Regular readers of News & Views know that we at Delta Think track open access journal launches as a way to monitor industry and discipline-specific trends in Open Access. There is no doubt that demand—by virtue of the proliferation of OA journals needing hosting—is increasing. But what about supply?

There are several well-established hosting platform service providers who support mixed model content portfolios (e.g., Atypon, Highwire, Ingenta, PubFactory, and Silverchair). There are also new entrants on both the commercial and not-for-profit side who have scaled their core businesses to include hosting (e.g. River Valley Technologies and SPIE).

Today, however, we’re looking at a third segment of the hosting market—platforms that have been developed specifically and exclusively for open access content. We asked three hosting platform providers —Cambridge Open Engage (from CUP), Phenom (from Hindawi Limited), and Libero (developed by eLife and supported by the Libero community)—to tell us about their evolution as an OA hosting platform and their view of the future.


Why was your platform developed? What mission-based or commercial need does it fill for your organization or for the community at large?

[CUP] Cambridge University Press’s mission is to unlock people’s potential with the best learning and research solutions, and we believe that open models and practices serve to further advance research.

Cambridge Open Engage helps us to deliver on our mission by supporting more openness across the research lifecycle, disseminating the results of research quickly and directly, while complementing the value added by the formal publishing process. The platform contributes to a more diverse open access market and gives researchers another tool to drive the impact of their work, with a variety of social sharing tools and a streamlined content upload form that doesn’t overburden the author.

Cambridge Open Engage also offers an additional service for our existing and future partners (learned societies, academic institutions, and funders) looking for new solutions to increase collaboration and support early research. Benefits include an administrator dashboard to control the moderation of their content and to provide a view into key content metrics.

[eLife] eLife’s mission is to help scientists accelerate discovery by operating a platform for research communication that encourages and recognises the most responsible behaviours in science. And what better way to further that mission than to develop an open platform for other publishers to reuse as they see fit?

The Libero publishing platform takes everything eLife has learned from operating our journal and combines it with cutting-edge user experience design and software best practices to deliver an open-source, digital-native software suite that will help research publishers around the world do more with their content. The first release from the Libero suite of products is Libero Publisher, with much more still to come. Much of the experience and functionality of Libero Publisher is demonstrated on the eLife journal website, and readers can keep up with the entire platform’s development at

Libero’s open-source license is specifically intended to encourage re-use and extensibility, letting the publishing community build on top of the platform, to advance their use cases beyond what is currently achievable through proprietary commercial platforms, and to future-proof their investment in the transition to a new technology platform by avoiding vendor lock-in. In this way we hope to encourage innovation and experimentation in research communication towards more open and optimised approaches.

[Hindawi] Hindawi has been self-hosting since we first began publishing our journals online in 2000. When we flipped our journal portfolio from subscription to Open Access in 2007, we migrated our platform alongside. We’ve always felt that managing the development of our own platform was a big advantage. It has allowed us to control our development roadmap and maintain flexibility about when and where to implement new features.

Our platform reflects our focus on Open Access principles and our emphasis on production quality. We were early supporters of linked references, open citations, ePub, OAI-PMH, ORCID, JATS4R and other movements within publishing to make research more open and reusable. With our platform, we try to retain the maximum amount of flexibility to implement new open standards quickly, while providing an excellent reading experience.


How is your platform differentiated from other available hosting options? What is your unique customer value proposition?

[CUP] Cambridge Open Engage will be more than a preprints repository and will support collaboration, interdisciplinary research and the evolution of open research and scholarly communications. The platform is being developed through a method called co-creation, where researchers and other stakeholders actively contribute to and help us prioritize the technology roadmap. The aim is to help researchers get feedback & collaborate, as well as to help our future partners experiment with new ways to support open content beyond the preprint space. We also believe that as a trusted non-commercial entity with experience in content dissemination, curation, and hosting, we can offer a technology service with a high-quality user experience supported by publishing and domain-specific marketing expertise.

The search functionality and platform as a whole has been designed in harmony with our industry-leading content platform, Cambridge Core. This means that in the future the platform will allow a user to search and discover all types of Cambridge content available that is relevant to their research (including book chapters, journal articles, and Elements) and provide a better user experience.

We were thrilled when the American Political Science Association selected us as their partner to buildAPSA Preprints and help us launch Cambridge Open Engage. Both our user panel of political scientists and the feedback we’ve received from other early adopters of the platform have spurred changes and made it a more useful tool for the day-to-day life of working researchers.

[eLife] Libero is being developed with a JATS-first, mobile-first approach to evaluating and delivering research content with a very high degree of performance on any device, but its unique selling point is in its user-centred approach to design. Libero aims to simplify many of the real-world workflows common to publishing, reducing the time and effort spent on the administration of peer review and publishing and letting its users focus on ensuring the highest standards of quality for the research being published. Additionally, Libero’s user interface design is being carefully implemented to ensure that its published content is accessible by anyone, anywhere.

