Ian Mulvany

May 14, 2024

We are in the business of attention.

What is it that publishers actually do? 

The job we do is to provide platforms to support the dissemination of verifiable claims about the world, but the business of what we do is about marshalling attention, from getting the attention of authors for them to submit their work, the attention of researchers to review that work, and the attention of readers to be aware of what is new within their halo of interest. This rolls up to the attention of libraries, funders, institutions and governments, on the questions of where impact is occurring. 

Journal titles are a tremendous way to scale that attention as each one is a manifestation of a community of researchers who come tougher to collaborate around a topic or discipline. As the attention of the research community shifts, so too journal titles can expand, shrink, disappear or be created, to cater to that shifting attention. 

That attention is also the fundamental driver of value exchange in the different kinds of markets that journals operate in, and the increasingly diversified ways in which these operations can be monetised. 

Publishers have built up these engines of attention, yet we need to remind ourselves that the way we operate today is far different from how we started some three hundred years ago, and that the full implications of the web are still to flow through. Example one - there are still over a billion people on the planet yet to come online. Example two - very recent advances in LLMs are set to radically change how people interact with information. 

Operating these platforms into this century, and beyond, comes with two strong strategic imperatives. The first is ensuring the platforms increase the value of the activity that happens on them. They can do this by making the experience for each author and reader as efficient as possible and this will drive adoption, but there is a further obligation that these platforms have. They must be designed to support high integrity work and to help humans do the painful and laborious work of deep research. The reason for this is that the challenges we face as a species are serious and imminent, and so any platform that can be a force multiplier to solving these problems, must become so. 

This press release reminded me of these thoughts, the use of an engagement tool to try to get even better at bridging content to audience. 

About Ian Mulvany

Hi, I'm Ian - I work on academic publishing systems. You can find out more about me at mulvany.net. I'm always interested in engaging with folk on these topics, if you have made your way here don't hesitate to reach out if there is anything you want to share, discuss, or ask for help with!