Is your manuscript ready for uberized readers and radically changed journal websites?

read iwth your earsPublishers are spending millions revamping journal websites. What were formerly simple portals where you accessed articles  are being radically redesigned as online content delivery platforms. As the website for the JAMA Network of journals announced late last year:

We have aimed to make the platform more usable, discoverable, and faster on any device.

In case you haven’t noticed, many journals no longer publish articles on paper, which are bound in journals and stored on library shelves.

library shelvesMany journals still preserve the appearance of publishing articles organized in “issues” scheduled on particular dates. But articles no longer have to wait being organized in an issue. They now typically appear as quickly as possible as “early views.”

[There is a sneaky trick here. Journal impact factors are supposedly calculated based on the number of citations articles receive within two years of publishing. But Web of Science starts the two-year window from what is an increasingly artificial date of publication. Journals can exploit early views to get citations coming before that publication date. Journal impact factors can be manipulated with lots of early view articles available months before being assigned an issue and page numbers.]

You can still download old-fashioned PDFs resembling the pages of paper journals, but PDFs no longer must be papercentric, modeled after what was printed on dead trees and bound in volumes. Online enhanced content delivery platforms  increasingly offer enhanced PDFs. As described by Wiley

Whilst keeping the clear layout and simple design of the standard PDF, PDFs opened in the ReadCube Enhanced PDF format, feature hyperlinked in-line citations and clickable author details, allowing quick look up and cross reference. Supplementary information, figures and other valuable article data, are always just a click away, making it easier for researchers to discover, access and interact with our scientific literature. Integrated social sharing and social metrics data are also available from Altmetric, connecting our articles in new, innovative ways.

Wiley, like other for-profit publishers capitalizes on enhanced PDFs to make money in new ways, by providing:

More flexible options for “Pay-Per-View” journal article access, replacing our existing PPV service for individual users with affordable rental, cloud and PDF download options, ensuring we give users a range of options in how they view and access that content.

Particularly with publishers of medical journals like the American Medical Association, you may have noticed that email alerts have for a while had links for temporary free access to articles. However, when the links take you to the online platform, you find that you can’t download the PDFs without paying a fee, but must read them in the ReadCube or other enhanced PDF platform.

Scientific publishing is is also digitalized, with journals no longer accepting submissions by snail mail, but requiring that submissions be uploaded through portals like ScholarOne.

Digitalization also means that access to articles can be monitored, with readers, individually and collectively, put under surveillance concerning their viewing habits.  Once harvested , these data become extremely valuable in guiding decision-making.

Big data also provide instant feedback about what topics and what specific articles are getting attention and can even be used to make judgments about how successful particular authors in drawing traffic to their website.

In the process of converting to online content delivery platforms, publishers have followed the lead of Amazon, Netflix and Uber. Sometimes hiring programmers from these organizations , publishers have created algorithms to collect and process big data to personalize what is being offered to readers accessing their websites.

you may also likeYou may have noticed that when you access an article, it is accompanied by recommendations about other articles that may interest you.

Yup, journals are evaluating  topics and authors in terms of their ability to draw traffic to their websites, keep visitors at their websites and coming back.

In authors’ cover letters accompanying submissions, it has become strategic to inform the editor how specifically acceptance of your manuscript would serve this aim of the journal. Authors might do well to cite altmetrics of their last paper published in a journal:

Dear Editor,

We are submitting our manuscript [title] to your journal because of the extraordinary altmetrics achieved by our last paper published there.

Depending on the value editors attach to your submission, journals may expect you to collaborate with them in increasing traffic to their website, once your manuscript is accepted.

For papers promising to be particularly successful, the journals may expect you to provide press releases; write additional shorter, more engaging abstracts; and even prepare audio and video presentations and especially podcast interviews.

Over the coming months, I will be writing a series of blog posts about these huge changes in scientific publishing.

I’ll also be making available free videos about the opportunities and challenges these transformations mean for you as an author. This summer I will be releasing a web-based course of five, one hour videos entitled How to Write High Impact Papers: a Strategic Approach. I’ll still be offering live workshops, such as at the European Health Psychology Conference in Padova at the end of August, but I am seeking to reach a broader audience by going to the web. The videos will be in English, but they will have subtitles in a variety of other languages, as well as English.

screenshot me

You can sign up now for email alerts about my blogs, web-based courses, and e=books at

But for now, I will simply point to the temptations that the aims of these online content delivery platforms pose for authors.

van gogh grieving old man

Editor reading another cover letter saying a manuscript is paradigm-changing.


Editors seek manuscripts with newsworthy, attention-grabbing  story lines, not just another brick in the wall. They want claims of –God save us- paradigm-changing findings. They are less concerned what is robust and enduring, but in what draws in traffic to their platforms. Yet, so much well executed and transparently reported science does not fit this picture. Are you tempted to make your manuscript attractive in these terms, even if you have to get flexible in what data you report and how you analyze and interpret these data?

Basically, publishers are transforming their websites based on big data that suggests that if they going to maximize the success and profit, they must adapt to new readers.

These readers are being profoundly changed by mobile devices and the internet. Their behavior has been shaped by their experience with social media and digital devices. The new wave of readers is accustomed to ordering pizzas and Uber cars easily and to being guided by the ratings of other uses of these services. They expect similar experiences accessing scientific articles.

I don’t think we can ignore all this and still get the best benefit in reading and writing scientific papers.

The old ways of doing things are working less and less well.

Are you gearing your manuscripts and cover letters to the new wave of readers that publishers want to attract to their platforms and keep coming?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s