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Understanding how researchers and practitioners use STM information

I gave a presentation on Understanding how researchers and practitioners use STM information at the Association of Subscription Agents annual conference The 3 Rs: Reach, Readership and Revenues last month.

The (over-long!) subtitle was How data analytics and field research are transforming our understanding of researcher and practitioner use of STM information, but more specifically the theme was understanding how to design information products and services for researchers and practitioners against a background of information abundance (aka information overload).

I am particularly interested in the powerful combination of online analytics, user segmentation and contextual enquiry. I gave a couple of recent examples (Elsevier’s ClinicalKey and Wolters Kluwer’s OvidMD launches), and reference Richard Harrington’s classic HBR account [1], but Michael Mabe pointed out that the Superjournal project predated these (and was arguably more relevant to the ASA audience).

[1] Harrington & Tjan 2008 Transforming Strategy One Customer at a Time, Harvard Business Review


Max Planck Society cancels Springer online deal over pricing

As reported in the Library Journal:

The Max Planck Society (MPS), a major German research organization, issued a strongly worded statement this week to announce it was cancelling access to Springer’s online collection of journals over pricing. The cancellation will take effect as of December 31, 2007. MPS Vice President Kurt Mehlhorn said negotiations to extend the deal failed because, according to an MPS evaluation based on factors including usage and comparisons with other publishers, Springer was intent on charging “approximately double the price” the organization regarded as “reasonable.” …

Heise Online explains:

The failure of the talks means that the various institutes will soon no longer be able to access the common pool of scientific literature via the research surface by the name of SpringerLink that the publishing house provides. The Society will now with the institutes most affected attempt to work out a strategy whereby the supply of indispensable scientific content can be ensure in a cost-effective way. Because the subscriptions taken out in 1997 included the electronic archive rights, which according to the contract stay in force beyond the termination of the same, the scientists will, however, continue to enjoy online access to the paid-for, older volumes of the journals.

In other words, the “Big Deal” arrangements have been cancelled but the underlying subscriptions continue. This isn’t the first such cancellation (and unlikely to be the last) but it is a high-profile row and must be embarrassing to Springer in its original home territory.

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PLoS Hubs

PLoS has launched PLoS Hub for Clinical Trials, the first of a planned series of such Hubs:

Launched in September 2007, the PLoS Hub for Clinical Trials collects PLoS journal articles that relate to clinical trials. The Hub is a destination site for researchers to share their views and build a dynamic, interactive community.

Currently, the PLoS Hub for Clinical Trials features articles originally published in PLoS Clinical Trials, along with clinical trials articles from PLoS ONE.

In the future, this new resource will expand to include articles from all the PLoS titles that publish clinical trials. It will also feature open-access articles from other journals plus user-generated content.

Registered users can rate, discuss and annotate articles in the Hub. More details in the PLos FAQ at Questions about the PLoS Hubs

At present, the Hub is little more than a filtered view of articles from PLoS Clinical Trials and PLoS ONE (which PLoS Clinical Trial is being merged into). But it is interesting to see another publisher attempting to create a destination site for a particular research community – some others (albeit very different approaches) include Elsevier’s OncologySTAT and Topic Pages, and IOP Publishing’s community sites such as and

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Richard Charkin to move from Macmillan to Bloomsbury

Macmillan has just announced that Richard Charkin will leave his position as CEO of Macmillan (part of the privately held Holtzbrinck Group) to join Bloomsbury as Executive Director:

Richard Charkin moves on after ten years at Macmillan
26 September 2007: Macmillan announced today that Richard Charkin will leave his post as CEO after exactly ten years with the company. He will take up a new position as Executive Director of Bloomsbury plc on Monday 1 October 2007.

Richard commented, “It is exactly ten years since I accepted the job as Chief Executive of Macmillan and it has been the best ten years of my career. I have been able to work in a company with strong values and traditions owned by a family committed to quality, innovation and autonomy

Apparently this means an end to Charkin’s delightful Chark Blog, though surely this can’t be allowed to happen?

What it means is that I won’t have to think of something to write about every morning on this blog. Just for the record we’ve had 1,137,267 visitors and generated $338.37 in advertising income. More importantly I’ve made new friends, learned tons and had fun. Thanks to all of you and pip pip from charkinblog.

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Elsevier’s OncologySTAT

It will be worth keeping an eye on Elsevier’s newly launched OncologySTAT, which provides advertising-supported free access for registered users to over 100 Elsevier oncology journals (press release).

The site will provide a lot of information.

OncologySTAT integrates a multitude of authoritative professional cancer information sources, such as peer-reviewed research, news and regulatory updates, a professional drug monograph and interactions database, chemotherapy regimens, and conference coverage into one easy-to-use online destination. Information and educational materials are delivered across multiple media formats: text, audio, video, interactive, user-generated forums, etc. Community oncologists and cancer-care practitioners in private practice or a non-institutional setting will find OncologySTAT especially useful in gaining immediate integrated access to the latest evidence-based research, news, treatment, and decision support information.

