The following short essay will analyse the digital marketing of a title of the academic publishing market. The title is eLife, which is a scientific journal published by eLife Sciences Publications, Ltd.  University College London

Open Access publishing: eLife Sciences

The journal is digital only and articles are published on a rolling basis. eLife is led by Nobel Laureate Randy Schekman, editor-in-chief, and supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, and the Wellcome Trust. (eLife Sciences, 2016)

The idea behind the invention of eLife, launched in 2012, was to create a reliable alternative to high quality journals like Nature, Science, or Cell, while also maintaining a high scientific standard (Wellcome Trust, 2012). This is supported by the unusual approaches of eLife, which are for instance new peer review management, no support of index factors (However, the Impact Factor of eLife is above average with 8.519 in the year 2014 (Citefactor, 2015)), or editorial decision making on basis of the scientific community (Cressey, 2012; eLife Sciences, 2016; Boardman-Pretty, 2011). These approaches are also reflected in the digital marketing efforts of the title which can be seen in figure 1.

Digital marketing – using web-based communication channels

Defined by Kotler & Armstrong, ”the twofold goal of marketing is to attract new customers by promising superior value and keep and grow current customers by delivering satisfaction” (2006, p. 4). Digital marketing therefore means all efforts to achieve those goals by using web-based communication channels (Rowley, 2008). These include various media like emails, digital advertising, digital marketplaces, search engines, and social media. Especially social media play a crucial role as they offer involvement (both publisher and customers can create content). Thus they drive user experience more than any other digital marketing channel. High user experience in return raises or strengthen brand awareness which is a crucial factor in scholarly communication. (Kietzmann et al. 2011; Tuten et al., 2014; Fox, 2016)

Scholarly communication as a service

As scholarly communication can be seen as a service for both readers and authors, the main value scholarly publishers create is disseminating the right content to potential readers. This means that marketing (as defined by the goal above) is a core feature to create this value. (A publisher could leave its digital publications on the original platform without further dissemination. Hence, archiving, abstracting & indexing, or dissemination to open access repositories are marketing activities to attract or retain customers. They do not fall under the activity of production.) eLife’s digital marketing activities are therefore grouped into activities which

  • support the reach of an article as a core feature
  • raise/maintain brand awareness as a core feature

and furthermore in

  • social media activities (blue)
  • search engine/repository services (green)
  • other services, for instance to support customers while working with articles (grey).
elife digital marketing

Figure 1: Different marketing channels of eLife categorised (see list of channels in the references)

Some channels are used in an expectable way. These include all of the search engine/repository services and that they support the article reach. This can be expected as those services are only used by customers who need a particular piece of content. Furthermore, the three platforms AngelList, LinkedIn, and Flickr are used to maintain brand awareness. As studies show, social media are particularly useful to build connections with a brand and to foster a certain brand image on a long term basis (Kietzmann et al., 2011; Hoffmann & Fodor, 2010). This is especially the case with LinkedIn and AngelList. Networks, which can also be seen as employer branding.

Irregularities in digital marketing

However, the categorisation reveals three irregularities in how eLife uses the mix of channels for their marketing purposes.

Firstly, three social media networks work for both dissemination of articles and the overall brand of the title. Among these are two of the most used social media networks, Twitter and Facebook (Duggan, 2015). Concerning their functionality, these networks are best to build or manipulate a brand as well as to change the hedonic image of a brand (Bruhn et al., 2012). Twitter and Facebook are therefore not useful to access new customers/users. However, eLife uses these networks to post hyperlinks to articles. As the articles are highly specialised, it seems to be an activity with a high amount of scattering loss. It is rather unlikely that 8k followers (15k and 0.5k respectively) are the core readership of the diverse topics of eLife. In conclusion, although eLife tries to disseminate content via those networks, they rather just contribute to the general appearance of the brand as a scientific content publisher in general.

Secondly, the use of Medium to extend the reach of scientific content is highly unusual. Medium is a blogging site; it works as a content management system like WordPress or Blogger but with a collaborative background. This means that all people write one blog rather than installing own blogs. The advantage is that the environment is less important (brand of the blog, other articles of the author), whereas single articles can reach a bigger and especially new audience (people who would never enter an eLife owned blog might stumble about an article of eLife on Medium). eLife uses this site to publish short and re-written articles of the original, scientific versions (eLife, 2015a). Thus, eLife can reach a non-scientific/new audience without harming the high scientific standard of its title.

Thirdly, both GitHub and YouTube are not used article-based but to influence the brand and overall image of eLife. However, they are partly used as a service to support customers concerning article usage. On YouTube, eLife posts webinars and How-to videos. On GitHub, developers and users can find the programmes and innovations which build the foundation of the eLife publishing system. The combination reveals that eLife works with open data and that the journal is relying on the support of users to innovate, for example the development of the eLife lens by Ian Mulvany (eLife, 2015b). If the work on a beta version on GitHub revealed that users actually need a different version, they could change it due to collaborative knowledge. Thus, the journal works collaboratively with customers on its products/services. This publisher-user-interaction is a core feature of social media (Kietzmann, 2011), and a strong advantage of eLife’s usage of digital marketing as an interconnected ecosystem.

Conclusively, eLife deploys an effective mix of digital marketing channels to extend the reach of articles as well as to establish and strengthen the brand. However, further studies could research how the different channels are processed in detail. Most certainly, the social media have a variety of functions as the overlapping in eLife’s activities show.

