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Is Scientific Publishing About To Be Disrupted? Michael STM Conference, October 2009.

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Presentation on theme: "Is Scientific Publishing About To Be Disrupted? Michael STM Conference, October 2009."— Presentation transcript:

1 Is Scientific Publishing About To Be Disrupted? Michael Nielsen @michael_nielsen STM Conference, October 2009

2 Kongo Gumi


4 578 CE

5 Prince Shotoku

6 Shitenno-Ji Temple

7 almost 1,500 years

8 2005: 100+ employees 70 million $ revenue

9 Masakazu Kongo 40 th generation

10 2006: Liquidation Purchased by Takamatsu

11 As an independent entity, Kongo Gumi no longer exists

12 How is it that large, powerful organizations, with access to vast sums of money, and many talented, hardworking people, can simply disappear?


14 most interesting when an entire industry is disrupted

15 Data General


17 None of these companies exist

18 CD Sales Napster founded

19 First quarter 2009

20 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

21 Common explanations of disruption 1. The people in charge are stupid. Why couldnt the record companies see things coming…

22 Napster

23 iTunes


25 pre-empt them by doing something similar first

26 2. The people in charge are malevolent.

27 stupidity and malevolence sometimes play a role… …its a mistake to base an explanation on these factors.




31 underlying structural reasons cause the failure

32 If you look at the newspapers and record companies and see stupid and malevolent people…




36 But if disruption can destroy then it can destroy anybody

37 Why are the top blogs thriving financially, while the newspapers are dying?

38 news parasites


40 TechCrunch Top 100 blogs in the world

41 Started in 2005

42 arguably the best reporting in the technology industry


44 TechCrunch is thriving

45 The New York Times is wilting

46 Operating income down 50% first quarter

47 TechCrunchs operating costs are far lower, per word

48 depressing the price of advertising

49 Increased supply of ad space Old supply of published material ad space decreased price

50 theres a limited amount the newspapers can do to make themselves cheaper to run

51 ~ $100s per photo

52 ~ $10 / photo

53 TechCrunch isnt being any smarter than the newspapers


55 quality photography can help establish a superior newspaper brand

56 worth $$$

57 makes business sense to spend ~ $100s / photo

58 Organizational architecture (Diff colours = diff skills) Most newspapers use a very similar architecture Compete with small variations Good photographers are worth every cent

59 An opportunity for a new type of organization New technology (internet)

60 radically different human skills

61 radically different structure No staff photographer No office (until recently) No print room

62 no wonder its lower cost

63 What can you do?


65 destroy morale of all your staff

66 stir up the Unions

67 give a competitive advantage to your newspaper competitors

68 still be paying far more, per word, than TechCrunch

69 product will be no more competitive

70 new optimum could not have existed 20 years ago you cant get there without going through the valley

71 incremental actions would be hell on a newspaper


73 locked in comparable quality higher price

74 ~ $100s / photo entirely sensible business decision

75 NOT


77 Standard Org. Architecture New Org. Architecture Radically different skills & structure

78 Near-impossible to get from one architecture to the other

79 Easier to start over

80 Change is harder even than Ive said

81 forces which suppress change

82 Large, complex structures can only last with forces that preserve that structure Organizational immune system

83 good thing


85 When major changes are needed, the immune system will attack those changes


87 attacked from within

88 attacked by their competitors

89 Only a company outside the industry could have done it

90 Andrew Rosenthal

91 Classic immune response

92 Deep commitment to quality journalism

93 values which have made the New York Times great






99 The NYT can keep its Pulitzer Prizes

100 the last people to know an industry is dead are the people in it

101 internalized the values, norms and collective knowledge

102 immune response is strongest


104 If a person inside an industry needs to frequently explain why its not dead, theyre almost certainly wrong

105 How can you tell if an industry is about to be disrupted?

106 fundamental problem is that its hard to recognize the early stages of disruption

107 newspapers laughed at the notion of online news and ad sites as competitors just a few years ago

108 serve a similar basic need craigslist

109 different org. architecture

110 People outside the newspaper industry were willing to bet their own money on them

111 Most such startups die

112 Thats how the new industry learns what organizational architectures work

113 But if even a few survive, the incumbents are in big trouble

114 lot more room for improvement

115 Whats this got to do with scientific publishing?

116 Today Editorial Co-ordination Distribution Production companies 10-20 years Technology companies Sales & marketing

117 Not just that theyll use technology

118 Nor that theyll have a large IT staff

119 technology-driven

120 their core competency and core way of adding value is technological innovation

121 key decisions are being made by people whose background is technology

122 Didnt people already predict something like this with preprint archives?

123 Today, there is a flourishing ecology of startups

124 Acquired by Royal Society of Chemistry

125 many of the same people as


127 science blogs

128 easy to miss impact on research most science blogs focus on outreach

129 Tim Gowers

130 open source mathematics entirely in the open

131 37 days

132 27 people

133 800 comments

134 170,000 words

135 Gowers: this process is to normal research as driving is to pushing a car

136 4 of the 42 living Fields medallists have blogs

137 hundreds of research blogs

138 Some of the worlds top scientists are spending many hundreds of hours per year on their blogs

139 open notebook science

140 Pioneered by chemists Jean-Claude Bradley and Cameron Neylon

141 Tobias Osborne

142 Garrett Lisi

143 Steve Koch

144 Second sign of move from production company to technology company

145 Changing nature of information

146 static entity add value through content, production and distribution

147 online

148 cost of distribution, production and content have dropped dramatically

149 information is...

150 waking up

151 coming alive

152 people who add most value are no longer the people who do production and distribution

153 technology people

154 programmers

155 Look at where profits are migrating in other media industries




159 profound technical ability

160 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?

161 myriad of services to develop

162 many are being considered by startups


164 Not difficult, technically

165 The Amazon algorithm is public (Linden, Smith and York, IEEE Internet Computing, 2003)


167 PageRank

168 personalized PageRank

169 personalized search

170 personalized recommendations

171 Google doesnt use it

172 too computationally intensive

173 … even for Google, on billions of pages

174 but on the scientific literature?

175 Not yet done

176 Automatic translation Full-text search Good relevancy and importance ranking RSS feeds Spell checking Synonyms Alerting services

177 Analytics Data mining Inference of emerging areas Factual inference Open API





182 not yet widely adopted by scientists trivial reasons collaboration platforms will emerge


184 Timestamped

185 LaTeX integration

186 Version history

187 Citable

188 Integrate naturally with platforms like




192 Where will they be in 10, 20 years time?


194 Someone needs to do the same for science


196 Citable

197 Permanent

198 Versioned and timestamped

199 Searchable




203 Huge opportunities


205 Technology leads

206 Most ideas will fail

207 The people who succeed will be those with the deepest understanding, not the deepest pockets

208 Difficult for publishers to get involved

209 If not them, it will be someone else

210 Thankyou @michael_nielsen

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