them manage this transition what do you think, Robyn, prevents most societies from, say, adopting open access? I think there're probably two things that really prevent societies and one is more transient, and the other is more tangible. Perhaps, the more tangible one is the finances. We talked a lot about the finances. Unfortunately, it's hard to get away from sometimes because essentially a lot of societies, all of their revenue comes from journals, or at least a large proportion of their revenue comes from journals. A lot of societies are nonprofit and so they must keep their activities within their society going. They need to be able to fund that activity. The margins are very, very slim. A lot of societies are on currently subscription model journals where they have a very predictable level of revenue coming in, and they can see that that's going to increase and has increased over several years. Usually, these subscription revenues are somewhat inflated, shall we say? Because it's in the publisher interest to keep those journals' subscription. They are revenue generating journals. When looking to change a business model of a journal, there's always a risk. With any big change, there is a risk there that they might not be able to continue with the same level of finances that they were receiving before and that they might not be able to attract as many authors to publish and pay to publish in the journal. There's always that risk. That risk can be mitigated through a proper financial plan really forecasting carefully, having institutional partnerships, and doing a lot of good marketing and communication around the transition of the journal. Usually, that, at least in my personal experience, has translated into a successful transition. The other main thing that is stopping societies from transitioning is, again, a bit of a mindset issue, in that they have published subscription for many, many years. They know subscription, they know how to make it work, and the journal is consistently producing revenue for them. For them, it is quite a challenge. But what I would say to that point is that societies are receiving demands from their membership, to transition their journals. Society members want open access, they're demanding open access, and they need open access to attract and keep those members for paying their membership fee to the society. They want to keep members, they need to transition to open access, and they're starting to change that, that view that subscription is just the only way for them. I think there's publishers like Frontiers and other open access publishers who are showing that there are sustainable routes for them financially as well. Could you talk a little bit about what these transformative agreements are, how they've evolved, perhaps, in the last couple of years, and why are they considered as such a huge accomplishment for the industry? That's an interesting choice of word, 'accomplishment'. I'll come back to that in a moment. I appreciate the opportunity just to define what transformative agreements are, because I'm all about breaking down some of these topics that are a bit confusing, especially for people new to the industry. Transformative agreements, in essence, although they are quite difficult to define, are agreements that are contracts between a publisher and an institution or consortia that essentially commit to the gradual change of a business model from subscription/subscription-hybrid to fully open access over a time period of usually about 5 to 10 years generally. I would say that the transition is towards open access, and not to open access because I think it's already been proven that a lot of the transformative journals are not meeting their targets for open access already. The Plan S did an evaluation of the transformative journals in their first year, and only 56% of those transformative journals actually achieved their first-year open access targets. We're already seeing that they're not doing the job in the name, which is transformation. My concern about transformative agreements is that they're not going to actually achieve transformation, and that they are going to just slowly push the final transformation further and further away. We'll get to 5 years or 10 years, and they won't have been achieved so we just keep on going. I don't want to see open access slowed. I would like to see open access continue at a fast pace. However, I would say that there are some areas where transformations that are fast paced maybe isn't possible in certain fields. Humanities, for example, just doesn't have the infrastructure and the funding to transition at quite such a fast pace as, for example, medicine. I would say, coming back to the word 'accomplishment'. Are they an accomplishment? I think that they have, if done well, transformative agreements can accomplish a lot in transitioning journals. Unfortunately, I don't think it's in the best interest for a lot of publishers to transition to open access. They may be losing revenue and that might be why they're interested in slowing that transition. A lot of journals could flip much, much more quickly than they have, but they've been caught in these big transformative deals and they can't get out of them. They're forced to transition slowly. I think that there is certainly a place for them within certain journals there, but it's a