Academic publishing: the 'sharing' culture

Steven Inchcoombe
Opinion - Academic Wednesday, 01 November 2017

Steven Inchcoombe reports on how Springer Nature is ensuring that research is widely discoverable and accessible


Academic publishing and the wider research community are no strangers to adapting to and harnessing technological changes. Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web to enable scientists to share information digitally. Academic publishers were then the first branch of publishing to fully embrace the benefits of digital content creation and distribution. Springer Nature has digitised more than seven million articles and more than 240,000 books over the last decade so that they can be held in perpetuity and accessed for the advancement of science around the globe.

Despite Sir Tim's intentions, probably we, as an industry, have been too slow to acknowledge and embrace the opportunities "digital" presents to researchers, not just in how they access content but in how they can use the content they have access to.

This is where Springer Nature's focus and investment has been over the past years - as, in taking responsibility for accepting and publishing an author's research, our primary duty is to make that research as widely discoverable, accessible, understandable, usable, reusable and shareable as possible. For too long, "sharing" has been a difficult word in academic publishing. Publishers encouraged authors to share their articles, but these were often in sub-optimal ways, with readers unable to access the content they needed. This led researchers to sharing articles in "dark" ways that publishers could not track, therefore being unable to measure and report on their usage to authors or the institutional libraries that were ultimately paying for access to this content.

Think different
It could be argued that such reticence was understandable given the need to protect and sustain the significant investment publishers make in their authors and their manuscripts - from pre-submission in helping them unlock ideas, finding the right journal for their research, and providing early editorial guidance so that the work submitted is the best it possibly can be; through rigorous quality assurance processes, including peer review, to ensure the published research stands up to the highest level of scrutiny; to publication of the research itself, and the maintenance and development of their access platforms.

But at Springer Nature we try to think differently. Fundamentally we believe we work at the behest of our authors, and as the ability to share their work, access works of others in their field and beyond, and know where and how their work is being used is now critical to the life of a researcher, it needs to be critical to us as well. No longer does our work stop at publication; it is where the next phase of our responsibility begins.

Delivering on open access
With this belief now embedded across the company, we have focused on two main areas to aid our authors. The first area is providing more ways to publish open access. In recent years options to speed up the dissemination of research have increased, driven by digital advance and developments in open science, as initially evidenced by the launch of BioMed Central as the first commercially viable open access publisher in 2000, and more recently by the rapid expansion of Springer Nature's OA choices. With more and more funders stipulating the need to publish open access as a requirement to receive their funding, it is beholden on publishers to ensure this is possible, and Springer Nature has been the fastest and most effective in delivering on this need.

I am delighted that Springer Nature has risen to this challenge and today offers the most open access options to authors of research articles: more of them utilise these options than do authors at any other publisher. Approximately 27% of all research published by us now appears under an open access model. Amazingly, where the "corresponding" (main) author is from the UK, approaching 80% of articles we will publish this year will have been published Gold OA. This means the research is immediately openly accessible to all who wish to read it.

Sharing research
However, we don't believe this is sufficient. As mentioned earlier, research needs to be as discoverable, accessible, understandable, usable, reusable and as shareable as possible. SharedIt was developed with exactly this purpose in mind, and underlines our commitment to enabling new research findings to be read by those who support and enable research, by those who help these findings to be applied for the benefit of all, as well as by the interested wider public.

SharedIt allows authors to post links to view-only, full-text subscription research articles anywhere - including on social media platforms, author websites, scholarly collaboration networks, in institutional repositories, even via email, allowing researchers to share their own and others' research with colleagues and general audiences. SharedIt was rolled out to all of the Springer Nature-owned journals and more than 1,000 additional co-owned and partner-owned journals in October 2016, and now covers more than 2,300 journals. I'm proud that in the first half of 2017 it has facilitated three million article shares, so it's clearly valued by the research community.

In addition to enabling content sharing by authors and subscribers, SharedIt facilitates the sharing of research to these wider communities by enabling more than 200 key media outlets and blogs to link to free-to-read versions of research articles. This media list has been significantly expanded to coincide with the expansion of the initiative across the Springer Nature portfolio. Many on this media list are aimed at the public, including the BBC, the Economist, WIRED and the New York Times, and the list also includes many leading science bloggers.

So when people ask whether we as a publisher are scared about the amount of sharing going on, our response is simply, "The more the better", providing it is done in ways that enable us to fulfil our responsibilities to our authors and to institutional libraries. We are not publishing groundbreaking research to see it unused. We want to advance discovery by allowing the up-to-date scientific record to be accessed, shared, used and re-used, and allow authors and librarians to track usage across an increasingly fragmented collection of platforms, and we will continue developing new ways to enable this to happen.

Steven Inchcoombe is chief publishing officer at Springer Nature.

This article first appeared in the Publishers Weekly/BookBrunch Frankfurt Show Daily.

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