PubTech Radar Scan 11: Trends for 2021

This issue focuses on Academic Publishing Tech Trends for 2021 but it’s impossible not to mention the news that Wiley have acquired Hindawi. There is so much that could be said, and is being said, about the acquisition but tonight my thoughts are with the staff. Hindawi has an awesome team of dedicated people who moved quickly to do inventive things – I hope that magic isn’t extinguished by the constraints that will likely come from being part of a much larger organisation.  

Academic publishing typically moves at the pace of a snail 🐌 so predicting trends isn’t all that difficult (famous last words!) but here are my top five Academic Publishing Tech Trends for 2021, let me know what you think.

1. Preprints suffer an identity crisis

I think 2021 will be the year when traditional publishers embrace preprints but do so on their own terms by switching the workflow from the idealised:

preprint > peer review > submit to journal > peer review > publish in journal
submit to journal > preprint on publisher server > peer review > publish in journal

Preprinting at the same time as submitting isn’t new, see this and this, but I think a significant number of journal submission systems will make this easier by including an option to preprint, much like PLOS do now, but the preprint server will be tied to the publisher’s preferred/owned preprint service.

2. Traditional publishers focus on digital science/open science solutions

Pressure on the subscription model and long term uncertainty around OA revenues means that publishers will chase any new digital/open science solutions that come their way. It’s classic blue ocean strategy. This trend isn’t new and Elsevier is ahead of the pack but potential new investment opportunities seem limited so publishers will have to build rather than buy innovation.  With University budgets likely to be tight for the next year or two I would expect publishers to work hard on land and expand type programs so that they are ready to go with new services when budgets do pick up.

3. Production workflows are quietly automated

The push to reduce costs and speed up time to publication will lead to increasing automation of production workflows but very little of this will be publicised. Publishers will build and buy solutions as needed. The solutions out there, e.g. Exeter Premedia’s Kryiadocs, Integra’s rapid content production solutions,  Cactus Communications suite of products which includes Unsilo Technical Checks,  Deanta’s Lanstad,  KGL’s Smart Suite 2.0,  AJE/Research Square’s services and many others will improve rapidly as the technology improves and more people use them.

4. More consolidation

Society Publishing has been consolidating for many years and there are no signs that this is slowing down. See for example Wiley managing the IET’s transition to OA. Long standing problems at HighWire, their acquisition by MPS, and the strength of Atypon’s platform resulted in AAAS moving to Wiley’s Atypon platform and PNAS due to move in 2021. In October Wiley’s Jay Flynn said that “roughly half the world’s academic and scholarly articles were moving on Wiley’s platforms”, Wiley’s acquisition of Hindawi will add a few more.

5. Inundated with innovation (I hope!)

Consolation, the move away from subscriptions and the pandemic has led to a number of redundancies which I hope will lead to a wave of Redundant-Preneurs starting something new. I ❤️ what the Digital Science stable, Morressier (about time for an exit?), Scholarcy, SciencePod, SciScore, Scite, and others are doing but it would be good to see some new faces. Maybe 2021 will be the year for Research Rabbit and DataSeer? It’s been a while since something really big, like ResearchGate, has launched.

5 weaker signals for 2021:

  1. Concerns about publisher privacy and data grabs will continue to rumble along but will get lost in the outrage about the enormous volumes of data being scooped up by EdTech providers.

  2. Automated summary tech (e.g. Semantic Scholar’s TLDRs, SciencePod Summaries, Scholarcy’s solutions) will improve and more publishers will start to experiment but it’s some way off from becoming mainstream

  3. Paid for promotion of scientific research will start to raise concerns but given that it’s in the interests of almost everyone in the publishing food chain (researchers, funders, universities, librarians, publishers, etc.) to ensure that research is disseminated as widely, and in as positive light, as possible it’s hard to see who is going to complain unless someone cocks up badly.   

  4. Concerns about Wiley’s ownership and the dominance of the Atypon platform will continue to be voiced, especially if the platform goes down again, but there aren’t many options that offer a similar level of service. A "Nobody ever got fired for buying Atypon" situation perhaps?

  5. Smaller publishers will start to become concerned about the digital dividends bigger publishers are gaining from automation and there will be an increasing digital divide between the haves and have nots. However, existential concerns about business models and ensuring revenue from OA rather than subscriptions will push technology concerns to the back of the mind.


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