Specific sources of information include:

  • Peer-reviewed Journal Articles: registered users can search and access current journal articles from over 100 Elsevier cancer related journals including The Lancet Oncology, The Breast, Lung Cancer, Cancer Letters, The American Journal of Medicine, Seminars in Oncology, Seminars in Radiation Oncology, Seminars in Hematology, Blood Reviews, etc.
  • Journal Scans: Weekly professional summaries of the most important scientific research from 25 leading cancer journals, including Journal of Clinical Oncology, Journal of the National Cancer Institute, CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, Blood, JAMA, and New England Journal of Medicine.
  • Cancer News Feeds: Late-breaking regulatory and drug approval updates from the widely respected Pink Sheet, as well as professional medical and conference news from the International Medical News Group and MDConsult.
  • InfoBlast E-Newsletter: A weekly e-newsletter highlighting key oncology news, research and site content features.
  • Integrated MEDLINE Search: Immediate access to search MEDLINE’s vast repository of scientific abstracts without exiting OncologySTAT.
  • Cancer-type “Spotlights”: 27 cancer type “Spotlight” sections featuring news, journals, article scans, clinical texts summaries, patient handouts and webinars on cancers such as bone, breast, prostate and lung.
  • Chemotherapy Regimens: Guidelines and protocols from the Elsevier Guide to Oncology Drugs and Regimens (2006) obtained through searches by drug or cancer type.
  • Professional Drug Monograph and Interactions Database: Powered by Gold Standard.

Access to Elsevier’s journals appears to be limited to search-based access, i.e. any articles you can find you can download but there is no access via table of contents. The advanced search options are very limited, for instance there is no fielded search for author, title, abstract, or journal, and I could not see any way of saving a search to run as a regular alert. These restrictions are presumably made in order to protect the subscriptions of the journals covered.

There are also some “community” features including blogs and forums, user biogs, and users can comment on journal articles and other content. The site is, however, much more focussed on a portal model than an out-and-out community and user-generated content approach.

The New York Times did an article too.

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Society-owned journals and their publisher partners

I’ve just finished writing a second draft of an article aimed at giving advice to societies on the choice of the publishing partner, which will (I hope) appear in a future issue of Learned Publishing. The article is essentially a distillation of what I’ve learned over the past few years working with a fair number of societies either renegotiating the publishing contracts or going out to tender for a new deal.

My article is intended to be pretty well neutral on what societies should be looking for in terms of the business model: whether to be moving to open access or to be aiming for the biggest financial return. The advice to societies is to work out in advance exactly what it is you want from a publisher before you start the beauty parade: as in many things in life, if you don’t know what you want, you probably won’t get it.

But it seems this “journal transfer market” is potentially under fire as a result of the decision by the American Anthropological Association to move their journals from the University of California Press to Wiley-Blackwell. There’s a longish article in Inside Higher Education, Publishing & Values, that discusses the issues in an interesting and readable way:

Some object to the move from a university press to a commercial entity and fear a lessening of commitment to important scholarship that may not make money. Others see this as a sign that the anthropology association — which has won praise for the online offerings of its journals — is taking a hard line against the open access movement embraced by many of its members (and the library world). Still others see the move as a sign that scholarly societies are facing tough decisions about their missions — without good mechanisms for involving the academic rank and file in making decisions.

There are two underlying issues discussed in the article. One is the question of whether university presses are staying competitive (or indeed can in principle stay competitive):

At the same time, Wantland [journals manager for the University of Illinois Press and chair of the Scholarly Journals Committee of the Association of American University Presses] said that the anthropology move may force university presses to look at their weaknesses. “Not only are we all saddened, but we have to take a step back and see what it is we are not offering,” she said. In particular, she said in-house staff to work on technology may be an area where many university presses can’t compete with the big commercial operations.

Clifford Lynch of CNI was quoted as saying:

“The innovation side of this is particularly tough,” he said, and much more difficult financially than just going open access and putting basic articles online. “When you start thinking not only about can we go digital in our publishing because it makes it easier to get worldwide access, but because it may allow us to publish different kinds of things, exploring a richer palette of scholarly communication and bringing in primary data and visual materials, that takes capital,” he said. “It takes human capital. It takes financial capital. It takes technical capital. And a lot of these societies don’t have it and don’t have access to it, which is why some of them feel they have to go off to large players,”

The other issue concerns the role of societies and whether they shouldn’t be making the journal content universally available rather than living off rich journal rents to fund their other activities (quoting Lynch again):

“They’ve got missions that often speak very broadly to disseminating and advancing knowledge in their discipline. They’ve got a membership that in some disciplines is increasingly convinced that the way to do that is more openness in publication and more innovation in publication, but these societies have got sort of addicted to these revenue streams from their publication programs over the last few decades, and are trying to figure out if they want to make the transition to a new model and — if so — how do they navigate the transition.”

Of course, the publishers (both commercial and not-for-profit) that are generating these addictive revenue streams argue that their model is the one that has delivered the biggest increase in access to literature ever: their retained capital allowed them to make the technology investments that Lynch speaks of, and the (consortia-based) licensing model has broadened access enormously while simultaneously cutting the average cost per journal article use by an order of magnitude or so.

(In the case of the AAA news, there’s also an important back story that complicates the issue. The AAA leadership last year came out against the proposed US legislation requiring tax-funded researcher to deposit an open access copy of their research papers within 6 months of publication. This brought them into conflict with many individual AAS members, who were “enthusiastic about the legislation and were stunned and angry to find their association coming out against it.”)

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Haworth Press, Inc. to be acquired by Taylor & Francis

Haworth Press, Inc. to be acquired by Taylor & Francis:

The Haworth Press, Inc. published of 194 scholarly/academic journals and approximately 150 books/monographs yearly, announced today that it would be acquired by Taylor & Francis.

Haworth launched in 1979, and publishes in the areas of social work, librarianship, mental health, social work, gender studies, and then additional fields of pharmaceutical science, business, and agriculture/food science.

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