Chapter 20: Epilogue: trust in academic and professional publishing – Academic and Professional Publishing


Epilogue: trust in academic and professional publishing

Ed Pentz


This chapter highlights the core message provided by the book’s contributions: the central role of trust in academic and professional publishing. Publishing is undergoing rapid changes in technology, business models, production processes, delivery channels and user expectations, and so the chapter reviews what publishers need to understand about how trust was established and maintained in the print era and what needs to change, and what doesn’t, now that digital publishing dominates. Publishers need to establish and maintain trust in the online world if the enduring values established over hundreds of years are to last, but they can only do so by understanding the online world, adapting to change and continuing to add value to scholarly communications.

Key words


scholarly communications

digital publishing

online content


As outlined in this book, academic and professional publishers have managed the move to publishing online very well and have, at least so far, adapted effectively and avoided serious disruption to their business models. Scholarly publishers have certainly done well compared with the music and newspaper industries, which have both seen huge disruption and declining revenues.1

Nevertheless, as Clarke (Chapter 4) notes, we are just ‘emerging from the incunabula period of digital publishing’ where digital mimics print. Change will only accelerate going forward and scholarly publishers will need to continue to work hard and innovate effectively and efficiently to stay relevant in a changing scholarly communications landscape. So although it is true, as Campbell points out (Chapter 1), that selling to institutions and having a niche product has helped publishers adapt, there remain dark clouds. In addition, while most of the tasks currently performed by publishers will continue to be necessary there is no guarantee that in the future it will be the existing publishers who do them.

One issue is that technology companies are increasingly driving the changes that will have the most impact on scholarly communications over the next few years. In particular, Google, Amazon, Apple, Twitter and Facebook are setting researchers’ expectations about how online services should work and, while scholarly communications is but a small blip on the radar for these technology companies, they are starting services specifically aimed at the scholarly research community. Anderson (Chapter 18) captures this when he says:

‘… scholarly publishers are now integrated with the broader communication sphere. No longer is the deliberate, self-defined pace of academia the primary factor driving knowledge generation and cultural attenuation within science. No longer is the audience for scholarly research a closed system.’

So, even though scholarly publishers may have so far adapted to change better than some other content industries, scholarly publishers certainly cannot be complacent. How research is conducted and disseminated is changing rapidly and therefore research funders, authors, readers, librarians and even the general public have changing expectations about what content and services they need from publishers. As Canty and Watkinson (Chapter 19) outline, this constant evolution means the need for education and training to enhance digital skills is more critical than ever. In addition, with change being so rapid, ‘on the job training’ and attending conferences and workshops on current topics is an effective means for publishers to keep up to date with the latest developments.

The contributions in this book highlight the wide range of roles and responsibilities that publishers adopt to produce original, useful and high-quality content. One over-arching theme that runs through all the chapters of this book, either explicitly or implicitly, is that of trust as the foundation of academic and professional publishing.

Trust in scholarly publishing

Trust is a critical aspect of scholarly publishing, but the many things that publishers do to establish and maintain trust are often taken for granted or not promoted well by publishers themselves. Over more than four centuries publishers have developed a wide range of practices and conventions to ensure that scholarly content is original and of high quality. At a conceptual level these practices are the same for print and online content.

Scholarly publishers have been very successful at transferring the trust in their print products to the online versions of the content, but they have to do more by emphasising to their readers that, in their role as publishers, they work to high ethical standards and take on the responsibility of ongoing stewardship of content after publication. This is the solution to the problem of the proliferation of authors’ versions as a result of Green open access (OA) highlighted by Campbell (Chapter 1). Considering the importance of trust it is useful to take a step back and ask: What is trust?

In his book Digital Identity Phil Windley defines trust as ‘a firm belief in the veracity, good faith, and honesty of another party, with respect to a transaction that involves some risk’ (Windley, 2005, p. 16). This is a useful definition in relation to scholarly publishing where researchers read content and act on it in some way – to move forward with their own research, to replicate techniques or to perform a medical procedure. The risks are that the researcher might waste time on useless information or act on incorrect or fraudulent information, thereby damaging his or her reputation or even worse, in the case of medical information, causing harm to someone.

Windley also makes the important point that ‘Trustworthiness cannot be self-declared. This is so self-evident that the phrase “trust me” has become a cliche sure to get a laugh’. (Windley, 2005, p. 17). This means that trust has to be earned and maintained. In the print era, publishers became very adept at dealing with issues of trust and have been working to transfer trust metrics from the print to the online world and to establish new ones as well.

How do publishers establish trust?

