What Academic Publishing Did Next

Woman who has achieved success looks towards the future
February 8, 2022

The true seeker of truth never loses hope. The true seeker of real justice never tires. A farmer does not stop planting seeds just because of the failure of one crop. Success is born of trying and trying again. Truth must seek justice. Justice must seek the truth. When justice triumphs, truth will reign on earth.

—Matigari, Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Finding ways to navigate an increasingly complex publishing landscape can be a challenge for all, not least in Humanities and Social Science communities. Working through those challenges presents an opportunity for those involved in scholarly communications to support new practices now emerging within and beyond academe. 

In this article, I’ll touch on a few features of the scholarly communications landscape, how workflows and processes are adapting to accommodate more openly the work being done, how scholars are creating digital tools and resources that support this evolution, and how publishers of all shapes and sizes are responding in support of research assessment and evaluation.

What’s going on? … Or, what’s going to happen?

It’s tempting to start this piece with a full retrospective—the history of scholarly communications, how academic publishing has evolved to this point, and how multiple stakeholders engaged in the pursuit of distributing new ideas are responding. However, while a reflection on the efforts of the past can be entertaining, in this piece, I am going to look forward by imagining what academic publishing might look like ten years from now, in February 2032.

A few key facts and figures about the current market for scholarly communications would make a good starting point. According to the STM Global Brief, 2021-Economics and Market Size, the size of the global academic publishing market has seen a growth in articles of between 5 and 6.5 percent per annum since 2018. 

As industry data show, the reasons behind the growth in articles is complicated – there is no single factor contributing to the growth – and the data vary by subject area. Growth in Humanities and Social Science (HSS) articles appears to be on the rise, perhaps as a result of the need for better understanding of the human and societal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Across the academic book publishing sector, print books sales have been hard hit as a result of the pandemic. Whether the drop in print sales resulting from the pandemic is a contributing factor or not, Simba Information suggests that over the next four to five years, the total journals market (which accounts for nearly 40 percent of all research outputs) will continue to grow and will overtake book publishing by 2025. 

One of the most important contributing factors to the growth in published research is the rise of OA publishing, especially new venues for the publication of quality peer-reviewed research. The DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals) reported receiving more than 8,400 applications to the directory in 2020, an increase of over 25 percent since 2019. While the increase in applications to the DOAJ is impressive, findings from the 2020/21 OA Diamond Journals Study noted the existence of some 29,000+ diamond OA journals across all subjects. When we drill down further to look at the proportion of DOAJ-registered Diamond OA journals (broadly speaking, immediate OA publication without a fee), about 60 percent derive from HSS subjects. To continue the analysis of the growth in OA publishing, and to provide a glimpse of the economics of that, Delta Think’s 2021 view suggests that the OA market grew to around $975 million in 2020 and was on track to have grown to over $1.1 billion in 2021.

These headline figures provide a snapshot of the scholarly communications market, with an emphasis on journals in HSS. They are provided as a backdrop to the less quantitative, more humanistic/qualitative aspects of scholarly communications – or what it means to make things public. With some of the facts in hand, it’s time for some vision-casting. 

The rest of this article will offer three distinct and interconnected propositions to orientate us on this journey of scholarly communications discovery and perhaps provoke further debate and discussion on what academic publishing does next:

  1. The publishing landscape will be wholly open to and for all, within and beyond academe
  2. Digital will reign supreme; books and journals as we know them will no longer exist 
  3. Research institutions will recognize and reward all work involved in scholarly communications equally

Proposition 1: The publishing landscape will be wholly open to and for all, within and beyond academe 

From the data, it’s clear that there is an appetite for open publishing across HSS, with the associated practices and economics perhaps a little less clear. I’ll address some of that in the first stop on our journey.

Growth in OA publication is fuelled in part by customer demand for more openly accessible research – researchers want to know that their work is being distributed and read by as wide an audience as possible, that their scholarship is identified as a trusted source of knowledge, and that publication provides the credit and reward necessary for career longevity and promotion. Libraries increasingly want to ensure that their end users are given access and opportunities to publish in a wide variety of journals, especially in subject areas where funding for APCs is not baked into grant awards.

