The First Covid-19 Survey: Final Results

Employers rate well, employees feel secure, but some think this will last a long time

A brief survey I ran this week provides an informal look into the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on a few key aspects of scholarly communications.

The analysis below is based on 108 responses, with 26% from commercial publishers, 42% from society publishers, 3% from university presses, 10% from technology providers, 18% from “other,” and 1% from libraries.

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The survey consisted of 10 questions. Here are the top-level findings based on these questions. I didn’t list each question, choosing to combine some related questions for the sake of concision.

  1. When did organizations officially change policies based on the Covid-19 pandemic?

    • January: 4%

    • February: 3%

    • March: 83%

    • April: 8%

  2. Has your organization undertaken layoffs, furloughs, or eliminated contractors?

    • 2% said their organization had layoffs

    • 10% said their organization had furloughed employees

    • 6% said contractors had been released or laid off

  3. Have major meetings been canceled?

    • Meeting(s) canceled: 78%

    • No meetings canceled: 15%

    • Not applicable: 7%

  4. How has manuscript volume changed?

    • Volume has increased: 39%

    • Volume has stayed about the same: 30%

    • Volume has gone down: 9%

    • Don’t know: 21%

  5. How has your organization done responding to Covid-19?

    • Overall average score (out of a possible 100 points): 83

    • High: 100

    • Low: 7

    Looking at the extremes, commercial publishers came out better. Other categories had equivalent numbers at the high and low ends of the scoring, but commercial publishers had comparatively few low scores and more high scores. Of the five organizations given the lowest scores, three were society publishers.

  6. Are you afraid you might lose your job?

    • Yes, a lot: 3%

    • Yes, a little: 34%

    • Not necessarily: 35%

    • Not worried, feeling secure: 28%

  7. When will we emerge from the economic cloud cast by Covid-19?

    • In the year 2020: 22%

    • In 2021: 38%

    • In 2022: 29%

    • In 2023: 6%

    • In 2024: 2%

    • In 2025: 1%

Of course, the key question around the economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic involves its duration, as it would affect layoffs and other key questions. Fortunately, a good proportion of scholarly publishing revenues are recurring, allowing many publishers to bridge the upcoming months and avoid for the time being the cliff more cash-based businesses (restaurants, retail) fell off in March.

However, erosion could come quickly, with universities already worried about Fall enrollments and associated revenues from tuition, sports, and donors. Gold OA also seems vulnerable, as largesse from funders and excess in grants may both begin to vanish, with university budgets unavailable to take up the slack.

If this does last into 2021, it could bad news for universities, publishers, and everyone who depends on them for livelihoods.

I’ll revisit this survey in about six months, to see if sentiments have changed. We have a bit of a baseline now. Thanks to those who participated.

Finally, here is a list of our Covid-19 coverage thus far, for your convenience: