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Show HN: Scholastica, Academic Journal Publishing Platform & Scholarly Community
50 points by robertwalsh0 1737 days ago | hide | past | web | 20 comments | favorite
We’re a startup called Scholastica(http://bit.ly/rSYdfa), an academic journal publishing platform and scholarly community. We applied to Y-Combinator Spring 2011, PG actually wrote us to ask us some further questions, but unfortunately didn’t get in. With that said, we didn’t give up and have an application with some traction. We’re completely bootstrapped and would love for you guys to check us out and hear your thoughts.

Problem:Academics spend their time doing research, then have other scholars peer-review this research at an academic journal, then journals hand over the articles they choose to publish to a publishing house. The publishing house then sells this content back to university libraries at ridiculous prices. It’s been this way for decades and scholars are finally complaining about it in the press. For more, see the ‘further reading’ section at the end of this post.

Solution: Scholastica is designed to give publishing power back to scholars. With Scholastica, scholars can create peer reviewed journals, find reviewers, incentivize them to give quality and on time reviews, and ultimately publish the work online without the need for large publishing companies that are holding university libraries hostage (65% of a university library’s budget goes toward buying journals). Also, in the real world, academics build status by discussing knowledge. As a result of this, Scholastica has a section of the application called The Conversation (http://bit.ly/rADIay), where in a way similar to a StackExchange or Quora, academics can dissect and share knowledge amongst themselves. Journals can then identify promising peer-reviewers in a fashion that was impossible to do before. Now, instead of becoming a reviewer by knowing the right people, it’s easier to be asked based on the status earned from the ideas shared among one’s peers.

Spread the Word: We think we have something really important and special here. Of course, any startup would say that. We feel like we’re solving a legitimate real world problem. Maybe PG would say that we're avoiding Schlep Blindness. Academia is notorious for being slow to adopt disruptive technologies. CourseKit is dealing with something similar. We’d love for the HN community to spread the word if you guys and gals think that we’re doing something valuable.

Further Reading: • Bjorn Brembs – What’s wrong with scholarly publishing today? II http://slidesha.re/w4u3b5

• George Monbiot – Academic publishers make Murdoch look like a socialist http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/aug/29/academic-publishers-murdoch-socialist

• The Economist: Of goats and headaches – One of the best media businesses is also one of the most resented http://www.economist.com/node/18744177

• Open access and academic journals: the publishers respond http://theconversation.edu.au/open-access-and-academic-journals-the-publishers-respond-2804

• George Monbiot- The Lairds of Learning http://www.monbiot.com/2011/08/29/the-lairds-of-learning/

• Locked in the Ivory Tower: Why JSTOR Imprisons Academic Research http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/01/locked-in-the-ivory-tower-why-jstor-imprisons-academic-research/251649/

This is well intentioned but possibly aimed at the wrong target - the publishing part is not where things are locked down in scientific publishing, it's the indexing part.

Roughly, as I understand it, a researcher's annual performance review is based on the number of papers accepted by the "right" journals, and in turn what determines the "right" journals is their standing with the big science citation indexes such as ISI and Scopus.

It sounds like you saying the indexing services are the problem? I don't think that's the case. The citation indices can give you a rough idea of a journal's clout within their field based on how frequently their articles are cited. That's (at least arguably) a reasonable way of measuring prestige. Obviously, authors want to be published in the top journals in their field, which also makes sense. We're not specifically trying to disrupt any of these practices.

If you aren't specifically trying to disrupt that, then what ARE you trying to disrupt? Authors are still going to target prestigious journals first and work their way down if they can't get into the top.

OK. Let's just say that as a potential user of your product, I have a relatively good idea of what's wrong with academic publishing in my field and of how I'd like the world to look once these problems are solved.

Given my specific issues, he citation indices are a bigger concern to me than the publishing portion. If you can address my concerns I'll probably end up using your product. It looks interesting enough that I'll probably give it a test drive anyway.

I'll try contacting you off-HN if you're easy to find.

I don't think it's the wrong target. Being a chief editor has a certain prestige, and many prominent scientists start their own journals (usually in specialized areas that are not crowded). Of course, the whole point is to give a better alternative to editors and scientists, "and they will come". Impact factors will follow, it's not like NPG and Elsevier have a lock in them.

