Written by Joanna Hughes

Being published is a major goal and achievement for researchers. However, academic publishing is very different today than it was 50, 25 or even 10 years ago. What’s happening now and what can we expect in the future? Here’s a closer look at three ongoing trends in the academic publishing world that all researchers and future researchers should know about.

1. A movement toward open access is underway.

Open access is a simple concept: it grants access to published articles without subscriptions or fees. This model has many benefits. The Council of the European Union claimed in 2016, “Open science has the potential to increase the quality, impact and benefits of science and to accelerate advancement of knowledge by making it more reliable, more efficient and accurate, better understandable by society and responsive to societal challenges, and has the potential to enable growth and innovation through reuse of scientific results by all stakeholders at all levels of society, and ultimately contribute to growth and competitiveness of Europe.”

This doesn’t mean everyone is in favor of open access. Publishers, in particular, are in opposition -- hardly surprising given the impact widespread open access adoption would have on the $25 billion scholarly journal market. Additionally, there are concerns about the transition from a publication model to open access, including the amount of time it will take open access journals to acquire “impact factor”, quality, administrative issues, and additional costs for researchers.

Despite this pushback, the overall consensus is that open access is a good thing. “Nowadays, it is widely recognized that making research results more accessible contributes to better and more efficient science, and to innovation in the public and private sectors,” argues Horizon2020, an EU research and innovation program with nearly €80 billion of funding available.

To that end, eleven research agencies came together last fall in announcing 'Plan S', a drive to make all scientific articles free immediately upon their publication, with the mission statement that “no science should be locked behind paywalls!”

2. Blockchain promises to “revolutionize” academic publishing.

We often think of blockchain in a financial context, but its scope is much broader, with significant potential to transform scholarly publishing. The industry’s “major players” have long profited from what Manual Martin, who heads European startup Orvium, the first decentralized social platform for scientific collaboration, funding and publications management based on blockchain and AI, called “an outrageous economic model.”

For starters, blockchain promises to quickly and affordably increase accountability in publishing “with each article encoding its own origins, revisions, peer review and details about data methodology,” according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. “In light of recent incidents of research fraud, replication crises, and academic hoaxes, Orvium’s open-source coding and self-enforcing ‘smart contracts,’ the company says, will also ensure that there is nothing up publishers’ proverbial sleeves.”

Roberto Rabasco, on the blockchain boon, writes in The Hill, “This kind of shift in the approach to scientific research publishing will benefit not only the academic community by giving researchers more control over their work, but society at large. As research is published more promptly, future projects can then benefit from that information and knowledge in their own research.

3. Altmetrics will present a richer picture. 

With open access raising concerns about quality, altmetrics have emerged as a response. As a complement to traditional, citation-based metrics, altmetrics, or article performance data, draw on the breadth and depth of data that can be drawn from everything from mainstream media coverage to discussions on research blogs.

Altmetrics addresses the quality question, and then some, according to experts. “Providing a variety of different data allows authors to see areas, both disciplinary as well as geographic, that have shown interest in their publication and building connections to others who might be interested. In adding article performance data to the author package a journal is not only giving an author data, they are showing the value of a publication beyond its appearance in that journal,” argues Leah Hinds for Against the Grain.

The takeaway? While academia may not initially present as the edgiest of industries, it’s pushing the boundaries in new and exciting ways. The more researchers know about these up-and-coming trends, the better they will be able to capitalize on them in order to publish and prevail!

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Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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