To answer the question of how scholarly publishers establish trust we need to go back to 1665. Mabe (Chapter 17) highlights how, with Philosophical Transactions in 1665, Henry Oldenburg established the key aspects of trust for journals:

 Date stamping or priority via registration

 Quality stamping (certification) through peer review

 Recording the final, definitive, authorised versions of papers and archiving them

 Dissemination to targeted scholarly audience.

What is interesting is that the journal developed in an environment that was devoid of trust in many areas. Adrian Johns in The Nature of the Book describes how, as experimental science started to develop in the second half of the 17th century, the exchange of private letters amongst a small circle of ‘natural philosophers’ who knew each other personally developed into a system of wider dissemination around Europe amongst people who didn’t know each other (Johns, 2000, pp. 514–515). Philosophical Transactions was created as a way of establishing rules of the road for communicating information about experiments, establishing priority and ensuring appropriate authorial credit. This was essential because, as Johns points out of the early experimentalists, ‘Theirs was a world of plagiarism, of usurpation’ (Johns, 2000, p. 541) but, with Philosophical Transactions playing a critical role, ‘this age of piracy created a fierce reaction in favor of truth’ (Johns, 2000, p. 541). Establishing the protocols for publication wasn’t easy and involved many fierce disputes but over time a very successful system of scholarly communications was established. The success of science itself was inextricably linked to the journal and this has continued to the present day.

Looking back at this history is important for scholarly publishing today because the Internet can also be seen as a world of plagiarism and usurpation where establishing authority is very difficult. In an article in Scientific American (Shadbolt and Berners-Lee, 2008) discussing the new discipline of ‘Web Science’, and echoing what Johns says was the tenor of the times when Philosophical Transactions was founded, Tim Berners Lee and Nigel Shadbolt point out that:

‘The Web was originally conceived as a tool for researchers who trusted one another implicitly; strong models of security were not built in. We have been living with the consequences ever since.’ (Shadbolt and Berners-Lee, 2008, p. 35)

As a solution they call for ‘layers of trust and provenance’ to be developed for the Web.

Scholarly publishers need to understand the part that they can play in this process of establishing provenance and trust and what not to lose from the print world. This will involve more transparency about the pre-publication processes publishers undertake to ensure the originality and quality of content. Hames (Chapter 2) outlines why peer review is so critical to scholarly communications and how it is changing and adapting but not becoming any less important. Publishers also need to highlight their ongoing role in actively maintaining content, or acting as stewards of the content, over the long term. Wager (Chapter 14) highlights how publishers play a vital role in establishing ethics and integrity in pre-publication processes but also how the publisher has an important role post-publication. Seeley and Wasoff (Chapter 15) describe the legal aspects of this and why copyright and author agreements are so important but also how a company like Google can potentially set the agenda with the Google library digitisation project. This project raises fundamental issues about copyright and has required publishers, librarians, authors and others to stake out positions and push back or be consigned to irrelevance.

Another critical area where publishers establish trust and foster efficient and effective scholarly communications systems is in the area of relationship management, as outlined by Black (Chapter 16). Something that is often not well understood by non-publishers is the complex set of relationships that publishers establish and maintain with editors, editorial boards and societies. The value of peer review is widely recognised as a key part of the scholarly communications system but Black highlights an area that is critical, but often overlooked, for scholarly communications.

Stewards of content

The idea of scholarly publishers as stewards of content is something that needs to be more widely recognised. There is a general impression that there is a static, ‘final’ version of content and that once the publication is printed or available online the publisher’s role is over. If you look at the role of the journal established by Oldenburg, one of the four functions is ‘archiving’. This is too limited and static a vision of what role publishers must play with scholarly content on the Web.

In 2008 a National Information Standards Organisation/Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers working group published some recommendations on Journal Article Versions, which characterized the ‘final’ version as the Version of Record as established and declared by the publisher. The definition of Version of Record says it is a ‘fixed version of a journal article that has been made available by any organization that acts as a publisher by formally and exclusively declaring the article “published”.’ This is a useful definition but it is not complete. The recommendations also describe a ‘Corrected Version of Record’ and an ‘Enhanced Version of Record’ but only briefly. This is a big issue that is critical to the future of scholarly publishing: it is publishers that certify the Version of Record of content (this is more commonly associated with journal articles but can and should apply to books, reference works and other types of content). It is also the publisher that maintains the content and is responsible for making corrections, retractions and withdrawals and disseminating the information about these events, which occur after publication. This will, of course, be no surprise to publishers who have long had this role, but it is something that is often overlooked in the Web environment. Publishers need more consciously and publicly to adopt the role of both certifying content via peer review and other editorial and production processes and maintaining the content by certifying and disseminating any corrections or enhancements to the content. In addition, all this should be done in a very transparent manner so the user can check and verify what has happened to the content.

