2020 in Review: A strong start for Frontiers’ Society journal partnerships

For more than 10 years, Frontiers has been a pioneer in Open Science. Since July 2019, our publishing platform has been welcoming Society journals into the Frontiers family so they too can make use of our technology and flexibility, as well as our expertise in the open science space.

The aim of Frontiers’ partnership program is two-fold. Firstly, aligning to our company mission, to make scientific research openly and freely available to people all over the world. Secondly, it enables Society journals, who publish world leading academic research across multiple fields, to catapult their operations into a 21st-century environment. Operating on a platform which uses best-in-class technology future proofs both their operations and the scientific research they publish.

Over the course of 2020, Frontiers has officially welcomed several Society journals to the partnership family. As we head toward the concluding weeks of 2020 of particular note is the onboarding of a second journal from the Swiss School of Public Health, Public Health Reviews, which is transferring from BMC to Frontiers. This takes the number of Society journals partnering with Frontiers to four this year:

Fred Fenter, executive editor of Frontiers, together with publishing partnerships manager Robyn Mugridge have been leading the partnership program.  Below, they offer some perspective on the year passed.

Society journals are one of the core pillars of the publishing landscape and central to Frontiers’ mission of ensuring that all scientific articles become openly accessible, says Fred.

“Naturally, our partnering program sits under the auspices of our broader mission – to help enable innovation, health and prosperity. In this case, we do this by offering Societies a way out of the subscription model and the paywall, putting their authors and research first with an open-access Journal. We have been one of the trailblazers of open science for over a decade now and that mission remains the same, to enable healthy lives on a healthy planet. Partnering with Society journals plays a key role in that.”

“Welcoming onboard a second journal from the Swiss School of Public Health was a great ending to the last 12 months of activity in our partnership program. Much to Robyn’s credit, each time a Society joins Frontiers, it sends a very strong signal about the deep vetting and level of confidence they have in our organization and our capabilities.”

Robyn, who joined Frontiers in 2017, explains that while many Society journals want to transition to Open Access, they are not always necessarily in a position to do so – which is where Frontiers comes in.

“Even when Society journals want to make the change to open access, they often face a number of barriers to entry, such as longstanding commercial contracts or a lack of flexibility more generally. To make all science open, that is the challenge we have successfully sought to address; enabling change for Society journals through technology, financial sustainability, and community building – the three core pillars of our publishing partnership model.”

“We also offer Societies a partnership in the truest sense. Our model is incredibly transparent and robust, and we work together to achieve their vision without conditions or influence over the direction of their strategy. We pride ourselves on what we can offer in terms of guidance and support and the value we offer.”

Technology is central to Frontiers’ operating model. Inherently, Societies are offered flexibility to make the platform suit their requirements, rather than having to bend their requirements around what the platform offers. This is down to Frontiers’ technology, as Fred explains:

“We are the recognized leader in Open Access technology and that technology helps to set us apart from other publishers in this space, even those in the open access community who share our vision. If you take AIRA for example, our artificial intelligence review assistant which was recently talked about in The New York Times, nothing else on the market comes close to that level of sophistication. Our platform is what a publishing platform should look like in the 21st century. A lot has changed in the publishing space in a very short period, and part of our role as a publisher is it to make sure that scientific research keeps up.”

“Perhaps another defining characteristic of our service that appeals to Society journals is anything published in line with our standards is automatically future proofed. The content becomes machine readable, reusable, and ready for text and data mining as soon as it goes live.  Every aspect of our platform is based on state-of-the-art technology.  If you look at what other publishers offer, the coding itself is up to 20 years old and hasn’t advanced much since then.”

One of the biggest considerations any organization faces when considering any big change is how it will happen on a practical level. What risks are there? How long will it take? When will our operations start to feel like business as usual again?

Maggie Simmons, director of publishing at the Geological Society of London, said of their decision to work with Frontiers: “We chose Frontiers for their OA expertise, systems and flexibility – all of which are being delivered upon. Moreover, we are particularly enjoying working with their friendly and creative team.”

As Robyn explains, Frontiers’ approach is to keep things simple, to make sure the transition is as smooth as possible and built to suit a Journal’s precise requirements.

“We work with our partners to make the transition as seamless as possible as we appreciate the magnitude of a decision like this. Typically, a transition would take around six months, but there is scope to reduce this if a partner were to require a shorter timescale. Adaptability and flexibility have been central to bringing on our new partners throughout this year.”

If a Society is already working with an incumbent publisher but has decided to leave them and join with Frontiers, we will work directly with that publisher to handle all the transition work directly, alleviating much of the burden. Societies can expect, for example, us to onboard all their editors and train them, and that we will support them in commissioning articles and special issues, while supporting them through marketing and communications. We also adhere to and publicly endorse the NISO transfer guideline standards.”

We are thrilled with the success of our partnerships program this year and looking forward to 2021 where we hope to support even more Societies in their journey to Open Access. We would like to expand our partnerships program in Europe, to support Societies that have found challenges in complying with Plan S regulations. Our sights aren’t just limited to Europe, ultimately our goal is to make all science open, so in 2021 we will be expanding to offer much-needed support to Societies in the USA, Asia and elsewhere across the globe.