challenge. Do they truly transform, or do they slow open access? I'm not sure just yet. I'm not convinced. Got it. I've been talking to a few publishing heads in a few societies, kind of medium sized publishers, who are saying that we've committed to 100% open access by, say, year 2025. But at the same time, maybe they will not charge APC. In my mind, I'm just thinking, okay, if you've committed to 100% open access, subscription deals are not going to exist, you're not going to charge APC. Then, is it too much of reliance on transformative agreements, or are there other creative ways in which publisher societies can look to, again, generate revenues. I mean, they don't have an APC, because the institution is paying for the fees for those users. But these big deals will get to a point where what happens at the end of this transformation, institutions are paying to publish and to read the content. Surely, the read part should be part and parcel of the deal. If you publish something, you want to be able to read it. Why do you have to pay twice, both for publishing and for reading? I think that's the issue at the moment that we're coming into. What's going to happen at the end of this, where they have to pay to publish? Do they still have to pay to read when everything is open access? How is that financial model going to stand up? It's very difficult to know. One of the biggest challenges with transformative agreements is that a lot of the information is highly confidential. It's not very transparent how these models work. If you're on the outside, you really don't know what's going on within these agreements. I think at the end of the 5 years, once, let's say, they do flip all the journal to open access, how does that continue? I think having some sort of APC is actually a good thing because we're looking at a different model of working. It's very hard to say. I think it's good diversification in the models. Absolutely. I'd like to move on to the so-called future of the publishing world. I know that you'd organized an ALPSP webinar on the use of video and publishing. I did! That just got me thinking because, within my organization, and even in my own personal capacity, that's a space that we're very excited about. What do you envision the future of academic publishing to look like? I mean, obviously, there are different views. Can some of these alternate formats coexist along with a journal article? Can it be another extreme where it just completely replaces journal articles, and you just have some of these alternate formats as consumption pattern, in general for a lot of the audience's changes. Everyone wants everything to be bite-size, everything to be on-the-go. Just your thoughts, Robyn, in terms of, how do you think this might evolve? Then, of course, a second part to that question is, what other forms of technology or media do you imagine being prevalent in the future? I think short-form content versus long-form content has a slight issue around trust in science. I think trust in science has taken a bit of a hit, unfortunately, with COVID and lots of different theories coming out about COVID and things like that. I think trust in science has taken a little bit of a hit. Where I used to believe and I still do, I believe that short-form content is really going to take over soon, maybe not fully. Because the reason why we trust in science is because it's been thoroughly validated through a process of peer review. We'll always need to have some sort of detailed, long-form of the research and an understanding of the breakdown of how scientists or researchers who have achieved certain results. But where I do see, and I think this is quite fun. I think we'll see some sort of TikTok for science. I think this has been mentioned by other people before, but I think we'll get to that point where we have a quick breakdown, kind of a lay summary in video form of the research where it's digestible, we can have headline results, it's hard hitting, it's impactful, and it makes researchers who are reading that research who might want to use that, go, okay, I want to find out more. It might also make the public want to find out more and be more interested in science. I think one of the huge challenges we have is that scientific research is so far away from the lay public, that they're just not really interested. That's where they end up clicking on Daily Mail articles. We don't want that. We want them to really understand the research. I do think that there will be more of a shift to video content. I don't think we'll fully leave behind the PDF, but I think the PDF will be enriched, we'll have kind of code, and lots of accessible data through the PDF. I also think we'll see more collaboration. I think we'll have scientists commenting more on articles, both post and pre-publication. I think that will become more of a standard part of that process of publishing an article. Absolutely. There's also been a lot of conversation in the last 3 to 4 years around use of AI, perhaps, maybe exploring blockchain as well. In my personal experience, what I've seen over the last year is that there's definitely more acceptance around the role of AI in what we can do. Maybe 3 to 4 years back, it was vague, it was perceived to be, will it replace humans, will it take away all the jobs, but I think now people are kind of realizing that there is