Analysing digital marketing

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List of marketing channels

CLOCKSS (ed) (2016) The CLOCKSS Archive [Online]. Available at http:// / clockss/ Home (Accessed 16 January 2016).

DOAJ (ed) (2016) Directory of Open Access Journals [Online]. Available at https:// / toc/ 2050-084X (Accessed 16 January 2016).

eLifesciences (ed) (2016) eLife – the journal [Online]. Available at https:// / elife (Accessed 16 January 2016).

eLifesciences (ed) (2016) eLife – Google+ [Online]. Available at https:// / 102129675554093758550 (Accessed 16 January 2016).

eLifesciences (ed) (2016) eLife – the journal [Online]. Available at https:// / photos/ 128643624@N07/ (Accessed 16 January 2016).

eLifesciences (ed) (2016) eLife — Medium [Online]. Available at https:// / @elife (Accessed 16 January 2016).

eLifesciences (ed) (2016) eLife | Facebook [Online]. Available at https:// / elifesciences (Accessed 16 January 2016).

eLifesciences (ed) (2016) eLife | Index page [Online]. Available at http:// / (Accessed 16 January 2016).

eLifesciences (ed) (2016) eLife | Youtube channel [Online]. Available at https:// / channel/ UCNEHLtAc_JPI84xW8V4XWyw (Accessed 16 January 2016).

eLifesciences (ed) (2016) eLife Sciences [Online]. Available at https:// / elife-sciences/ (Accessed 16 January 2016).

eLifesciences (ed) (2016) eLife Sciences Publications Ltd | LinkedIN [Online]. Available at https:// / company/ elife-sciences-publications-ltd (Accessed 16 January 2016).

eLifesciences (ed) (2016) eLifesciences on GitHub [Online]. Available at https:// / elifesciences (Accessed 16 January 2016).

Go OA (ed) (2016) Go OA | Go to Selected Open Access Journals [Online]. Available at http:// / external/ index.jsp (Accessed 16 January 2016).

Google (ed) (2016) Google Scholar [Online]. Available at https:// / (Accessed 16 January 2016).

Jisc (ed) (2016) Welcome to Jisc Publications Router – Publications Router [Online]. Available at http:// / (Accessed 16 January 2016).

Paperity (ed) (2016) Paperity | Open Science Aggregated [Online]. Available at http:// / (Accessed 16 January 2016).

Mendeley (ed) (2016) Free reference manager and PDF organizer | Mendeley [Online]. Available at https:// / (Accessed 16 January 2016).

US National Library of Medicine (ed) (2016) PMC – NCBI [Online]. Available at http:// / pmc/ (Accessed 16 January 2016).

Reference list

Bruhn, M., Schoenmueller, V. and Schäfer, D. B. (2012) ‘Are social media replacing traditional media in terms of brand equity creation?’, Management Research Review, vol. 35, no. 9, pp. 770–790.

Boardman-Pretty, F. (2011) Open-access science journal leaves editing to the experts [Online]. Available at https:// / news/ open-access-science-journal-leaves-editing-to-the-experts/ 418047.article?sectioncode=26&storycode=418047&c=1 (Accessed 16 January 2016).

Citefactor (ed) (2015) Journal Impact Factor 2014 [Online]. Available at http:// / journal-impact-factor-list-2014_E.html (Accessed 16 January 2016).

Clark, G. N. and Phillips, A. (2014) Inside book publishing, 5th edn, London, Routledge Taylor & Francis.

Cressey, D. (2012) ‘eLife’ journal takes another step forward : News blog [Online]. Available at http:// / news/ 2012/ 04/ elife-journal-takes-another-step-forward.html (Accessed 16 January 2016).

Duggan, M. (2015) Social Media Update 2014: Pew Research Center [Online], Pew Research Center. Available at (Accessed 16 January 2016).

eLife (ed) (2015a) One hundred eLife digests on Medium… — Medium [Online]. Available at https:// / @elife/ one-hundred-elife-digests-on-medium-5a99aa5e80a1 (Accessed 16 January 2016).

eLife (ed) (2015b) An introduction to eLife Lens HD – YouTube [Online]. Available at https:// / watch?v=WDI72Z6hth0 (Accessed 16 January 2016).

eLife Sciences (ed) (2016) Communicating the latest advances in life science and biomedicine | eLife [Online]. Available at http:// / about (Accessed 15 January 2016).

Hoffman, D. L. and Fodor, M. (2010) ‘Can You Measure the ROI of Your Social Media Marketing?’, MIT Sloan Management Review, vol. 52, no. 1.

Kietzmann, J. H., Hermkens, K., McCarthy, I. P. and Silvestre, B. S. (2011) ‘Social media?: Get serious! Understanding the functional building blocks of social media’, Business Horizons, vol. 54, no. 3, pp. 241–251.

Kotler, P., Armstrong, G. (2006) Principles of marketing, 4th edn, Harlow, Financial Times Prentice Hall.

Rowley, J. (2008) ‘Understanding digital content marketing’, Journal of Marketing Management, vol. 24, 5-6, pp. 517–540.

Smith, K. (2012) The publishing business: From p-books to e-books, Lausanne, Worthing, AVA Academia.

Wellcome Trust (ed) (2012) eLife | Wellcome Trust [Online]. Available at http:// / About-us/ Policy/ Spotlight-issues/ Open-access/ Journal/ index.htm (Accessed 15 January 2016).

Tuten, T. L. and Solomon, M. R. (2014) Social media marketing, Harlow, Essex, Pearson.


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