[Hindawi] Hindawi wants to make it as easy as possible for authors, editors, and other publishers to choose open access. Keeping our platform lightweight and flexible helps us get new journals and platform partnerships off the ground quickly.

Hosting only OA content reduces complexity required from the hosting platform in areas of managing access and usage. This allows us to invest in other areas. We focus instead on the reader and author experience. We aim to provide an excellent online reading experience while offering multiple ways to consume our content offline. We gather feedback from our readers and try to release small improvements to the platform every few weeks.

On the backend, our platform has standard content management system features, such as allowing users to manage page contents and layouts without technical help. We also invest in automating the link between the production process and the platform. This allows us to convert content between formats easily, ensure quality control, and publish content online faster.


Where do you see the OA publishing market going? How will your platform grow and adapt to meet this future?

[CUP] My view is that the open access market will grow in both size and complexity, developing a more direct relationship to the steady increase in international and interdisciplinary collaboration. Preprint servers will expand to both integrate with and disrupt formal publication, spurring the means and methods for peer review and the role of the journal to evolve further.

As informal collaboration activities become increasingly formalized, our platform, developed alongside researchers, will provide fit-for-purpose tools to enable this transition. We will grow to include more key partners—societies, academic departments, and funders—and provide unique features to support collaboration from conferences through to formal publication.

[eLife] One of the biggest challenges in developing a platform for OA publishing is addressing the publishing industry’s diverse approaches to workflows and content formats along with the flux shaking up the OA space as a result of initiatives like Plan S. We’re building Libero as a flexible set of tools that does not mandate one specific “right” way of doing publishing, but rather enables researchers and publishing professionals to do their jobs in an efficient and effective manner with a minimum amount of friction. We’re confident that the inherent flexibility afforded by this “permissive design” strategy, coupled with Libero’s open-source and extensible nature, will allow Libero to move with the times as the publishing landscape evolves.

[Hindawi] We believe that publishing will move away from monolithic subscription collections. At Hindawi, we want to avoid all barriers to reuse and support flexible content consumption patterns as they emerge. We are moving from closed, proprietary systems to community-built, open source systems. This can be expensive: when we develop features, we can’t always develop the simplest solution for our needs. We have to think about how to make each feature interoperable and reusable. We seek feedback on our roadmap from a broader group of stakeholders, which helps us work on the right problems.

We are currently reimplementing the data-layer on our platform to power more robust analytics. Having a clear picture of how readers are interacting with the website will help us understand what our readers want and how their needs are changing. We are also implementing open APIs to make our content more accessible.

Building momentum in open source projects is difficult, but we also feel that making our code open and reusable can help jumpstart other platform development projects. As long as more platforms move towards a shared set of open standards, the research community as a whole will benefit.


Our View

The organizations discussed above, as well as others not covered in this installment, developed their platforms to both meet their own needs and provide services to the greater community. These are not classic vendors—they are organizations actively looking for thought partners to develop their offerings over time. In addition to promoting Open Access, their goal is to service an increasing proportion of the publishing workflow (the aspiration of many in this space).

While only articulated by eLife above, lock-in has historically been a concern of organizations seeking a publishing platform. Additionally, and something Delta Think has heard in many Request for Proposal (RFP) processes, is the concern that an independent platform today can be the arm of a large commercial publisher tomorrow. While we will not debate the pros and cons of commercial consolidation, we must acknowledge that Society publishers often voice this concern. Will this give smaller not-for-profits an edge in securing partners? It’s hard to say.

One thing is certain: this is a competitive market where cooperation is evident, even critical, in order to meet the communal goals of reducing publishing costs while improving stakeholder value. For example, eLife’s Libero and Hindawi Publishing both deposit and share code as part of an open source community (Collaborative Knowledge Foundation). They and others want to learn from each other and avoid “reinventing wheels”—those features and functions that are required for a competitive platform but are not competitive differentiators.

Finding the right technology partner in the evolving publishing landscape can be a distinct challenge. Societies with open access publications—or those thinking of transitioning existing portfolios—may be wise to consider including those platforms and partnerships designed with collaboration in mind when evaluating their options.



With many thanks to our respondents:

Andrew Smeall, Chief Product Officer and Fani Kelesidou, Marketing Communications Manager, Hindawi Limited

Giuliano Maciocci, Head of Product and UX, Paul Shannon, Head of Technology and Mark Patterson, Executive Director, eLife

Brigitte Shull, Director, Scholarly Communications Research & Development, Cambridge University Press