#FoundersFriday with Brian Cody from Scholastica
#FoundersFriday provides a platform for our interviewees to discuss their entrepreneurial journey and their perspective on the science and tech industry as a whole. Our aim is to encourage our readers to pursue their entrepreneurial goals by learning from those who have grown their ideas into fully functioning businesses.
For this edition, we have interviewed Brian Cody, co-founder and CEO of Scholastica, an online platform for managing academic journals.
What is Scholastica?
We provide editors at scholarly journals with a modern and affordable system to streamline peer review, publish open access research articles, or both. Our mission is to make trusted scientific knowledge available more quickly and at an affordable price. Currently, over 550 of the top academic journals use our platform.
Who are your main customers?
We gained some early traction with legal journals so all the top law reviews use Scholastica, but our customer base is widely spread across humanities, social sciences, and STEM journals. Over the last year or so, more journals have begun using Scholastica for open access publishing in addition to peer review – I’m really thrilled to be helping journals make research more accessible! We have some great partners including Discrete Analysis, which also uses our arXiv overlay publishing integration.
What were you doing before creating Scholastica?
I was doing doctoral work in sociology at UChicago and working towards a career in academia. I loved collaborating with other people in my program, and I especially enjoyed working on projects involving code (I’m a self-taught programmer), so the idea of building a technology platform to make scientific articles available more quickly and affordably was really attractive. As the idea simmered, I began spending evenings building out the software that would become Scholastica with co-founders Rob Walsh and Cory Schires. We saw we were working on something that the academic community really needed, so in early 2013 I took the leap to leave my PhD program and we started working on Scholastica full time.
What problems exist in the publishing process? How does Scholastica solve these problems?
I think about Scholastica as fitting a market need on the one hand, and working to improve scholarship on the other.
Imagine if there was a Midwest Urban Studies Association – they’d have an academic conference each year, hold events, and publish a journal or two. They’d rely on volunteer editors and expert reviewers to peer review articles, and they’d have a small staff so they’d outsource copyediting, layout (making an article into a PDF), posting the article online in multiple formats (HTML, XML, PDF), marketing, and managing a paid or open access funding model.
This leads to the market need: there’s not a good option for journals like this. It takes a LOT of time to publish a journal, and historically there hasn’t been an easy way for small teams to do it themselves, so journals end up signing expensive service contracts with large publishers and having to use very expensive enterprise software that isn’t the right fit for their needs. This has been a major factor in driving up the price of scholarship (which we talk about in our recent white paper, Democratizing Academic Journals: Technology, Services, and Open Access).
To fill that market need, Scholastica provides software that enables academic journals to manage peer review more efficiently and publish Open Access content quickly and affordably without needing to outsource to a corporate publisher. This dovetails into improving scholarship: research can take years to be published and the cost goes up each year, especially for journals with high-profit margin publisher contracts. Tools like Scholastica can help journal publish great research articles faster and at a lower cost, which is good for journals and for society.
Can you see the technologies you are creating at Scholastica being applied to other industries within the publishing sphere?
This is a pretty common question I get. I’ve been asked about our software being applied to other peer review processes (grants, RFPs, etc.) or the publishing world outside of research (books, magazines, etc.), and my answer is always “Scholastica could be relevant to those industries – but we’re focused on the huge academic journal space”. It’s a $10+ billion space, just looking at the English-language journals, so I’m keen to improve this space before looking at other industries.
As the founder of a business, what are you most proud of? What advice would you give those who have an idea but don’t know how to develop it?
I’m proud that Scholastica’s success is tied to a social good. If we’re successful as a company, it’s because our product is helping journals publish more content freely or less expensively, which decreases the drain of money from universities to the existing big publishers like Elsevier. I don’t take this harmony for granted – there are lots of businesses where they really have to stretch to point to any social good coming from what they do, and I’m glad I don’t have that problem.
Where do you see Scholastica in five years? Do you see open access playing a part in its growth and development?
Scholastica’s future is definitely tied to open access – we want to help make research available more quickly and affordably, which aligns with the mission of the open access movement. I firmly believe open access is where the industry is moving, but to me what’s to be determined is how open access journals will primarily be funded. Open access means free to read but not free to produce, and I’m wary of the trend toward $2000, $3000, $4000+ fees that authors or their schools are expected to pay to support open access content. I think the trick to reducing the cost of scholarship is going to be showing journals that there’s a cost-effective and headache-free way to achieve their mission. That’s what Scholastica is all about.