Town Hall


Sometimes it takes major upheaval to spur systemic change. With the whole world in lockdown, Copyright Clearance Center hosted its first virtual Town Hall on May 5. Global leaders from across the publishing industry shared insights on how COVID-19 is rewriting the rules for business, publishing, academia, media and technology and what these transformations mean to the future of publishing.

What’s Happening Now

  1. Increased access. Information has become a critical resource in the fight against COVID-19. To make point-of-care solutions available to researchers engaged in drug discovery and infection tracking, some publishers have dropped their paywalls. For example, two databases offered by Clarivate Analytics — both for the purpose of keeping hospitals stocked with medications and aid in drug discovery — are now free. A multitude of resources are now open and free in response to the emergency need for information, while new sources of content are emerging from new sectors such as hospitals and clinics.
  2. Collaboration among competitors. Competitors are going beyond their own proprietary data to offer joint pools of content. For example, IBM and EBSCO combined their respective solution suites into a single, global solution called DynaMed® and IBM® Micromedex® with Watson™. The combined suite brings together drug and disease content into a single source for evidence-based insights to help inform clinical decisions. Additionally, scientists are sharing preprints, even on social media. “I want to say it’s crazy. I want to say it’s mad,” said Ritu Dhand, PhD, Vice President Editorial, Nature Journals at Springer Nature. “But it’s also so good the way that the scientific community has come together, are collaborating at a level that we could never, ever have dreamt of.”
  3. Real time updates of sensitive information. Before the pandemic, it took weeks — sometimes months — to update a resource. According to Tatiana Khayrullina, Director and Lead Analyst for Scientific and Technical Solutions at Outsell, Inc., the kind of information that helps to understand how fast the infection is spreading is being updated daily. An example of this is Sentri7®, a clinical surveillance platform provided by Wolters Kluwer that offers real-time analysis of a patient’s condition and provides alerts to public health authorities. “This is the type of information needed to understand how fast the infection is spreading,” Khayrullina said. “That’s the kind of curve we’re watching on a daily basis.”
  4. AI accelerates at quantum speed. Deep learning with artificial neural networks has accelerated faster than anyone could have anticipated. As the pool of digital consumers grows larger, AI has gotten smarter. According to Colin Lovrinovic, Founder, Gould Finch, publishers now have unprecedented access to data about consumer preferences and can use it for making smarter marketing, editorial and publishing decisions. Using AI, Publishers can deliver dynamic and relevant ads into e-books and predict a book’s popularity. Smarter data means better choices that help publishers sell more books.
  5. Fast-track publishing. According to Dhand, submissions to Nature Journals have doubled since February 2020. This has created workflow challenges. “Every single paper is being published fast-track. Our normal turnaround time for acceptance to publication is about five to six weeks. New submissions are being published in one to two weeks. That’s literally unheard of,” said Dhand. For researchers racing to develop vaccines as the coronavirus death toll mounts, faster, well-curated scholarship means more lives saved.
  6. Transformation is evolutionary. Carl Robinson, Senior Director of Publisher Solutions for Copyright Clearance Center, offers that data is only part of the answer. “There is a partner to data, which is agility,” Robinson said. “Together, data and agility can help you become more resilient and much more able to pivot in a crisis. I’ve never come across a publisher who is suddenly transformed. It’s more about one day realizing that we’re not the same company we used to be.”

The Future of Transformation

In a post-pandemic world, there is room for using multiple modalities that may lead to successful outcomes. More than data is needed to be able to pivot during a crisis.

  1. The crisis has opened access for more sources, fostered collaboration and opened markets to new users of content.
  2. Speed to market of content may continue as processes are fine-tuned, or automated.
  3. AI will remain a tool that publishers may use to make editorial and marketing decisions, even when people return to buying print books. The ability to better predict press runs will help sell more of the types of books that people want to read.
  4. Organizations already going through digital transformation and sharing resources will accelerate their transformation via new discoveries brought on by collaboration.
  5. Smaller publishers exposed to the current digital transformation will be able to find partners — or to craft other low-cost ways — to advance their own digital evolution.
  6. Data alone is not a magic bullet. “It’s all about people, process and technology,” Robinson said.


Open access, the speed at which information is being curated and delivered, collaboration among competitors and the quantum growth of AI offer insights into how the publishing industry will continue to develop. Not all these changes, or every single best practice, will remain in place post-pandemic. While data and technology have shown us some of the ways we can be resilient during a crisis, the future is about having the desire to learn, the willingness to change, and the mindset to take forward those things that are serving us well now.


Author: Christopher Kenneally

Christopher Kenneally hosts CCC's Velocity of Content podcast series, which debuted in 2006 and is the longest continuously running podcast covering the publishing industry. As CCC's Senior Director, Marketing, he is responsible for organizing and hosting programs that address the business needs of all stakeholders in publishing and research. His reporting has appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, The Independent (London), WBUR-FM, NPR, and WGBH-TV.
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