Springer and Macmillan merger : some observations

The proposed merger between Springer and Macmillan came as a surprise to me. They are two big brands that come together. However if you look purely at figures in number of journals Macmillan is a midget compared to Springer and combined they are probably slightly bigger than Elsevier. It is the brand value of Nature and the Nature Publishing Group (NPG) that might shine on Springer and its journals if this merger is managed well. Imagine a cascading peer review system for turned down articles from Nature to the complete Springer portfolio rather than the NPG journals only. That would give the Springer journals an enormous boost. In number of journals involved this planned merger will probably not be stopped by the anti-cartel watchdogs.

What has not been mentioned in most press releases is the fact that this deal will for sure create the most profitable Open Access publisher in the world. Springer already acquired BioMed Central some years ago, and is expanding ferociously its own Springer Open brand and platform. Macmillan’s Nature Publishing Group acquired the Swiss Frontiers early 2013. Frontiers showed a healthy growth from 2,500 article in 2006 to 11,000 in 2014. The combined numbers of Open Access articles published by Springer Open, BioMed Central, Frontiers and the Nature Open Access journals (Nature Communications, Nature Reports) is still not topping that of Public Library of Science (PLoS). However the revenue in Article Processing Charges for this portfolio easily surpasses that of PLoS. For the Netherlands I made an estimate for the national APC paid to the largest publishers in early 2013. This new merger is the largest in turnover simply because they charge the highest Gold APC.

Interesting as well is to look at books, I have no figures at hand, but Springer publishes around 6000 scholarly books per year. The number by Macmillan likely to be a lot smaller, but complementary since Macmillan has a much better penetration in the textbook market. If Springer will learn from Macmillan to produce text books, rather than purely scholarly books, their earnings will increase considerably.

What amazes me however, is the fact that Digital Science is not part of the deal. Springer is still a bit of a traditional publisher and so is Mamillan. Books and journals abound it is the mainstay of their businessmodel. Okay Springer have acquired Papers, as competitor to EndNote and Mendeley. Digital Science however, is the collection of start ups from Nature and Macmillan, they have a whole portfolio of new and exciting things, Readcube, Figshare, Altmetric, Symplectic and many more. Those are really the jewels in the crown, but they are not part of the merger and Springer will badly gonna miss them.

Academic search engine optimization: for publishers

A few weeks ago my eye caught a tweet on the subject of academic search engine optimization

The nicely styled PDF referred to in the tweet  was from Wiley. Wiley has been quite active in this area. In my book mark list I have somewhere the link to their webpage on optimizing your research articles for search engines (SEO), somewhere tucked away on their author services section. And a link to the article “Search engine optimization and your journal article: Do you want the bad news first?” on their Exchange blog. Wiley is not the only publishers dealing with this subject, here is an example on academic search engine optimization from Elsevier and another example from Sage. I bet there are other examples from publishers to be found.

The major advise is to use the right keywords. Use these keywords in your title, and repeat them throughout your abstract. Contextually repeated as they say. Do mention some synonyms for those keywords as well and please do make use of the key words fields in the article as well.  They emphasize to use Google Trends or Google Adwords to find the right keywords, but that is ill-advised for academic search engine optimization in my opinion. When selecting keywords for academic search engine optimization it is better to use keyword systems, ontologies or thesauri from you subject area, because experienced researchers will use this terminology to search for their information as well. So in the biomedical area it is obvious to consult the mesh browser, but when you are in the agriculture or ecology field of research the CAB thesaurus is the first choice for selecting the appropriate keywords. The Wiley SEO tips ends with  the advise to consistent with your own name (and affiliation, your lab deserves to be named properly as well), and don’t forget to cite your previous work.

The role of the editors in Academic Search Engine Optimization

In their short PDF the Wiley team mentions to use headings as well “Headings for the various sections of your article tip off search engines to the structure and content of your article.  Incorporate your keywords and phrases in these headings wherever it’s appropriate.”  A nice suggestion but in practice this is hardly ever in the hands of the individual author. Scholarly articles tend to have a rather fixed structure. The IMRAD structure, Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion being the most common. In such a case the author has no space to add headings in the right position in their paper. But research by  Hamrick et al. showed that papers with callouts, tend to have higher number of citations. A “callout” is a phrase or sentence from the paper, perhaps paraphrased, that is displayed prominently in a larger font. The journal which they investigated abandoned the practice to use callouts, but after their article this practice was reinstated again. A decision like that, is an editorial decision. And it is recommended for all journals to help the readers with pointers in the form of callouts, and benefit from the affects it can have as academic search engine optimization as well. My favourite Wiley journal, JASIST, certainly doesn’t make systematic use of callouts.

The other topic on which the editorial board has an important say is the layout of the reference lists in their journals. I have pleaded many times before for a reduced number of specifications of reference lists. It looks like the first task an editorial board of a newly established journal embarks upon is,  is to formulate yet another exotic variation of the many different styles specifying the layout of the reference list. The point however, that these definitions hardly make use of the possibilities of academic search engine optimization, or search engine optimization whatsoever, most often they forget to include linking options in the reference list altogether. Older instructions to authors have not caught up with the present time yet. In the html version of the scholarly articles links are included as part of the journal platform software, but in the PDF versions of the articles the URLs are often forgotten altogether. Where DOIs are linkable in the webpage, in most instances DOIs in the PDF version are most often presented in the form of  doi:10.1002/asi/etc. It is even explicitly stipulated in the APA style and many others to reference a DOI as doi: which goes against the advice of the DOI governing body. These bad practices results in the fact that DOI’s included in the PDF versions of the reference list don’t link. Which is a complete and utter waste of SEO opportunity. So academic search engine optimization is badly broken in this area.