definitely a benefit to it, where a lot of the repetitive tasks, manual tasks can be automated, perhaps. Just your quick thoughts on the role of AI or any other technology in the publishing world. I can't quite believe I missed out AI. I feel like for me, it's become such an accepted part of publishing that I don't even see it as something really special in the future because we're already pretty much getting there. Frontiers has an AI publishing solution called AIRA. A lot of publishers are now turning to AI that they've either developed in-house or working externally with companies because it allows for more precision. When we look at manuscripts and evaluation of the quality, it's able to pick up things like image manipulation and paper mills and ethical issues that when we look at an article, it will take us hours to look at and find. I think it will not replace the human decision-making element. But I do think it will support editors, reviewers, and authors in assessing and improving upon the quality of the paper. I think editors do not need to fear for their jobs. It's never going to take over because we want humans to be involved. We don't want machines making full decisions about science. You never know where that might go. I've got dystopian visions of films in mind right now. But it will support them and, hopefully, in a positive way to help them achieve their jobs and maybe make the process a bit more efficient at the same time. Absolutely. No, I agree with you, Robyn. Just kind of going back to your previous comment around the use of video and other alternate formats. That just prompted a question in my mind. I know that Frontiers has a very interesting initiative called Frontiers for Young Minds. I think it's probably one of the most, kind of, unique programs that is being run and run successfully. I've spoken to a few folks within Frontiers around that as well. But I'm wondering, just for the benefit of listeners, again, Robyn, do you want to kind of just briefly talk about what that is about because it's really fascinating. Oh, well, I absolutely love the Frontiers for Young Minds program. It's really good fun. I don't personally run it. My colleague, Laura Henderson – a shout out to her – does run the program. Essentially, it forces scientists to put their scientific revelations into a much clearer format because the papers are reviewed by kids. They can be pretty harsh critics when it comes to the content. Then, it's reviewed by kids, and then it's published. We can see the ages of the kids who reviewed it. We do some nice illustrations with it. The goal is to make science more accessible to younger people, to kids and teenagers. Because, increasingly, we are seeing that teenagers are not so interested in science. We want to help them to be more interested in science, more interested in different areas of science as well. It shines a spotlight on lots and lots of different areas. We've recently had a selection of Nobel Prize winners, who are committing to doing articles for Frontiers for Young Minds. There was a nice piece about it in The Washington Post that came out the other day which I encourage anyone listening to have a look at. There're exciting things coming in this sphere. I think it's something that all publishers should be doing, reaching out and engaging with younger people in and about science. Absolutely. No, I think it's truly amazing. I've spoken to a few folks over the years and the way it's grown, evolved, it's just fabulous. Just when you spoke a little bit about collaboration, I know that you spoke about maybe the kind of the other side of the industry that we work. A little bit around collaboration within researchers, scientists, that has been happening, that will probably keep growing. What do you think about collaboration as far as the publishers and societies are concerned, maybe along with other third-party vendors, funders? How do you see that now? How do you think that will evolve in the next 5 to 10 years? What's missing perhaps? What do we need to do as an industry as a whole to really kind of collaborate even more? I think the industry is going to become much more fluid. I think, right now, we're very siloed as an industry. We have the funder, the institution, the researcher, the publisher, and then we have post-publication outlets. I've sort of lumped them all together, which isn't fair, but it's the only way I can do it right now in my head. It's very siloed. I think, as things progress, maybe not in the next 5 to 10 years, maybe it'll be a bit longer than that, but we'll move to a much more fluid version of publishing. I think preprints have already started this process. I think preprints have started to sell. Peer reviewed doesn't need to be here. We can do pre-publication peer review, or we can see the science before it's published. Authors can start to get some collaboration, some feedback on that. Then, we'll see more post publication peer review as well. I think it's going to become much, much more fluid. We'll see dissemination as part of the process prior to publication as well as post publication. I think all of these elements, more visibility, and more dissemination will help with the collaboration. I think societies are still, again, a little siloed. Especially independent societies are working hard on their own. There is, I think, a way to support all