Scholarly publishers continue to place an unwarranted amount of hope for the future in products that nobody wants (journal re/e-prints), nobody reads (scholarly monographs, edited anthologies, and major reference works), and nobody trusts (sponsored supplements).
The time has long since passed when it was still possible to sell three quarters of a million paper copies of a journal reprint to a single pharma company whose legions of sales reps would work in hunt groups, raining down half a dozen copies upon each healthcare practitioner in the United States in the hope that at least one of them may serve as a mug coaster on its way into the wastepaper basket.
The reprint has not transitioned well from paper to print. If anything, it is even easier to delete a PDF than it is to throw away a reprint, and controlling the paid-for distribution of eprints whilst not restricting access has proven to be a headache.
In the read-write Web 2.0 world of scientific communications, the book, whether printed or digital, is no longer fit for purpose. During the decade that I traversed the world attending professional medical conferences, I saw those who purchased print books from the stands that I manned get ten years older and greyer. Those under 35 would politely inquire whether a digital version was available, or latterly whether they could read it on their iPhone, and on learning that they could not, promptly turned on their heel.
Effective or not, both of these products looked thoroughly respectable compared to the sponsored supplement. The Lancet‘s disdainful dismissal of the sponsored supplement in a recent editorial is only the most recent salvo fired in the direction of a publication vehicle that is held in ever-lower esteem, and for good reason. In a world where communications are based on authenticity, transparency and trust, the sponsored supplement’s ‘advertorial’ format is the antithesis of what most former sponsors are now trying to achieve in their communications.
Entities such as ISMPP are fighting a losing battle in trying to convince those who are not directly involved in the publication planning process that ghost writing doesn’t happen, that their activities aren’t designed to look like traditional academic work, but perform largely to market products, or that the entire enterprise isn’t tainted by association with other equally dubious scholarly publishing practices.
I think the sponsored supplement is a dead letter. Do you?