The role of publishers in Academic Search Engine Optimization

Publishers have their role in supporting the editorial boards in resolving the two previously mentioned items. But they should also have a careful look into the PDF files they produce at the moment as well. At this moment the Google Webmaster has only a few pointers to PDF optimization. To mention a few interesting ones: Links should be included in the PDF (this means again DOIs as links rather than doi: statements) since they are treated as ordinary links.  And the last point is important as well “How can I influence the title shown in search results for my PDF document” The title attribute in the PDF is used! And the anchor text. On publishers site this is most often “PDF”. If they only would use the title as anchor text on their website it would work in their advantage. Albeit not mentioned on the Google webmaster blogpost, since it is probably too obvious, if the file had only the name of the title it certainly would help the SEO for the PDF, and it would help all those scientists who download all the PDF files for their research to sort out what file is what about. Was 123456.pdf about the genetics or genomes, or was that in 234567.pdf? Clear titles would help both researchers as well as search engines to work out what it is all about.

And whilst publishers are on the subject of PDF optimization they might as well complete the other attributes for PDF files, such as authors, keywords and summary. If it is not now, another search engine might make use of those attributes another day. You might as well be prepared.  Researchers, using reference management tools, can also benefit from those metadata attributes. Ross Mounce has some interesting blogposts about the researchers need for good metadata in PDFs.  Theoretically a little effort since all that metadata is in the databases already, so make use of it to optimize your PDFs for academic search engine optimization or service to your most loyal users who have so far put up with a load of bad PDFs.


Hamrick, T. A., R. D. Fricker, and G. G. Brown. 2010. Assessing what distinguishes highly cited from less-cited papers published in Interfaces. Interfaces, 40(6): 454-464. http://dx.doi.org/10.1287/inte.1100.0527. OA version:http://faculty.nps.edu/tahamric/docs/citations%20paper.pdf

Related: Google and the academic Deep Web

Science redirect

ScienceDirect screenshot from my Gphone

Yesterday I tried to follow a link from Twitter -courtesy to Janneke Staaks- to a reading suggestion. To na avail. It was a useful reading tip to an article on ScienceDirect. Well…. on a mobile phone with network access from a commercial operator that’s not going to work. Not yet, at least. So Elsevier and other publishers, are you ready for the mobile Web yet?

The changing face of Elsevier Science

The last couple of days I had the pleasure to attend the Elsevier Development Partners meeting. The exact products they are working on might be of interest to some people, but that’s up to Elsevier to announce. But what was really the big surprise at this meeting -which lasted 3 days- was the tone from Elsevier. It was all about open Science. They clearly wanted to open up. There was a lot of talk about sharing information, making mash-ups possible, Application programming Interfaces (API). Elsevier Science wanted to move away from the double barred information silo to become an open solution provider in the scholarly world. If Elsevier is thinking and acting in this direction, then change will become a major issue for the entire scientific publishing industry and that is good news for libraries who want to remain a vital service in the future as well.

This change will take time. It doesn’t happen overnight. But Raphael Sidi just announced the other day on his blog the Elsevier Article API at the programmable Web. So, Elsevier is not only talking, they are acting up on it as well.

Let other publishers follow this example!

How Wiley made a mess of the Synergy and InterScience integration

Two weeks ago we were forewarned that Wiley would integrate all the content of the Blackwell Synergy on Wiley InterScience platform. It would only disrupt the service of the systems over the weekend of June 28-29. When I received this notification I thought immediately about Péter’s picks&pans (2007) where he investigated the capabilities of both platforms.

Just a few quotes from his review:

A merger of the Blackwell Synergy and the Wiley Interscience collections using the software of the latter would certainly not produce Synergy. On the contrary, the serious software deficiencies om Interscience would weaken performance and functionality of Blackwell Synergy, which uses the excellent Atypon software.

[Synergy] This is a very well-designed system enhanced by complementary information – as you should expect these days.

Wiley made no efforts to improve its software. The software keeps fooling itself and the searchers by offering dysfunctional and nonsense options.

It is a severe sign of dementia when people do not recognize their own name. So is the syndrome that Wiley keeps listing some of its very own journal some of the time under the label “Cited Articles available from other publishers” and/or keeps ignoring them in the citation tracking.

In a subsequent chat with our serials librarian, he indicated that he preferred the Blackwell Synergy platform behind the scenes much more that the Wiley InterScience platform. From my own viewpoint, I regretted this move as well, since Blackwell was already Counter compliant for quite some time and the Counter reports have been audited as well, whereas Wiley Synergy was and still is not Counter compliant. That is a very serious shortcoming for one a the largest scientific publishing houses.

So users had something too loose in ease of use possibilities and librarians as well after this announcement of abandoning the Synergy platform.

What was intended to take only a mere weekend, has continued for a whole week. All Dutch university libraries faced problems with access to both Wiley and Blackwell journals. We have to sit and wait and see if the problems have been resolved during this weekend. Meanwhile I find it disappointing that Wiley makes no mention of these problems on their transition page.

Facing these problems I can only pay a compliment to Péter who foresaw what was coming up on us in March 2007 already. “A merger of the Blackwell Synergy and the Wiley Interscience collections using the software of the latter would certainly not produce Synergy”.

Jacsó́, P. (2007). SpringerLink, Blackwell Synergy, Wiley InterScience. Online(Jul/Aug 2007): 49-51. http://www.jacso.info/PDFs/jacso-springerlink-blackwell-wiley.pdf