Trust is also established by having commonly agreed metrics for assessing quality and impact. Finch (Chapter 10) outlines how existing metrics are being questioned and new ones being developed and tested and some of the difficulties of finding consensus on what certain metrics mean and what they should be used for. Whatever the merits of the various metrics, publishers play a vital role in this area.

Another aspect of trust is that of standards. Carpenter (Chapter 9) highlights the importance of standards for publishers. Echoing Anderson’s statement that scholarly research is no longer a ‘closed system’, Carpenter covers international, national and sector-specific standards that all have an impact on scholarly communications and give publishers valuable tools in addressing the challenges of digital publishing.

Publishers must never forget that librarians are key partners of publishers in the scholarly communications system and Webster (Chapter 13) writes about the changing landscape of digital publishing from the library point of view.

What about business models and costs?

Of course scholarly publishers, commercial and non-profit alike, can only do what they do if they generate revenue or if someone is willing to cover their costs because they add value. Both commercial and nonprofit publishers have to operate efficiently and have funds to invest in new developments. Haynes (Chapter 6) gives an overview of this critical area for scholarly publishing and highlights the creativity and adaptability of the industry and Clarke (Chapter 4) outlines the many experiments with new modes of publishing that publishers are investing in. There is currently an active debate about how much more business models will need to change and whether scholarly publishing will be disrupted as the music and newspaper industries have been.

With respect to journals, Green and Cookson (Chapter 5) cite physicist’s Michael Nielsen’s blog post ‘Is scientific publishing about to be disrupted,2 which argues that scientific research is undergoing fundamental change that will result in massive changes to how the results of research are disseminated and that existing publishers are likely to be left out of the new way of doing things. Along these lines, Jubb (Chapter 3) highlights the many changes occurring in research, research funding and the expectations of research funders. In particular he cites ‘a new “fourth paradigm” for research: following the moves from empirical to theoretical to computational science, it is suggested that we now need to think in terms of data-intensive science.’ Publishers need to track these changes and stay close to the communities they serve or they will be in danger of being disrupted.

Publishers have not been standing still in the face of all this change. Green and Cookson counter Nielsen’s argument by highlighting ‘the incredibly complex set of services, activities and products that publishers bring to the material output of the academic and research worlds.’ They also cite the statistic that the journals industry has invested over £2 billion since 2000 ‘in areas such as editorial systems, author tools, production workflow, plagiarism checking, content management, online content platforms, global sales management and many more elements.’ Clarke (Chapter 4), Boing (Chapter 8) and van Baren (Chapter 11) all highlight areas where publishers have invested significant sums to develop new products and processes. Boing and van Baren, in particular, highlight that it requires significant investment in new processes to be an efficient and effective digital publisher. Pinter (Chapter 7) points out many of the specific issues facing book, reference and textbook publishers with changing formats and business models and the explosion of eBooks, which are subject to very different forces from journals.

A critical aspect in the development of a publisher’s business model is understanding customers, including the needs of authors and readers, libraries and funders, as O’Rourke highlights (Chapter 12). In the highly competitive marketplace of academic and professional publishing and with increasing constraints on funding, publishers must look to differentiate a product or service by quality and coverage to suit the needs of the community on the one hand, and on the other hand to maximize access through intelligent pricing models.

What about small publishers?

Achieving and maintaining an adequate level of investment, particularly in technology, does present challenges for smaller publishers. Can the smaller publishers keep up with the larger ones? It is a challenge but there are positive signs that smaller publishers can do well in the new environment.

Larger publishers invest huge sums in developing their own publishing platforms and it is unclear whether this is money well spent as more and more researchers are using tools like Google and link into publisher sites at the journal article or book chapter level. The Research Information Network report E-journals: their use, value and impact (RIN, 2011) found that top rated researchers ‘do not use many of the online facilities provided on the publishers’ platform’ (RIN, 2011, p. 4) and ‘are much more likely to enter via gateway sites’ (RIN, 2011, p. 4) such as PubMed, Web of Science and Google. In fact, users may spend only a few seconds on the publisher platform – just enough time to look at an abstract or click to download the full-text PDF article. The report quotes one young life science researcher: ‘I go to PubMed – always. I … don’t really notice the publisher page at the end. (RIN, 2011, p. 13). So general gateway services have a levelling effect whereby content from small publishers can be just as discoverable as that from larger publishers.