Right. Impact factors are a pretty objective metric. While the journals covered in a citation index are a matter of editorial discretion, that's not really where the problem is. For example, the Web of Science sold by ThomsonReuters indexes many high impact journals that are published by its competitor Elsevier. If a journal consistently gets lots of citations, all the major citation indexes will include it, no matter if its open access, or published by a competitor's company. If they neglected to, their citation products would become useless and the company would lose subscribers to the indexes that did a better job.

Would it be possible to disrupt a citation index though? Surely they have access to a huge number of journals and a certain standing themselves...

notable efforts to do so include Google Scholar and CiteSeer

Clickable, non-obfuscated link: http://www.scholasticahq.com/

The website looks really nice. If I was the editor for a journal, I would consider trying this out.

There have been a few "change academia" type websites on Hacker News before, each with a slightly different twist (like http://science.io). It would be great if they combined forces to make something comprehensive for journal publishing, paper reviewing, paper commenting, etc.

PS: I encountered one bug where one of the lightbox came up with the same content as the original window. So I was looking at a window inside a window...

Any chance that you might open source the software and provide a hosting solution instead? Are there other such OSS platforms?

We're not currently planning to open source the platform. But we are encouraging (though not forcing) journals to provide open access to their content. At the moment, our goal is to provide journal editors with a quality tool. We'll be thinking more about open access as we continue to add publishing functionality.

As for open source solutions, there is OJS (http://pkp.sfu.ca/?q=ojs). It's heart is in the right place, but it's an unfortunately clumsy product that lacks many of important features we're looking to add.

What do you think of the current SOPA-like "Research Works Act" bill being shuttled through Congress?

http://publishing.umich.edu/2012/01/05/more-legislative/ http://www.opencongress.org/contact_congress_letters/24541-H...

We've been discussing HR3699 on Scholastica: http://scholasticahq.com/conversation/questions/hr3699-and-t...

At the risk of being reductive, I generally believe publicly funded research ought to be publicly available (or at least available at a price that's reasonable for the average person).

How are you going to distinguish your service from a free open source solution like Annotum/WordPress?

Scholastica is focused on improving peer review and publishing for scholarly journals. Annotum is also improving the process of scholarly publishing, but more focused on collaboratively authoring material while we support the publishing process of both traditional and open access journals. We also differ in that we aim to:

• Improve the scholarly publishing process for all involved by improving usability

• Eliminate the need to install software on your own server

• Automatic data backups to which also lessens the need for IT Staff

• Not focus solely on the sciences

• Give reviewers better incentives and public recognition for being good reviewers

• Create a global pool of reviewers across a variety of disciplines

• Give scholars a place regardless of discipline where they can share ideas

I encourage you to take the tour on our website (http://www.scholasticahq.com/tour) to see more of these differences for yourself.

What's a possible monetization strategy here? Am I missing something?

We have two related strategies:

1) Charge a small submission fee (still pinning down the number). Journals will have the option of paying that fee directly or passing the fee along to the authors who submit the articles. If the journals choose to charge the author, they will keep a portion of that fee.

2) Give journal editors the option to charge for their content. Individual journals may set the price or charge nothing. If they charge, Scholastica will take a small, very reasonable cut.

Regardless of where we end up, we definitely want to monetize it in a way that doesn't place unnecessary strain on library budgets and allows everyone to access the content at a reasonable price.

Just giving you some feedback from someone working in a (virology) research lab so I'd say I have a fair idea of what academia is like.

My biggest question is, how do you plan on gaining traction to bring in credible editors that can actually challenge journals that have been around for decades in their respective fields? I would imagine that it is going to be very hard to change the mind of the more resistant peoples in academia (i.e. the older crowd that has been using the same journals their entire career) who actually control the money. How do you plan on attracting credible reviewers to review the submitted articles?

In regards to your proposed pricing, isn't the entire idea for disruption of academic publishing to get rid of having to pay for articles?

That last sentence makes you a social startup, nothing wrong with that, but harder to get funding.

Consider your angles on this one. You potentially have a very wealthy, untapped, market ;)

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