“The control of digital infrastructure has been a vital point of anxiety for academic libraries and scholarly publishers alike. Infrastructure benefits strongly from scale and requires regular reinvestment in order to remain useful and competitive. Some kinds of infrastructure can be maintained by an independent not-for-profit, as is the case with CrossRef and ORCID. Other kinds of infrastructure, such as several of the major hosting platforms, appear to benefit from the kinds of access to capital that the commercial marketplace enables. Last week’s news that a private equity firm, Thompson Street, is now the majority owner of Silverchair, provides an opportunity to reflect on some of the directions we can expect to see for publishing infrastructure….
Many in our community are deeply familiar with content platforms that are utilized by scholarly publishers to provide publishing workflows leading up to and including access to their publications. It could be that one day publishers will no longer each require its own platform as a result of syndication. For now however, only the largest of publishers maintain their own platform infrastructure, while the vast majority of publishers rely on one of a small set of third-party platform vendors. Of these, Silverchair is a leading provider, not only for journals but also for reference materials and books. It works with over 400 publishers, including not-for-profit publishers like scholarly societies and university presses, as well as commercial publishers….
The marketplace for publishing infrastructure and in particular for hosting platforms is fairly mature and has seen substantial changes in market share in recent years. Atypon was purchased by Wiley in 2016 for $120 million as part of its effort to expand its offerings to societies. PubFactory was acquired by Sheridan in 2017. HighWire, which first defined the category as a subsidiary of Stanford University, was purchased two years ago by MPS for $7.1 million, a shockingly small amount reflecting the trajectory of its market share. There are also open source alternatives, including Janeway and OJS, which are used widely including through a number of hosting services, but which do not yet seem to have substantially impacted the market share of the commercial infrastructure providers. The terms of Silverchair’s investment, including its current valuation, are not being publicly disclosed, but last week Schweitzer emphasized that it was sold for an “industry leading multiple.” …”