Open Access Lab


Emerald Group Publishing


Emerald Group Publishing is an independent academic global publisher stemming from the U.K. They asked us to present a vision for the future of their business through tackling the question of what the next generation of users wants and expects from an academic publisher. 

Project length: 4 weeks.


Research Methodology

In order to fully understand the role of academic publishers in academia today, we conducted in-depth interviews with several different individuals involved in the process (a researcher, an MBA student, an MA student, and a PHD student) as well as two experts in the field of open access publishing.

In addition to our field research, we also investigated the business model of the Emerald while also drawing comparisons with similar industries that had gone through transitions (music, photography, and investment). We also studied the rise of disruptions in the space such as PubPub and Medium. 


Themes & Insights

A difficult revelation we had was how academic publishing is generally perceived and how that was in contrast to their own self-image. Both our primary and secondary research revealed a strong dislike and disrespect for the business model utilized by our client and, because of this, we foresaw the issues Emerald had with engagement only increasing in the future should larger change in their business not be made. It was our feeling that any small product or feature we created for them would not be effective in solving this problem and thus we turned our focus to how to help them implement organizational change.

It was overwhelmingly clear that users who engage with academic publishers are increasingly passionate about equality and will continue to demand this quality in principle and practice. Much of our research revolved around the concept of open access publishing as both the trend of publishing moving forward as well as a solution to the problems faced.  

Opportunity Areas

Transition Emerald Group Publishing into a role with visible value: enabling and facilitating education.

Transition Emerald Group Publishing into a pioneer of the open access movement thus making the business equality-driven.

Offer and meet real needs: community, quality, affordability, efficiency, and simplicity.   


Concept & Strategy

Our proposal to Emerald came in the form of the Emerald Open Access Lab: a movement towards open access within Emerald to help the academic community to combine forces to find the future of publishing together. The idea supports collaboration and a people-over-tech mentality to reach goals. Contributors participate in a series of bold experiments towards the common goal of making knowledge more accessible and widespread.

Beyond the concept of the lab, we also proposed what some small-scale experiments could look like including freemium model experimentation, a publisher-in-a-box toolkit, and pop-up salons. Though this lab, our visions for Emerald is to become change makers that support equality of access in the pursuit of knowledge and display that attitude to the wider academic community.

In terms of strategy, our proposal indicates a business model shift in Emerald from an asset builder to a network orchestrator.  



“All major publishers, without exception, are experimenting with open access.”

Our expert interviewee Peter Suber
Director of the Harvard Office for Scholarly Communication and author of Open Access