It’s important in this context to note the mix of routes to OA publication; it is not always the case that authors have to pay to publish. Some articles are OA published with author-paid Article Publishing Charges (APCs), others from APCs associated with Read & Publish (R&P) deals, and others still via waiver programs. Through R&P deals, institutions flip their subscription to an open model that includes read access to published content alongside an OA publish element for scholars in the institution (see also ‘transformative’ agreements – a nice primer here from Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe).  

Open for all, open at all?

As Jeff Pooley’s critique notes, R&P deals run the risk of perpetuating the “deeply flawed” inequities of the APC model. In the academic landscape of the future, will the APC “regime” continue? We’re already starting to see community models emerge that are looking at ways to publish more openly without having to rely on APCs (see the PLoS Community Action Model (CAP) model). PloS are also addressing the knotty issue of APC waivers through a Global Equity Model, a type of institutional membership arrangement with differential pricing based on historic output and economic indicators. 

The challenges of securing a sustainable business model for scholarly associations are well noted. The emergence of new and more open publishing examples and experiments indicates that the move toward open is one that is both necessary and possible. As more open models are being adopted by associations in line with their vision for a more open and just future (for example, see ICA's Agenda for Open Science), the open landscape of the future will be based more on values that support the transformation to open than on APC affordability. 

...the trend toward open may often feel overwhelming, but the inevitability of a transformation to open publishing is a force that must be reckoned with, both individually and collectively.

A recent research project conducted by Taylor & Francis in collaboration with a Ph.D. student from the White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities noted the important role that HSS societies play in the reshaping of scholarly communications. Society officers noted that the trend toward open may often feel overwhelming, but the inevitability of a transformation to open publishing is a force that must be reckoned with, both individually and collectively (see, Genchi, J). There was also a notable disconnect identified between the values of open that appeal to scholarly associations on one hand and the practices that would enable it on the other. In the academic landscape of the future, open access is a normalized pathway to publication.

The challenge of realising Proposition 1 lies in the creation of an equitable open landscape as a pre-requisite for fair, accessible, trustworthy, and just scholarly communications.
Proposition 2: Digital will reign supreme; books and journals as we know them will no longer exist

Rethinking the form and format of scholarly publications

Increasingly, digital platforms are being used for the publication of research. 

In the working paper Public Humanities and Publication, Darcy Cullen and Freiderike Sundaram spotlight some of the familiar facets of the publishing lifecycle segment of the paper, specifically format, peer review, access and preservation, and marketing and distribution, and illustrate where public humanities publications diverge from tradition. If we look more closely at format, as one example, we start to see some real differences in how an engaged approach to humanities scholarship differs from a more traditional approach when it comes to publishing the work. For example, digital outputs from publicly engaged projects, such as I REMEMBER IT: Teachings (ʔəms tɑʔɑw) from the Life of a Sliammon Elder, published on UBC’s RavenSpace, offer a place for interactive work in Indigenous studies. Not only does the platform provide a pathway for projects’ publication, but it also goes to great lengths to expose some of the methods, ethics, and other considerations involved in working with Indigenous communities when designing and conducting research projects. The use of digital technologies and multimedia outputs is both a sensory delight and a way to bring heritage and scholarship into new, digital contexts that support further programming, education, and skills building in academia and beyond into the communities with whom scholars partner. 

A last word on digital processes: engaged research projects are as much about process as they are about research outputs and outcomes. Engaged work involves a wider range of academic and public partners, more messy process steps, and diverse outputs that contribute to a project’s success and longevity. A more radically inclusive and productive form of publishing will emerge in the future, one that not only identifies and captures all work being done across a research cycle, but also exposes failure as a necessity (see Appreciating the Messy Process of the Public Humanities).

Structure, preservation and born-digital workflows

The propagation of new ideas and distribution of knowledge increasingly relies on born-digital workflows.

As David Worlock outlined in a similar moment of vision casting during his opening keynote to ConTech 2021 in London and online: “KNOWLEDGE IS TOO BIG TO BE CONTAINED. It has been for many years. And it is certainly too big for convenient interrogation and access if we pretend that we are still using physical formats in digital formats.” The fragments that make up the whole of scholarly communications are increasingly as valuable as the whole itself. But these “fragments” can only truly support the propagation of new ideas if supported by good metadata. In a 2021 Scholarly Kitchen post, Michelle Urberg and Lettie Conrad offer a vision for a collective future “where publishers, libraries, and technologists work together to scale the production and maintenance of quality metadata.” In the academic publishing landscape of 2032, metadata will rule the quality as well as the control of information.

