Last week we shared our predictions for what will be in store for trade publishing in 2016. This week it’s academic publishing’s turn. This sector is far broader, larger and economically more successful than people outside the industry imagine. It ranges from multinational corporations that publish journals, to the university presses who keep the scholarly monograph going as a content form, and to the professional and association publishers dedicated to sharing information, insight and expertise within distinct professional groups. Yet however different these publishers look from the outside, they face similar challenges as the behaviour of their buyers and readers changes and their funding environment shifts.

With this in mind, here are our predictions for the hot trends and topics that will define academic, scholarly and professional publishing over the next twelve months.

1. Innovation in scholarly books will accelerate

We may look back on 2015 as the year that the scholarly books market started to experience some of the innovation that has transformed academic journals. Research by our sister company PCG showed that open access monographs were slowly but surely finding their way into librarians’ hearts and library collections. Meanwhile the high profile initiative Academic Book Week in the UK celebrated the role that scholarly books have played in driving forward societal and scientific change, and served to re-energise debate into why we need these books.

Another interesting hint at a future for academic book publishing came from Alliant University. This private US college announced it was going into business with self-publishing services provider Author Solutions to launch a new university press that takes its cues from the indie publishers rather than the journals.

For many years it has felt like the scholarly books market was on the verge of an exciting transformation, but nothing has quite yet got out of the starting blocks. Now, however, it seems like there’s enough excitement and experimentation around scholarly books for the future to start happening in 2016.

2. More big journal brands will go deeper into Open Access Publishing

The speed with which many of the world’s journal publishers have embraced open access business models has been surprising. Just five years ago it felt to many in academic publishing that the development of open access would lead to a bifurcation in the industry.

Perhaps as a signal of academic publishing’s ability to absorb innovations instead of letting them disrupt it (which was one of our predictions for 2014), some of the biggest publishers of OA journals are now also publishers of subscription journals. Nature Publishing in particular has been at the forefront of establishing new open access journals that leverage the authority and recognition that comes with the Nature brand.

We can expect more of this in 2016 for two reasons. Firstly, the fact that governments around the world increasingly require publicly-funded research to be published under an OA license is driving up demand for OA journals. Secondly, the creation of an OA journal that shares an overall brand with a big name journal is an opportunity for publishers to realise some commercial value from the many articles these publications reject every year. Instead of rejecting an article outright, publishers can instead offer an alternative path to publication in the form of OA.

As the funding environment and business model innovation among academic publishers becomes more favourable towards OA in 2016, we can expect more new OA journals sharing brands with the biggest names in subscription journals.

3. A rush to re-platform among academic publishers

Another effect of academic publishers adopting heterogeneous business models in 2015 will be that more will need to move to different online publishing platforms in 2016. Now that the days of the one-access-model-fits-all approach are gone, publishers’ platforms need to host content available to readers under very different business models. Green and gold open access journals need to live alongside subscription journals, offer pay-per-use access and will need to host all content forms (videos, data sets).

Consequently, we predict that 2016 will see a slew of journal publishers switching platforms in 2016. This will have three effects. It will put the industry’s reliance on the PDF standard under the spotlight once again, as richer media types come to the fore. It will also lead to more publishers moving their platforms into the cloud. Ironically we may find that many academic publishers end up depending on Amazon, as their content ends up hosted on one of the company’s EC2 services. And thirdly it will reignite another round of the debate as to whether or not a publisher should build or buy their publishing platform.

4. Discoverability will be ‘baked into’ more publishing platforms

Even before OA publishing opened up the floodgates for research publication, the discoverability was a hot topic in academic publishing. With thousands of journals and hundreds of thousands of articles out there to choose from, how could a student or researcher identify the content suitable for their needs? And as OA publishing has increased the quantity of both journals and articles available, what criteria do they need to apply to find research of the right quality?

Possible answers to these question have come in the form of new technologies and services that find novel ways to sort the wheat from the chaff. Some, like Altmetric (who we partnered with earlier this year) evaluate the impact of individual articles by aggregating the conversations that surround a piece of content on social media. Others, like Google Scholar, attempt the tricky task of ranking articles against one another by using an algorithm.

In 2016 we will see these services play an even greater role in helping end users discover content to assess the effectiveness of the research they publish. This will be possible because increasingly these services will be baked into journals at the platform-level. In a few years it will be just as unimaginable for a journal not to offer content discovery tools and widgets alongside individual articles as it would be today for a newspaper not to place Twitter and Facebook share buttons at the end of a news story.

By David Montgomery, CEO of Ingenta