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Is Scientific Publishing About To Be Disrupted? Michael STM Conference, October 2009
almost 1,500 years
2005: 100+ employees 70 million $ revenue
Masakazu Kongo 40 th generation
2006: Liquidation Purchased by Takamatsu
As an independent entity, Kongo Gumi no longer exists
How is it that large, powerful organizations, with access to vast sums of money, and many talented, hardworking people, can simply disappear?
most interesting when an entire industry is disrupted
None of these companies exist
CD Sales Napster founded
First quarter 2009
First part of talk Why these disruptions happen How we can recognize them Second part of talk Scientific publishing is in the (very) early days of such a disruption
Common explanations of disruption 1. The people in charge are stupid. Why couldnt the record companies see things coming…
pre-empt them by doing something similar first
2. The people in charge are malevolent.
stupidity and malevolence sometimes play a role… …its a mistake to base an explanation on these factors.
underlying structural reasons cause the failure
If you look at the newspapers and record companies and see stupid and malevolent people…
But if disruption can destroy then it can destroy anybody
Why are the top blogs thriving financially, while the newspapers are dying?
TechCrunch Top 100 blogs in the world
Started in 2005
arguably the best reporting in the technology industry
TechCrunch is thriving
The New York Times is wilting
Operating income down 50% first quarter
TechCrunchs operating costs are far lower, per word
depressing the price of advertising
Increased supply of ad space Old supply of published material ad space decreased price
theres a limited amount the newspapers can do to make themselves cheaper to run
~ $100s per photo
~ $10 / photo
TechCrunch isnt being any smarter than the newspapers
quality photography can help establish a superior newspaper brand
makes business sense to spend ~ $100s / photo
Organizational architecture (Diff colours = diff skills) Most newspapers use a very similar architecture Compete with small variations Good photographers are worth every cent
An opportunity for a new type of organization New technology (internet)
radically different human skills
radically different structure No staff photographer No office (until recently) No print room
no wonder its lower cost
What can you do?
destroy morale of all your staff
stir up the Unions
give a competitive advantage to your newspaper competitors
still be paying far more, per word, than TechCrunch
product will be no more competitive
new optimum could not have existed 20 years ago you cant get there without going through the valley
incremental actions would be hell on a newspaper
locked in comparable quality higher price
~ $100s / photo entirely sensible business decision
Standard Org. Architecture New Org. Architecture Radically different skills & structure
Near-impossible to get from one architecture to the other
Easier to start over
Change is harder even than Ive said
forces which suppress change
Large, complex structures can only last with forces that preserve that structure Organizational immune system
When major changes are needed, the immune system will attack those changes
attacked from within
attacked by their competitors
Only a company outside the industry could have done it
Classic immune response
Deep commitment to quality journalism
values which have made the New York Times great
The NYT can keep its Pulitzer Prizes
the last people to know an industry is dead are the people in it
internalized the values, norms and collective knowledge
immune response is strongest
If a person inside an industry needs to frequently explain why its not dead, theyre almost certainly wrong
How can you tell if an industry is about to be disrupted?
fundamental problem is that its hard to recognize the early stages of disruption
newspapers laughed at the notion of online news and ad sites as competitors just a few years ago
serve a similar basic need craigslist
different org. architecture
People outside the newspaper industry were willing to bet their own money on them
Most such startups die
Thats how the new industry learns what organizational architectures work
But if even a few survive, the incumbents are in big trouble
lot more room for improvement
Whats this got to do with scientific publishing?
Today Editorial Co-ordination Distribution Production companies years Technology companies Sales & marketing
Not just that theyll use technology
Nor that theyll have a large IT staff
their core competency and core way of adding value is technological innovation
key decisions are being made by people whose background is technology
Didnt people already predict something like this with preprint archives?
Today, there is a flourishing ecology of startups
Acquired by Royal Society of Chemistry
many of the same people as Last.fm
easy to miss impact on research most science blogs focus on outreach
open source mathematics entirely in the open
Gowers: this process is to normal research as driving is to pushing a car
4 of the 42 living Fields medallists have blogs
hundreds of research blogs
Some of the worlds top scientists are spending many hundreds of hours per year on their blogs
open notebook science
Pioneered by chemists Jean-Claude Bradley and Cameron Neylon
Second sign of move from production company to technology company
Changing nature of information
static entity add value through content, production and distribution
cost of distribution, production and content have dropped dramatically
people who add most value are no longer the people who do production and distribution
Look at where profits are migrating in other media industries
profound technical ability
How many scientific publishers are run by people who know… …the difference b/w INNER JOIN and OUTER JOIN … what an A/B test is? … how to set up a Hadoop cluster?
myriad of services to develop
many are being considered by startups
Not difficult, technically
The Amazon algorithm is public (Linden, Smith and York, IEEE Internet Computing, 2003)
Google doesnt use it
too computationally intensive
… even for Google, on billions of pages
but on the scientific literature?
Not yet done
Automatic translation Full-text search Good relevancy and importance ranking RSS feeds Spell checking Synonyms Alerting services
Analytics Data mining Inference of emerging areas Factual inference Open API
not yet widely adopted by scientists trivial reasons collaboration platforms will emerge
Integrate naturally with platforms like wordpress.org
Where will they be in 10, 20 years time?
Someone needs to do the same for science
Versioned and timestamped
Most ideas will fail
The people who succeed will be those with the deepest understanding, not the deepest pockets
Difficult for publishers to get involved
If not them, it will be someone else
Innovation(invention) is the process of making new and creative ideas. It can have huge changes to the world (home computer) or small upgrades to exiting.
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