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In this science fiction exercise I make some assumptions of what technologies will become mainstream in the medium term and what this will do to the current STM publishing landscape.

I am being deliberately vague on time lines as it is impossible to predict when change will happen. By “medium term” I am thinking in the 3 to 10 year time horizon that venture capitalists and start-up entrepreneurs need to build substantial value. This is the start-up timing horizon.

We use the start-up timing horizon, as this is not just science fiction fun, this enables scenario planning. Or, to put it in more popular terms, this enables you to “skate to where the puck is going.”

(Photo: Flickr/Michael in South London)

Likely To Happen In Next 3 to 10 Years

1. Printed Journals will move to a Print On Demand model. A few copies will be made for libraries and will retain some status for scientists as the article of record. But usage will shift almost entirely to digital delivery and publishers won’t make money from printed journals.

2. Open Access will replace Proprietary Data in the same way that Open Source has replaced commercial software. This means that there will still be some Proprietary Data, but the default option will be Open Access.

3. Most of the big commercial STM publishers will go through a period of trauma. Investors question the quality of their future earnings in this new world. There will be some cutbacks and mergers (some of which may be “fire sales”) and then some of them will show how they can grow their profits in this new world.

4. One new “publishing” venture will break through into the mainstream. They will become a big success, recognized by the market via an IPO. The venture will avoid the term “publishing” to describe their business as that sounds like the old model. This new venture will mix traditional peer-reviewed publishing with semantic web technology and peer/social networks to deliver major new value to scientists and the institutions they work in.

5. The debate will move to a broader plane of public policy. STM publishing costs will be seen within the wider context of the funding issues in higher education and the economic impact of more scientific research. This wider debate will lead to some new regulation that will accelerate the move to open access, but as with all regulation there will be some difficult unintended consequences.

Knock On Effects

This will dramatically change the STM publishing landscape. Scientific research has a major long-term impact on economic growth, so this matters to all of us.

The most disrupted will be traditional STM publishers. With their core business under threat from open access, their profits will shrink. They will struggle with the innovator’s dilemma before finding new ways to add value to open access data.

The economy will benefit from greater productivity in scientific research.

This wraps up the first 3 posts related to STM Publishing. We will return to this market in a month after talking to more of the current innovators.

Next in our series is the Legal Services marketplace.