Scientists worldwide are continuing to contribute to a rapidly growing repository of knowledge in efforts to combat COVID-19. In support of the rapid dissemination of relevant literature, many major publishers have already unlocked paywalls on papers relating to the novel coronavirus. However, one of the biggest questions in the academic publishing industry at the moment is whether the current trends in publishing will continue once the global emergency has ended.
Academic publishing has seen some extraordinary shifts during the COVID-19 crisis, and many of these are due to the hard work of researchers themselves. For example, one initiative involves a collective of volunteer reviewers offering rapid reviews. It has been verified that publishers have indeed managed to speed up their publishing process in order to get COVID-19 related articles in print sooner. However, as amazingly effective as these practices are, improvements to the efficiency of the current system may not last once the emergency situation has ended.
Other practices, however, may see continued or expanded use in the future. Preprint servers for biomedical papers, such as medRxiv and bioRxiv, have seen more activity than ever before, and communities which have embraced preprinting may continue to do so. Additionally, an initiative was launched to curate COVID-19 related preprint papers, showing that peer review is possible outside of the framework of standard publishing. Outside of preprinting, it appears that open access journals are becoming more popular as well; economic analyses show that the revenue of open access journals is growing, as is the number of open access articles.
It is worthwhile to note that the support for open access is not new. As discussed in a previous Editorial Snapshot, in September 2018, an ambitious initiative known as Plan S was announced, requiring researchers only to publish with open access journals. While delays have pushed back the launch of Plan S, it seems that out of necessity, more and more forms of open access are being explored, albeit many of these measures being temporary. The current COVID-19 emergency has brought open access publishing to the forefront of discussions amongst policymakers, funding providers, and researchers alike, but whether our current crisis will be looked back upon as a turning point in history for academic publishing remains to be seen.
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