We share the results from our survey on academic publishing platforms and reflect on the community’s views and needs.

By Maël Plaine, Product Manager, eLife

eLife is developing Libero Publisher, an open-source platform for the academic publishing community. As part of the research our product team has done to help align Libero Publisher with our needs for the platforms we use to host journal content, eLife carried out a survey in 2019.


This survey was the second phase of a landscape analysis that started with qualitative research. During this first phase, we conducted semi-structured interviews with organisations of various sizes and types to better discern what technology is used by the industry and why. Our goal was to understand who the potential Libero Publisher users are and what are the strengths and weaknesses of existing solutions on the market. Inspired by the Jobs-to-be-done framework for conducting product research, we also tried to uncover what underlying motivations are leading organisations to transition to new platforms.

This activity helped us to assemble a list of key factors – or needs – influencing the decision to switch. Although this research was rich in insights, we felt that a quantitative approach was needed to try and validate them and to get a more accurate picture of the needs of each user segment.

Understanding the market is key to product development

Building a new product, and encouraging the growth of a community around it, is a challenging adventure. The success rate of new software isn’t very high, and the creation of new open-source software presents additional challenges. As the product is built, we also have to develop a user base that finds value in the product.

The academic publishing platform market is largely represented by a few well-established products. Whilst some users shared their frustrations with us during the interviews, others are mostly satisfied with their current solution, and motivating them to transition to a new platform would require a significant incentive.

A successful product is a product that gets its product-market fit right

Studies have been conducted on the success and failure of new products or services, whether they’re backed by startups or well-established companies. Successful launches have one important characteristic in common: the product is perfect for the market it is targeting.

Understanding the market ecosystem and the users’ needs is key to finding out where there is room for a new product and, for us, that understanding means giving Libero Publisher the best chance of success. Another goal behind this analysis is our ambition to help the open-source community and our collaborators understand where there is potential for growth, and how they can help the academic publishing community innovate and thrive.

Survey results

The respondents
Almost half of the 221 respondents publish less than 2,000 articles a year. A large portion are based in North America and Western Europe. They are from various types of organisations (e.g. publishers, societies, libraries, university presses). While fairly small, this sample offers a sense of the diverse perspectives across academic content providers.

World map with response rates

World map with response rates

Publication volumes

Publication volumes

Respondents’ roles

Respondents’ roles Respondents’ roles

Chart representing types of organisation surveyed

Chart representing types of organisation surveyed

Please note that respondents were allowed to select multiple types of publisher. Download the full dataset

Key insights

To identify needs that most concern users and are the most underserved, we asked questions about the importance of, and participants’ satisfaction with, the needs collected during the qualitative research so that we could perform an “importance-performance analysis” of the competitive landscape.

We have grouped the needs around six areas of concern. The areas that received most answers are “Workflow” and “System”, but the volume of feedback varies from one type of organisation to another. For example, the “Mission & vision” area of concern received more responses from library-based publishers than other segments.

Graph with responses per area of concern

The difference between the importance and satisfaction scores allows us to sort the needs from overserved to underserved. The overall results suggest a strong desire for improved “technology operations” and “implementation & support”. The list below describes all the needs and areas of concerns.

List of needs with the difference between their respective importance and satisfaction scores

Graph importance / satisfaction

Looking at the results using different segmentation lenses (organisation types, annual volume, current platform technology) provides a more nuanced picture of the landscape.

For example, “reporting capabilities” appears to be a significant unmet need for the university presses and smaller publishers, while a solution “based on open standards” is the most concerning need for the librairies with a publishing programme. Societies with publishing programmes and organisations using their own in-house built technology have a desire for more “up-to-date technology”.

Large publishers and organisations using third-party solutions crave “smooth data migrations”, the “swift handling of feature requests” and “vendors more willing to do changes on their platforms”. The smaller segments of large non-profit publishers and organisations operating scholarly content platforms, such as preprint servers and journal aggregators, seem to be frustrated by the lack of transparency on technology pricing.

What does this mean for Libero Publisher?

We benchmarked Libero Publisher against the survey results, and it has helped us identify which key needs it will be well suited for in its initial platform releases, and which will become a focus in the ensuing product roadmap.

Based on that information, we have established that the following segments of potential customers are most likely to benefit from Libero Publisher as early adopters:

  • Smaller publishers, particularly the ones using older in-house technology, who need a more modern solution
  • Non-profit organisations, who are interested in ease of maintenance and transparent pricing
  • Libraries with publishing programs, because of eLife’s alignment with their values

What’s next for Libero?

No survey or research method is perfect, and this one too of course has its limitations. However, the survey has helped confirm our understanding of the academic publishing landscape whilst adding more detail and granularity. The results of this survey, and many of the subsequent insights, have been influential in helping us validate and refine the Libero product roadmap. As a result, we are now more informed and confident about our Libero Publisher product strategy.

We’re also optimistic about the opportunities highlighted in the survey, and how open-source solutions supported by a network of service providers could address user needs for more flexibility and customisation.

We would like to thank TBI Communications for their help designing the survey.

We have made available to the public all the questions used in the survey as well as all the answers in an Excel-friendly format.

🔗 Google Doc file questions

🔗 Spreadsheet with all the answers

A better way to publish is here.

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