societies, whether they want to stay independent, or work with a commercial publisher without having to sign up to say, oh, I'm signing up with a commercial publisher. I think that there are other ways to collaborate, and we're starting to explore some of that upfront is for those societies who want to maintain their independence, but also want to have some of the benefits that a commercial publisher can offer. I think that collaboration will increase. I'm excited to see that happening. I want to see this more fluid, more innovative version of publishing, that's less siloed. I'd like to see also, and this is maybe a little bit out there, but I'd like to see publishers collaborating more effectively with each other, with funders. I think if we work together, and maybe it's a little idealistic, but if we do, we can collaborate and find some more accessible routes to open access publishing. Absolutely. No, I agree with you, Robyn. I think we've seen some indications towards it. I think there was some announcement around a solution for paper mills and a few publishers getting together a few years back, maybe around GetFTR. I agree with you, Robyn. I think we can get more collaborative, look at some of the problems as common problems, not individual problems. I agree with you. I see the industry kind of moving and becoming more fluid in future as well. Fingers crossed. Fingers crossed. Indeed. Before we close up, your blog clearly offers a lot of career tips for people. I had kind of two sub questions to it. One is just before you started your blog, how do you keep yourself updated with any industry information? I mean, there's quite a few different websites/destinations, but what do you typically do to keep yourself updated? Then, of course, the other question is that what advice could you give to our listeners who are interested probably in starting a career in journal publishing. We ourselves, my organization also works a lot with early career researchers, and a lot of folks who are very excited about academic publishing, but what would you say to them? In terms of how I keep up to date, I would say that I try to attend conferences in person, if I can. Publishing conferences are great for those people starting out in the industry. People are so willing to talk and to chat and to convey their knowledge that they've gained over several years in the publishing industry. It's always great to say, oh, I'm here, I'm new to journal publishing, and I just want to learn. Even if you can't attend in person, since COVID, there are so many online options, and you can start up little chats with people in the online discussion. I think there are lots of options to be able to connect and build a network even if you're just starting out in journal publishing. That's one of the main ways that I stay up to date. I also sign up to far too many newsletters that fill up my inbox, but it's okay because it's helpful things. I do try to stay up to date as much as possible. If you're in a company, you need to get a little bit outside that company because often you just hear what's going on in your company. There's a big world out there of different publishers. It's important to know a little bit about how other publishers function and how they do things a little bit differently. My biggest tip for people in journal publishing and wanting to develop a career, I would say find your niche. Because when I first started in publishing, I started in journal development, but even in journal development, you can find your niche. I think my niche is sort of really open access but also supporting societies as well and working with societies, and that's kind of become my niche and the thing that I enjoy, and it needs to be something you enjoy. I mean, if you're really interested in talking to people, maybe don't pick something that's really data-driven or orientated because that might not be for you when you're just starting out and you want to get out there and speak to people. Maybe it is, but maybe it's not. Find something that's really of interest and stick with it and become an expert in it. You'll soon find people want to come to you and ask questions about what you know. I'd say find your niche, that's my top tip. Thank you so much, Robyn. This was so helpful, and it was so insightful to have this chat with you. I also know that you're really busy, so I'd really appreciate the fact that, like I mentioned at some point of time in the conversation that this can happen only if you're really passionate about the industry, about giving back, about just helping others. I know that you do that already through your blog, but I'm sure through this episode as well, our listeners are really going to benefit. Thank you for inviting me. I really appreciate that. It's always exciting and nice opportunity for [Unclear] and my blog as well, so I appreciate that. Thank you so much, Nikesh. Fantastic. Thank you everyone for joining us. Stay tuned for our next episode. All Things SciComm is brought to you by ScienceTalks. A science media channel that aims to make science accessible to all. We publish articles, videos, podcasts, and magazines. To read a transcript of this episode or watch it on YouTube, visit ScienceTalks.org. Also, write to us with your views, questions, and guest recommendations at firstname.lastname@example.org. ScienceTalks bringing science to you.