Over the past several years, Ithaka S+R has conducted several major studies on the scholarly publishing landscape during a time of rapid technological change. There is no better example of how rapid and radical this pace is than generative AI tools, which have moved from the margins to a focal point of scholarly publishing in little more than one year.

Last spring, we conducted interviews with publishers, librarians, advocates, analysts, funders, and policymakers as the horizons of possibility and risk posed by generative AI were becoming apparent. We published our findings, The Second Digital Transformation of Scholarly Publishing, earlier this year.

In the intervening months, the reach of generative AI across the life cycle of scholarly publishing has grown dramatically. Enhanced discovery tools are providing more efficient ways of tailoring search and synthesizing entire bodies of literature for researchers and readers. Meanwhile, back-end tools to automate aspects of peer review, facilitate article submission, and identify research misconduct are either already in use or at the top of product development pipelines. As the product landscape begins to mature, and as researchers’ use cases become more discernible, we have data to support deeper reflection on how generative AI will affect scholarly communication and publication practices that did not exist at this time last year.

Rapidly changing user needs and expectations, the potential of generative AI to mitigate stubborn systemic challenges in the scholarly publishing industry, and an awareness of the risks generative AI poses to expert knowledge demand that we find time for deep reflection about what generative AI means for scholarly publishing as a sector and its value as a component of the shared infrastructure that supports scholarly and scientific research and communications.

To help, Ithaka S+R is launching a new study of the strategic implications of generative AI for scholarly publishing, with support from STM Solutions and a group of its members. The following key questions will guide our inquiry:

  • Will generative AI be integrated into the existing goals, processes, and infrastructures for scholarly publishing? Or, does this represent a transformative technology that will require fundamental restructuring of those goals, processes, and infrastructures?
  • Could generative AI effectively render our current assumptions about the role and purpose of publishers obsolete? What new roles could publishers play in a radically transformed information environment?
  • Which potential transformations should publishers encourage, and which risks require immediate coordinated responses while the technology is still taking root in the sector?
  • What new kinds of shared technical and/or social infrastructure are needed to support the ethical adoption of generative AI in support of the goals of scholarship and scholarly publishing? What systems and structures will be necessary to balance the needs of authors, readers, rights holders, publishers, and aggregators?

What comes next?

Ithaka S+R will conduct interviews with decision makers from the publishing sector, and others with subject expertise, on generative AI’s opportunities and risks. Findings from our research will be shared through an issue brief and a public webinar this summer. This project is part of a suite of inquiries that we are conducting exploring the impacts of generative AI on research and scholarly communication practices.

For more information, please contact Tracy Bergstrom (tracy.bergstrom@ithaka.org) or Dylan Ruediger (dylan.ruediger@ithaka.org).