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“Who owns Digital Science” – That is the Question…

8th November 2017
 | Daniel Hook

Last week the Scholarly Kitchen featured a provocative article titled, “Who owns Digital Science?” posted by Roger Schonfeld, a regular chef on the Scholarly Kitchen and Director of the Library and Scholarly Communication Program for Ithaka S+R.

The post opens with a clarification from Roger who notes, “At the most basic level, the answer is entirely straightforward. Holtzbrinck owns Digital Science. This is not in dispute.” He continues to explain the only change related to this ownership in the past seven years: “Digital Science was part of the Nature Publishing Group prior to the latter’s merger with Springer.” It was during this time that “Digital Science was separated from Springer-Nature.”

From the outset, it is worth noting that Digital Science was not the only Holtzbrinck company to be excluded from the Springer Nature merger. Holtzbrinck is a large, privately-held, multinational media conglomerate and has interests in technology, media, health and education as well as other business interests globally.  However, the post goes on to formulate a series of speculations on the future of Digital Science.  I think that it’s helpful at this point to clarify the situation from a Digital Science and Holtzbrinck perspective.

I understand why Roger raised the points that he did – we take this topic very seriously at Digital Science as it speaks to the company that we are and the company that we want to be. Roger’s central assertion of the piece is that Springer Nature will look to acquire Digital Science.  There have been a number of statements over the last two years in the media, regarding the future of Digital Science and Springer Nature. I would like to state for public record that there are no plans and that there is no intent for Digital Science or its portfolio to be merged with or acquired by any of the other entities in Holtzbrinck. This includes Springer Nature.  Furthermore, Digital Science is not looking for any suitor outside Holtzbrinck.

Since taking on the leadership of Digital Science in 2015, all my discussions with colleagues at Holtzbrinck have made it clear that there is a firm intent that Digital Science should remain an independent entity. There are many facets as to why independence is important to Digital Science, and it is therefore helpful in this context to state a few of these:

  • Our independence allows us to pursue the best ideas and investments – even when they compete directly with other parts of Holtzbrinck.  That’s simply part of how Digital Science was set up in the first place.
  • As Digital Science serves a broad range of global stakeholders including governments, funders, non-governmental organisations, research institutions, industry, researchers and publishers, we believe that our independence is at the core of these many successful relationships.
  • Digital Science is not a monolithic company. It was started to find, create, nurture and support innovative companies and people, to solve specific challenges of the research process. The Digital Science strategy is not to ‘integrate’ and to make a corporate “Digital Science” from the companies in our portfolio, but rather to create a supportive environment where companies retain their identity and freedom, and importantly, where founders choose to stay for the long term.
  • Our neutral position has allowed us to comment on and support a broad range of topics that are relevant to all the stakeholders in research such as open research, collaboration, unique identifiers, safety and enhancement of reproducibility.
  • Finally, we were founded to create tools that support the broader research ecosystem – the very nature of that aim tends to preclude being too closely affiliated with any particular stakeholder be that government, funder, institution or publisher.

All this is why we believe, and Holtzbrinck believes, that our continued independence is the best way to have the biggest impact in supporting research, researchers, publishers, funders and research institutions around the world.

Want to know more about Digital Science and our future plans? I will be talking to Roger Schonfeld on the Scholarly Kitchen Blog in more detail, so stay tuned.