Smaller publishers have options for hosting content with many vendors and aggregators offering commodity services. Many scholarly societies partner with commercial publishers, or even larger societies with dedicated publishing divisions, to outsource their publications while still maintaining ownership of the content and brand (journal titles, book series and the society name). In addition, as Pinter (Chapter 7) outlines, with eBooks there are more options than ever with Amazon, Google and Apple competing fiercely in the eBook space but also having a big say in business models and pricing given that they control the distribution and the sales platform. Additional options for scholarly eBooks are also arising, from Project MUSE partnering with the University Press e-Book Consortium (UPeC) to launch University Press Content Consortium (UPCC) e-Book Collections,3 and JSTOR launching Books at JSTOR,4 to Oxford University Press expanding Oxford Scholarship Online to launch University Press Scholarship Online (UPSO).5 For journals there is also the option of the Open Journal System (OJS),6 which is a free, open source journal management and publishing system from the non-profit Public Knowledge Project. OJS is being used by over 7000 journals on six continents.

Identification of content and people

In the last decade there have been two major areas, digital linking and author disambiguation, where publishers have addressed market developments by creating systems built on trust between stakeholders in scholarly communications. In the first case publishers collaborated to set up a cross-publisher reference linking system, the CrossRef System,7 using DOIs (Digital Object Identifiers). Founded in 2000, CrossRef enables the identification and linking of over 52 million scholarly content items (as of January 2012) including journal and conference proceedings articles and books and book chapters. CrossRef expanded its services to plagiarism detection with CrossCheck and is developing more collaborative services, including CrossFund, which will link funders and grant numbers with the resulting publications.

The second and more recent development is the founding of ORCID (Open Researcher and Contributor ID)8 in August 2010. ORCID is a non-profit organisation made up of publishers, universities, researchers and private and government research funders from around the world. ORCID has been set up to solve the name ambiguity problem in scholarly communications by creating an open, global registry of unique identifiers for researchers. There are many existing author identifier systems but ORCID is unique in that it is global, cross-disciplinary and is governed by universities, publishers, research funders (private and government) and the researchers themselves. A registry of unique identifiers for researchers coupled with unique scholarly content identifiers and permanent links will add a huge amount of value to scholarly communications.

Both CrossRef and ORCID are very valuable to researchers because they facilitate content discovery and the appropriate crediting of researchers for their work and new services will be built around these two systems. Publishers also benefit from these projects by doing things collectively that cannot be done individually and by creating the conditions for the development of new services that build off from CrossRef and ORCID.

Conclusion and outlook

All the investment by publishers into quality content doesn’t guarantee the continuing success or even the continued existence of the current set of scholarly publishers in all their diversity. To survive, publishers will need to learn the right lessons from what happened to the newspaper and music industries, be flexible and take calculated risks. What is required is a clear understanding of how to add value to the process of scholarly communications however it changes in the future and the flexibility and intelligence to experiment with new ways of doing things without letting go of core values. On one side of the equation, it is critical for publishers to stay close to researchers and academics and keep abreast of the changes in research and research funding. And on the other side, it is critical for publishers to have a deep understanding of the online world –both technology and services – and how they can be applied in the most effective way in scholarly and academic publishing. The creation of both CrossRef and ORCID are positive signs that the industry can collaborate in the spirit of enlightened self-interest.

This book has captured the important aspects of both the rapid changes occurring in academic and professional publishing as well as the enduring values of the industry. Of course, publishers cannot afford to be complacent because the industry is still in the middle of the maelstrom of change. What it comes down to in the end is whether academic and professional publishers add value to scholarly communications. If they do, then they will survive. The trick is figuring out how to add value in a period of rapid change. Publishers have gone through periods of change before – adopting new technology, business models and editorial and production processes, and developing new products and services – so although there are certainly dark clouds there are also patches of blue sky to head towards. It won’t be easy for publishers to adapt and change, but it will definitely be interesting and a lot of fun.


Johns, A. The Nature of the Book. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press; 2000.

RIN. E-journals: their use, value and impact – final repor. http://www. rin. ac. uk/our-work/communicating-and-disseminating-research/e-journals-their-use-value-and-impact, 2011.

Shadbolt, N., Berners-Lee, T. Web Science emerges. Scientific American October. 32–7. http://webscience. org/publications/ws_emerges. pdf, 2008. [[This article also provides a very succinct description of Google Page Rank and the Semantic Web. ]].

Windley, P. Digital Identity. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media; 2005.