Last things first:
Conclusion: I’ve presented a pessimistic view of the future of current scientific publishers. Yet I hope it’s also clear that there are enormous opportunities to innovate, for those willing to master new techonologies, and to experiment boldly with new ways of doing things. The result will be a great wave of innovation that changes not just how scientific discoveries are communicated, but also accelerates the way scientific discoveries are made.
Is scientific publishing about to be disrupted?:
What I will do instead is draw your attention to a striking difference between today’s scientific publishing landscape, and the landscape of ten years ago. What’s new today is the flourishing of an ecosystem of startups that are experimenting with new ways of communicating research, some radically different to conventional journals. Consider Chemspider, the excellent online database of more than 20 million molecules, recently acquired by the Royal Society of Chemistry. Consider Mendeley, a platform for managing, filtering and searching scientific papers, with backing from some of the people involved in Last.fm and Skype.
Or consider startups like SciVee (YouTube for scientists), the Public Library of Science, the Journal of Visualized Experiments, vibrant community sites like OpenWetWare and the Alzheimer Research Forum, and dozens more. And then there are companies like Wordpress, Friendfeed, and Wikimedia, that weren’t started with science in mind, but which are increasingly helping scientists communicate their research. This flourishing ecosystem is not too dissimilar from the sudden flourishing of online news services we saw over the period 2000 to 2005.