The challenge of realizing Proposition 2 lies in how we might go about evolving traditional forms and formats in a way that maintains the integrity of what matters to scholars, and that allows ideas and conversations to roam freely. It also requires publishers and publishing infrastructure to capture and connect all of the good stuff that researchers, practitioners, public partners, and others do, and that often goes under-recognized in current structures and systems.

Proposition 3: Research institutions will recognize and reward all work involved in scholarly communications equally 

What counts and why does it matter?

In the academic publishing landscape of the future, perhaps it’s not so much what, but rather who that counts. Embracing a more digitally diverse research and publishing ecosystem requires more brains – yes, we can take advantage of the technologies, but we need the people to work out what that means for us, individually and collectively, and to provide the necessary support for scholarly communications to thrive.

...all research articles should be assessed on their own merits and impact, taking into account a broad range of metrics and impact assessments, not simply assessed on the basis of their publication venue.

In addition to those changes affecting the accessibility of research, we are also witnessing an evolution in the broader culture surrounding research endeavors. Taylor & Francis, and many other publishers, support the critical evaluation of research assessment and is a signatory to the Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), which advocates for a qualitative rather than quantitative assessment of research outputs and journal publication venues. Signatories to DORA acknowledge that the Journal Impact Factor should not be taken in isolation as an all-encompassing tool for evaluating research publication venues and believe instead that all research articles should be assessed on their own merits and impact, taking into account a broad range of metrics and impact assessments, not simply assessed on the basis of their publication venue. 

Similarly, cross-sectoral work is being done to transform the way in which scholarly endeavors are evaluated. For example, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded HuMetricsHSS: Humane Metrics Initiative “creates and supports values-enacted frameworks for understanding and evaluating all aspects of the scholarly life well-lived and for promoting the nurturing of these values in scholarly practice.” In the academic publishing landscape of the future, scholarly institutions will measure what is valued, not value what is measured.

How is publication connected to scholarship values?

Publishers have long been involved in supporting research assessment and evaluation because publication is so closely linked to career progression and promotion. Today, governments and funders alike are placing greater emphasis on the societal benefits of interdisciplinary research, and many of the metrics previously used to measure the impact of published research are being re-evaluated and reconsidered by research institutions, librarians, and researchers. 

And there is increasing recognition of the importance of public engagement with and access to research. In the United States, public scholarship programs (such as those supported by Andrew W. Mellon, NEH, and ACLS) support the evolution of a more open and inclusive research and publishing system. Scholars’ engagement with policy, the media, activism, and more has become an important part of modern academic life. But these efforts are not always rewarded institutionally or supported by the existing research and publishing infrastructure, as noted above in relation to form and format. This disconnect between scholars’ ambitions for their work and what emerges via publication no longer exists in the academic publishing landscape of the future. Public scholarship is no longer a “risky addition” to career progression, but an essential and integral part of a more engaged research and publication workflow.

The challenge of realising Proposition 3 lies in removing barriers to cross-sector collaboration. The diverse perspectives of scholars, librarians, and publishers must combine to shape openly and effectively what matters in the scholarly communications landscape of the future. 


Having outlined three propositions in relation to what HSS academic publishing does next – establishing equitable, open, digital, and public pathways to publication as the global norm! – how might we work together to realize them and truly transform scholarly communications for and with the next generation?



KATH BURTON leads portfolio development at Routledge, Taylor & Francis, where she specializes in what’s new and what’s emerging for the humanities and social sciences portfolio. With more than 15 years’ experience working in scholarly communications, Burton has worked in a variety of publishing roles, from commissioning and program management to designing and implementing effective publishing strategies for scholarly societies and journal editorial teams. Burton’s main area of focus is to discover new opportunities for digital, open, and public humanities, using human-centred design techniques and deeply embedding within research and practice communities. She currently co-leads the Publishing and Public Humanities working group. All ideas expressed in this article are her own and do not represent the views of Taylor & Francis Group.