2. Background

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 The Pubfair concept builds on the idea to overlay publishing functionalities on repositories or preprint servers. The arXiv repository (https://arxiv.org/) has facilitated the early electronic sharing of working papers in Physics (and later other domains including Mathematics and Computer Science) since 1991. As early as 1994, arXiv’s creator, Paul Ginsparg, saw the potential for such preprint servers to disrupt scholarly communications, imagining “a  relatively complete raw archive unfettered by any unnecessary delays in availability”, on top of which “[a]ny type of information could be overlayed … and maintained by any third parties”, including tools for validation, filtering and communication (Ginsparg, 1994). In 1997, Ginsparg foresaw organisations like scholarly societies curating “high-quality peer-reviewed overlays” in place of journals (Ginsparg, 1997). Ginsparg’s vision of a distributed ecosystem of de-coupled publishing services was given further elaboration in the original call for interest in what would become the Open Archives initiative (OAi, http://www.openarchives.org/), whose initial aim was to provide a forum for repositories and preprint servers to define the technical and social specifications for an open scholarly publication framework which would form “the fundamental and free layer of scholarly information, above which both free and commercial services could flourish” (Ginsparg et al., 1999). OAi achieved success in providing community-led solutions for specific elements of repository interoperability, particularly through its Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH) and Object Reuse and  Exchange (OAI-ORE) standards.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 2 Since then, there have been many proposals for how such an ecosystem could function (Boldt, 2010; Fecher et al., 2017a, 2017b; Perakakis et al., 2010; Priem and Hemminger, 2012; Ross-Hellauer and Fecher, 2017; Smith, 2000, 1999; Van de Sompel et al., 2004; Wang and Zhan, 2019), as well as the creation of individual overlay journals (e.g., the journal Discrete Analysis by field medal winner Tim Gowers) and some limited prototyping of wider overlay systems, including the RIOJA project (Moyle and Lewis, 2008). However, Ginsparg’s original vision of a flourishing wider ecosystem of publishing services based on preprint servers and repositories has remains largely unrealised. Such services have yet to become a mainstream alternative to journal publication, and no widely adopted protocols or platforms for overlay services have been developed.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Several converging factors suggesting that now is the time to pursue this vision:

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 2 Dysfunctionality of the publishing system: There are a number of well recognized problems with the current system of scholarly publishing. These include, but are not limited to, a lack of transparency in peer review, quality issues/retractions, western biases, long lag times from submission to publication, etc. The current reward structures, which incentivize researchers to publish in traditional publishing venues and high impact factor journals, perpetuate these problems and greatly stifle innovation in scholarly communications.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Increasing vendor control of scholarly publishing: In an economic sense, the prices for both subscriptions and APCs continue to rise at rates far exceeding inflation (Bosch et al., 2019; Khoo, 2019). In addition, there is very little transparency in the pricing of scholarly journals because many publishers require organizations to sign non-disclosure clause. Given the publishing infrastructure of the Internet, there are many questions regarding the legitimacy of the costs that publishers charge for their products (Stern, 2017). This is in large part related to the oligopolistic control of the market by a few large commercial publishers, in which the top five publishers control over 50% of the market and above 70% in some disciplines, have profit margins in the order of 28-38.9% (Lariviere et.al. 2015). At the same time, in seeking to diversify their portfolios, large publishers are acquiring other services and tools across the scholarly communication lifecycle, provoking fears of a new kind of vendor lock-in where services are bundled or otherwise made selectively interoperable (Posada and Chen, 2018; Schonfeld, 2018).

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 1 Rise of preprints: In recent years, there has been significant growth in interest regarding preprints. The arXiv, established in 1991, is by far the most used preprint server (for physics, mathematics, computer science, quantitative biology, quantitative finance, and statistics). Although not as central to their disciplines, other preprint servers have begun to appear, such as bioRxiv (life sciences – since 2013), ChemRxiv (chemistry – since 2017), Earth and Space Science Open Archive (ESSOAr – since 2017) and so on, as well as cross-disciplinary repositories for preprints such as PeerJ Preprints, Zenodo, and Preprints (a multidisciplinary preprint server subsidized by MDPI). This growing interest in sharing preprints by the research community, creates the potential of adding layers of peer review and publishing services on top of that content (Eisen, 2018; Ginsparg, 2016; Gowers, 2015; Hindle and Saderi, 2018; Pulverer, 2018; Ross-Hellauer, 2017; Stern and O’Shea, 2019; Tennant, 2018; Tennant et al., 2017).

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Policy drivers for open science: The trend towards openness continues to gain strength, and governments and research funding organizations have adopted a proactive stance seeking to steer and support their funded researchers to follow these practices. Open access to publications is now a mainstream requirement in many countries and open science, broadening sharing beyond publications, has also become an important policy driver. This reflects a growing recognition of the benefits of sharing research outputs including publications, research data, code, and other objects. Doing so fosters reproducibility and verification of research results, as well as integration and re-use of content for new discoveries or applications of knowledge.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 2 Promotion of the knowledge commons, and academy-owned infrastructure: In part as a response to concerns over costs and commercial interests, the last few years have seen a growth in discussions related to community-based approaches to scholarly communications infrastructure. In 2017, the FORCE11 Scholarly Commons Working Group published its principles for the scholarly commons identifying the need for common agreement via practices, global commitment to sustainability, openness by default, and freedom for all to participate (FORCE11 Scholarly Commons Working Group, 2017). Similarly, the Next Generation Repository report called for a distributed governance for scholarly resources, without which a small number of actors gain too much control and can establish quasi-monopolistic position (COAR, 2017). And more recently, the report of the EC’s Expert Group on the Future of Scholarly Publishing and Scholarly Communication (European Commission, 2019) specified the need for scholarly communication to “rest on a distributed infrastructure based on open standards to ensure access and interoperability”. In a similar vein, Stern and O’Shea have proposed a “publish first, curate second” approach where “authors decide when and what to publish; peer review reports are published, either anonymously or with attribution; and curation occurs after publication” (Stern and O’Shea, 2019), while Brembs has made a call for a “modern information infrastructure that is governed by scholars … [which] would allow renewed focus on scientific reliability, with improved sort, filter, and discovery functionalities, at massive cost savings” (Brembs, 2019).

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Taken together, these trends present us with an opportune moment to reimagine the scholarly communication system. While there have been many statements, principles, and piecemeal investments over the past decade, these activities have not yet had a significant impact on the traditional concept of scholarly publishing, in large part because they address the needs of only one single community, or do not have sufficient enough scale to change the current system.  What has been missing from these efforts is a shared vision around which all stakeholder communities can coalesce, and overarching architecture that defines an international framework for scholarly communication.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 To that end, we propose here a conceptual model for a distributed, international, community-based ecosystem that  builds on existing infrastructure investments, called Pubfair.

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