We recently sat down for an interview with Casey Pickering, a Senior Product Marketing Manager on CCC’s Information and Content Solutions team, about some of the innovative work going on in RightsLink for Scientific Communications.
DD: First of all, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me today. Right off the bat, for the readers: Can you tell me more about RightsLink for Scientific Communications and the role it fulfills in the world of scholarly publishing? I need the “RLSC 101.”
CP: Sure. As we’ve all observed, the world of journal subscriptions is shifting from the traditional model we all grew up with, where the library buys a subscription from a publisher (or aggregator), to Open Access business models where content is “free-to-read” with no cost or subscription paywall intervening. While, as I just mentioned, there’s no reader payment for open-access articles (or monographs), in many OA arrangements with leading publishers their costs still need to be paid somehow, through a fee collected from the author or their institution or funder.
Typically, on the publisher side these fees are managed through Article Processing Charges (APCs). RLSC enters the equation at that point — transaction processing is complicated enough, and the burden of managing various, diverse funder and institutional requirements only serves to add to that complexity. Because of these new circumstances — think of them as “OA pain points” — publishers sought an improved means of managing and streamlining this part of the process. RLSC was developed as a means of easing that pain, as a scholarly workflow solution that allows publishers to provide an easy-to-use tool to their researchers, enabling those authors to both pay their APCs and to follow their work through the publication process. Now that there are “transformative agreement” models in the field, the need for this solution is even more evident.
DD: In a workflow solution, what are some of the main problems that publishers are looking to solve?
CP: From the perspective of a scholarly or scientific publisher, one of the aspects that’s going to consistently be important to them is making sure the whole experience for the author (or authors, plural) is seamless, transparent, and overall a positive one. Researcher-Authors, as a cohort, are not as familiar with the ins & outs of OA as publishers are.
The Researcher-Author may know they need to submit their article for publication under OA rules (due to a funding requirement) or that they wish to, but they don’t know the details of everything that needs to happen and, in particular, they don’t know the back office details that comes with publishing as OA. RLSC, as well as making this all easy for publishers, also makes it much easier for the authors to hold up their end. Additionally, RLSC provides a really good user experience to the authors who will be providing their research articles to the journals, such that they might look —perhaps even gleefully—to submitting their next article to the journal.
DD: Thanks. We were talking earlier about how RightsLink for Scientific Communications is community-built. Please say more about that —is this essentially the group of publisher clients, funders, and institutions who are making use of RLSC and communicating among themselves about how to make the most of it? I know the OA landscape is continually forming and reforming itself and that, as a result, publishers constantly need to adapt to those changing conditions. Was that the key impetus towards involving the community more?
CP: RLSC is now used by over 30 scholarly publishers. Included in that are some very large publishers and some much smaller society publishers. Additionally, there are nearly 1,000 consortia, individual institutions, and funders communicating and experimenting through the platform, building a proven, universal experience for their authors working to publish OA as a means to Open Science. And the “RightsLink for Scientific Communications Community” is the informal term we use to refer to this group — reflecting the fact that there are diverse sorts of stakeholders using one common, shared platform, such that if one organization requests a new feature, the others may very quickly reap a benefit from that implementation as well.
It’s a sort of “virtuous circle,” if you will. American Chemical Society (ACS) is a really good example of what we’re seeing here: they’re constantly innovating, and they’ve been leaders when it comes to progressing transformative agreements. And features we implemented at the request of ACS were soon adopted by other clients. In addition, CCC hosts an advisory group representing global consortia and institutions as another forum in which to exchange ideas coming out of that stakeholder group.
DD: That’s interesting about ACS and the advanced work that they’re doing. Could you tell me a little bit more about some of the stuff that they’ve been working on with RLSC?
