The Publishing Pinball Machine … exploring the tech trends that are fast and randomly shaping the future of books

May 18, 2017

Technology has had a significant, rapid and often random impact on every industry. Publishing is no exception.

Depending on your perspective, it might feel like you or your business is being bounced around at random. But from a different perspective, that the same experience could be entertaining, even exhilarating. Often it is confusing knowing whether the ball being bounced about is you personally, your company, or your organization’s products or services. Are you driving the game, or are you simply at the control of the various factors that influence your environment? This feeling could apply if you are an executive at a publishing house, a librarian in an institution, or a developer at a technology provider serving our community.

At the Future Book Forum, which I host each year in Munich, enabled by Canon, we explore the rapid changes disrupting the world of publishing – and also the opportunities to shape and innovate the future in practical and profitable ways. Three years ago we developed a manifesto for the future, how publishers needed to rethink the business case for change (not around cost efficiencies, but by innovating for new growth). Two years ago we focused on the consumer perspective (being driven by their changing ways of learning, working, entertaining, buying and more, rather than the technological or business perspectives). Last year we created the future book in two days – a high speed, exhilarating prices of design thinking, rapid innovation, and future market shaping.

This year at the Future Book Forum we will take that further, defining the Smart Book concept in detail, and in particular its application to the education market.

To help in preparing for this, we explored big trends shaping this new world, specifically for education. STM (scientific, technological and medical) is the leading global trade association for  academic and professional publishers. It has over 120 members in 21 countries who each year collectively publish nearly 66% of all journal articles and tens of thousands of monographs and reference works.

Their new report Tech Trends 2021 has just been published:

The Pinball Machine metaphor is inspired by Heinz Pagels’ 1982 book The Cosmic Code: Quantum Physics as the Language of Nature. Pagel says “The world changed from having the determinism of a clock to having the contingency of a pinball machine.” STM’s Future Lab envisioned the new publishing environment as a giant pinball machine, with different components ricocheting the “ball” of value around the field of play, buffeted by bumpers, and potentially high-scoring opportunities in service of various areas. The value of serving the customer is bounced among various bumpers and targets where points can be scored and value added, but risks remain; where value can be lost and one can end up losing the game.

The ball in this visual metaphor is launched through innovation onto the playing board, with the ball representing value for all of scholarly communications, including researchers, libraries, and publishers. The flippers that keep the ball in play are Human and AI assisted technologies that support the value chain process. Additional support propelling the ball is provided by institutions, both libraries and other institutional support infrastructures, as well as funding organizations.

The overall board is divided into several sections around the key themes of integrity and trust. These core values are critical elements of what it means to provide scholarly information, that is vetted, reviewed and that people can rely on. This can be delivered through a focus on the four core elements, which extend outward from the center of the playing field, which are foundational elements of the value creation at the center of the experience. These components are Accuracy and Curation, Serving Individual Scientists, Sharing and Collaboration, and Smart Services. Around each of these sections are various elements or trends that are related to those elements.

The segment that deals with accuracy and curation includes the elements related to the editorial process. It is envisioned that there are significant bonus points to be earned through editorial process innovation. The value-ball can bounce between the elements on trust in peer review, reproducibility, or automated integrity checks. Other important elements in this segment are validation tools, plagiarism detection, image manipulation detection, statistical validation, quality control automation, digital workflow optimization, data curation, metadata creation for all outputs. There is also an opportunity here to “relaunch the ball” via implementing successful digital strategies.

A second segment highlights opportunities to build value with the potential for smart services. In this part of the playing field, the most obvious points to be gained are the provisioning of text and data mining services.  In this area, potential developments related to the Internet of Things, and Block Chain, as well as machine learning, and other big data applications. Here too automated integrity checks, computer assisted recommended reading lists, knowledge graphs, and linked open data are all potential services publishers could build value upon. Mobile device optimization and the voice as a machine integration service as also important features. Further developments are also possible with automation of peer review, or the provision of things as services could also impact our experience in the years to come.

The third component of this landscape is focused on the potential to serve individual researchers, not simply serving large communities of users. Here, it was envisioned that the most bonus points resided in the application of large-scale user data to personalize services. Of course, balancing this are concerns about user data privacy, the new General Data Protection Guidelines in the EU, the ability of users to opt out, and how individual user behavior can be tracked. Other elements of this have to do with access and authentication, and recommendation services. This also fits into the broader issues around, the social challenges of all this change, the recognition and credit elements, as well as how new impact measures are being formulated. These elements touch on the lifelong learning trends, as well as the continued developments related to MOOCs.

The final board segment includes the increasing amount of collaboration and sharing taking place. How well search and sharing is integrated with other services is seen as the biggest opportunity for added value. Within this space, the expansion of preprint servers, and social sharing networks are dominant feature. Other elements of these sharing networks include the sharing of data, streaming lab data, remote lab environments. Collaboration incudes a variety of other elements as well, including the portability and sharing of manuscripts, open annotation, collaborative expert services, and editorial services, even collaborative writing.

STM’s previous report, Tech Trends 2020 used a different metaphor – publishers being tossed around in a stormy sea. It emphasised how the growth in computer power will continue steadily over the coming decade. Computer power combined with big data and a wide variety of digital objects, will create huge new opportunities for information providers. Researchers are likely to share more in open science environments, from text to non- text such as data or multimedia, social collaboration networks will spark new information relationships and publishers can deliver more targeted precision information to users via dynamic publishing.

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