In what has become an annual tradition at KGL, we take stock at the start of the year, consult our publishing experts, and go out on a limb to try and foretell what the future holds for our industry. After two years of uncertainty in life as we know it, here are nevertheless some of the top predictions for ongoing and emerging trends that we think publishers should bear in mind as we all make our way carefully into 2022.
Accessibility Goes Global as Part of DEI
Over the last several years, publishers have begun to understand the benefits of making their content accessible. Initially prompted by government requirements (Section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and now the European Accessibility Act) publishers know that expanding the reach of their content to all readers has both a moral and business case. More recently, content accessibility and digital equality are becoming recognized as a key pillar in industry Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives, in addition to issues of gender, race, age, and geography. Now, more than ever, publishers see accessibility as a necessity and with larger publishers highlighting their best practices and service providers offering solutions, including starting with born-accessible content, the path toward inclusion is smoother.
Researchers Acclimate to AI
Publishers aren’t the only parties who were initially cautious of the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in sacred scholarly publishing processes—researchers have also been wary. As more publishers have become comfortable and familiar with AI technologies and implementing them into their workflows, researchers have reaped many of the benefits. The use of Natural Language Processing (NLP) for copyediting is now being rolled out in various applications for authors to conduct pre-submission language analysis. AI can also evaluate manuscripts to better match articles to reviewers. Meanwhile, ESL authors have benefitted from faster copyediting automation and inclusion in the process. We predict that the next phase of AI in publishing will see much of the hesitation and “black box” perception to recede as authors realize the advantages.
The Fight Against Sham Science Advances
Earlier in the COVID pandemic, there was a proliferation of fake news and junk science slipping through established peer-review processes, causing retractions and occasionally making headlines. We published a blog article highlighting several books that can help our colleagues and the public discern what information can be trusted. Since then, publishers have put processes in place to reduce the chance of publishing questionable studies or “sham science” by adding editorial staff, tightening reviews, and adopting systems like image forensics that identify these papers more readily. With savvier screening and improved stopgap measures, we expect fewer high-profile retractions and dubious breakthroughs in 2022.
Analytics Evolve for the OA Era
In a July 2021 article in The Scholarly Kitchen David Crotty highlighted how cOAlition S requirements for Open Access appear to be weighted toward larger STEM publishers, largely leaving independent and society publishers on their own to contend with unauthenticated and unidentified OA usage, evolving criteria for transformative journals, and the onerous reporting requirements of Plan S. As Crotty notes, it is unclear how strict these requirements will be upheld and how that will impact these smaller publishers, but it feels inevitable that platform vendors and third-party analytics providers will step in with advanced solutions for extracting, wrangling, and interpreting business intelligence from external and internal sources in latest this shake-up of the status quo.
Open Educational Resources Make Inroads
Over the last several years, higher education has witnessed a rise in the use of open educational resources (OER), though adoption plateaued slightly in the 2019-2020 school year as faculty focused more on pivoting their lessons plans to remote learning. However, because the value of OER in making higher learning more equitable has been documented, as classes return to in-person learning this year, increased adoption and creation of new OER materials is likely to resume. It will be interesting to see how the big education publishers respond.
Hybrid Events Come of Age
After two years of mainly virtual events, many large conferences and book fairs have begun experimenting with hybrid programs and formats. The widespread adoption of platforms that encourage engagement among attendees and speakers, combined with the increasing expectation of recording equipment at venues and experience juggling live and remote presenters, has made it easier for events to pivot in response to the evolving state of the pandemic, travel restrictions, or even attendee budget constraints. Though virtual components of the events are gaining strength, in-person portions are likely to continue in many cases as the year progresses, but may be smaller and more focused on a regional group of exhibitors and attendees.
New Content Types Proliferate (and Old Ones Stick Around)
As we noted in a blog article last year, traditional publishers are gradually testing and incorporating video, breaking news, blog posts, and interactive digital content in order to connect with readers. With flexible scholarly hosting platforms, publishers can increase engagement with users who appreciate the deeper experience of varied and interactive content—despite the enduring preference to read journal articles primarily in PDF format.
And speaking of old habits, demand for print books surged in 2021 while industry-wide supply-chain issues have depleted paper stocks and caused huge backlogs for time on press well into the new year. So while publishers can certainly set themselves apart by diversifying content formats in their portfolios, the predictions for the demise of print remain greatly exaggerated.