CP: Definitely. ACS really helped us as a partner in developing our agreement management capabilities. To understand the need for that functionality, it’s really important to understand how complicated the situation is when a publisher and an institution make a new deal. For a long time, publishers simply had a price for a subscription, i.e. the fee subscribing institutions paid. (Yes, there was always some back-and-forth before the deal was inked. The user side always had a voice to be heard. ) But now because so many journals —and funders—are moving to OA, agreements between publishers and their subscribers have gotten even more complicated, involving financial terms based on author affiliation, funding policy, article type, etc. —and these require a high degree of agility and of course clean and consistent metadata. It takes more effort and skill than one might think to automate those kinds of agreements, as well as understanding usage, measuring funds, and managing other nitty-gritty like that. Bottom line, ACS has helped us build this. They were a true partner in this. They were doing these kinds of agreements before a lot of others were.
The good news is ACS, and other publishers as well, have seen massive success using the product. And I think a lot of the success is because RLSC really allows the publisher to experiment. This workflow supports basically any kind of agreement that you want to create (within reason). And ACS has been able to create agreements with institutions, knowing that they can be automated and working with us to do that; they’re crafting more agreements, more quickly, knowing that they have the tools to support them. It’s a great outcome.
DD: Awesome! Well, it sounds like needing to manage all manner of OA complexity, and using RLSC, kind of go hand-in-hand. A few minutes ago, we were talking about ongoing, community-informed development. OK, spill it. What are some of the newest features that RLSC has to offer for publishers?
CP: One of the things that we’ve been consistently focused on over the last year or so is ensuring that Researcher-Authors have a positive experience in their use of the tool. That’s also really important for publishers because they want the user experience of their authors, institutions and funders to be as seamless and positive as is feasible. Acting on that understanding, in January 2021 we released new features that allow a Researcher-Author to learn — in real-time — if they have funding available right when they submit their article. For example, let’s suppose you (whether in the role of Researcher-Author or of Publisher) didn’t know if there was a bank of funding that you were going to be able to benefit from at that stage. Formerly, you had to wait until you were well into the RLSC workflow before this information was available. Now — working with our submission process partners — we’ve brought it forward and enabled early awareness of funding. (Those partners include ScholarOne, Aries, and EJPress. Each brings something significant to the solutions table, thus rounding out the users’ options.) This is proving a popular feature indeed.
DD: I really appreciate your taking the time to chat, Casey. One more question and I’ll let you go: If you had an opportunity to speak directly with all the decision makers at a given publisher, what’s your sort of five-minute elevator pitch as to why it’s so beneficial for publishers to work with CCC and utilize RLSC in their workflows?
CP: The good ol’ elevator pitch! Ok, here goes: For publishers who are making the move to OA, there are always a few items on the to-do list that present outsized challenges. The first is, without a platform to collect author charges, it’s likely going to be a nightmare trying to manage all the different agreements that you will sign. Not to mention that your doing it by yourself is likely to produce an unfamiliar and probably inefficient experience for the thousands of institutions and authors who are regularly using RLSC because they do business with our existing 30-40 publishing clients. That’s significant. Then, as your OA program scales, sooner or later it will outgrow whatever systems and processes you will have put in place, and the maintenance and enhancement will become a burden, leading to resource challenges. Bottom line is that the DIY approach limits your scale. So, instead, we recommend that you adopt a common platform — one that publishers similar to yourself are already using and benefitting from the RLSC Community. That approach will help you to more quickly and efficiently achieve your goals for your suite of journals (or monographs). There’s no dispute that traditional subscriptions are trending away, and that OA (in whatever manifestation it takes next) is a big part of the future. Having a trusted, experienced partner like CCC and RightsLink for Scientific Communications to help you simplify and automate your processes and systems while still making it possible to tailor things to fit your own needs and your own organization — all that is, in our view, clearly critical.
Casey Pickering is a Senior Product Marketing Manager in CCC’s Information and Content Solutions team. Casey focuses on developing go-to-market strategies and driving strategic marketing efforts for CCC’s publisher products and services. Outside of the office, Casey is a passionate Boston sports fan who enjoys spending time outside with her family.