Summary of Johan Schlasberg's PhD thesis
This thesis has two main themes: the analysis and construction of business models for encyclopedias with signed articles and theses-as-a-service in a web format. It is a combination of management studies, IT-design and strategic communication.
99% of the visitors on this site will not be researchers within "my field" in business administration. My ambition is to develop forms and texts that add value to both of these in themselves varied groups. Read me (Ch. 1) provides a guide for everyone.
For non-Swedish readers, I suggest that you right-click a link that you are interested in, and copy the link to the left area in Google Translate, set the original language to Swedish and then your preferred language. The translation is shown in a new tab. Chapter headings below are in English.
This thesis has four key research questions (Ch. 2).
- How has the development of IT, communication and search technologies over the last twenty years changed the competitive situation for encyclopedias? Which business models (Ch. 12) have the incumbent companies developed to cope with this radically new environment? Can we, from their transformation from selling books to compete with an online service, draw some more general conclusions?
- Credibility, what I call Reference status, is the core asset for an encyclopedia. However, credibility is not created and maintained in the same way in the digital world as in the analog world. How might this influence the interdependence between Reference status and a company's business models for encyclopedias?
- Which normative criteria (Ch. 10) can be formulated for a free modern digital encyclopedia based on signed articles? Is there some basic model upon which different business models can be designed?
- Are Web theses (Ch. 7) - a thesis as a website - a way to increase a thesis findability, readability, and impact? Is it possible to design a web thesis for a broader public as well as for the academic specialists? Which are the interesting and important differences between the thesis formats: book, Pdf, and website?
32.3Contributions and findings
The contributions of this thesis are listed in Research contributions. (Ch. 5). The main contributions are listed below in six themes.
32.3.1 A wider knowledge perspective
Management studies are too focused on producing 'theory' as (Tourish, 2020) and many others have criticized. This thesis emphasizes that a thesis has a much broader set of goals as they are outlined in The Higher Education Ordinance ↗.
In Knowledge development in theses (Ch. 5) some of these broader criteria are presented - e.g. contribute to the general knowledge in the field of study, support the learning of others, and further the improvement of society.
This wider perspective led to the development of the web format for presenting my research and the concept of a-thesis-as-a-service.
32.3.2 Case Impact Studies - analyses from the outside
The research literature on a researcher's relation with case companies emphasizes the importance of collaboration with 'your' case companies. This was not feasible due to my and the company NE's (Ch. 16) divergent views on the business model, the quality, and the marketing of the NE encyclopedia. This led to the development of my concept 'Case Impact Studies' (Ch. 8), which is a method of analyzing and researching a company or an organisation without an agreement of cooperation.
The method Case Impact Studies gives the researcher an increased freedom to formulate the research questions. It would have been impossible to collect the often unique data about the central case the NE Encyclopdia using a traditional method.
32.3.3 Web theses - a format for the future
A Web theses (Ch. 7) - like the one you are now reading - offers great potential to transform PhD-theses and much other research output into something much more read than the soon disappearing "thesis book" and even Pdf's.
A Web thesis (Ch. 7) is a new publication format for increased communication and dialogue. Another innovation in this field is to design a-thesis-as-a-service (Ch. 7.3). The key conccept is Pareto optimality ↗ which in this context means that something can be made better for one reader without making it worse for another reader. This thesis has some 400 links to Wikipedia, like the one in this paragraph. If you want to know more about Pareto optimality just check Wikipedia and its sources. If you are familiar with the concept go on reading. An easy win-win feature for readers and writers.
The concept of a thesis - or a research article - as a service has the potential to be a game-changer in academic writing and publication.
In the chapter on Ecosystems för theses (Ch. 26) you will find an analysis of the three very different ecosystems for printed dissertations, Pdf's and web theses. Data also show that all universities in Sweden, except one, require that the final exam - the dissertation act - is based on a printed book. Maybe the Coronavirus will help Academia to advance beyond that and adopt digital formats?
Web theses have three levels of quality (Ch. 7.2). Without a sound technical foundation nothing really works. Second, and even more of a challenge is the user perspective. Do readers find what they (we) want in a good way? The third level is of course fundamental when a thesis is evaluated as a research project.
PhD theses, which have taken quite some time and effort to produce, and are evaluated several times by the profession and checked (and rechecked) by the university bureaucracy, are read by very few inside Academia and almost by none outside. This is a major problem and one I decided to address by developing a new thesis format. Not only as a concept but as a living example. I have coded the thesis in HTML, but to scale web theses as a format a suitable Research Content Management System (rCMS) will have to be developed. There are many Content Management System (CMS) ↗ on the market that could be adapted to Academia.
A web thesis offers higher 'Findability' in search engines than Pdf:s. Thanks to Google Analytics, or another tracking system, an author gain learn a lot more about the usage of a thesis. Which are the most read chapters and many other statistics are available. A web thesis can - in contrast to a Pdf - be read in a mobile phone, something I have observed several times.
31.3.4 Reference status and business models
It is a fundamental ambition in this thesis to explore the complex relations between an encyclopedia's content, its reference status, and business models.
The first digital tsunami at the turn of the century contained Google and Wikipedia, which forced the printed encyclopedia businesses to shut down or radically develop their business models. The journey from selling a product to an online e-service is an interesting research area for other companies as well. How to travel? Which business models will survive?
It has been stated by many that credibility is an encyclopedia's core asset. This led to the development of my concept Reference Status (Ch. 8), which is based on the older concept 'cognitive authority'. However, Reference status is broader and adapted to our times and almost self-explanatory. The picture shows how a Reference status spreads in a hierarchical pattern. It often changes slowly due to several individual, social, and sometimes organisational factors. Encyclopedias need to have a high reference status to be credible and free for everyone to be useful to many. High transparency is an important criterion.
A general article-signed encyclopedia should be free for everyone.
For our Society and especially our schools (Ch. 29), this is a matter of equality and supports democracy and digital literacy. It is essential that students are taught how to use encyclopedias that can be used even after completing school. If the private sector cannot find a business model for such a free service - as Wikipedia has - the public sector should step in.
32.4.5 The silent dimensions of business models
The standard description of business models and how they are formulated is described as a very rational process. The theoretical BM literature (Ch. 11) is focused on general and often complicated frameworks.
Management researchers tend to overemphasize the general in comparison to the situational. Academics are rewarded for producing theories, incremental, novel, and at times even superficial. This has supported various quite formulaic and rational models of business model constructions in the real world. But behavioral economists like (Kahneman) have shown that people are not as rational as we tend to believe. Nobel laureate Herbert Simon introduced the concept of Bounded rationality ↗ . Another reference is intercultural studies in anthropology with pioneering research by Edward Hall ↗ with books like 'The Hidden Dimension' and 'The Silent Language'.
A key point in the study The silent dimensions of business models (Ch. 13) is that situational and unspoken factors play a larger role than normally recognized.
32.4.6 e-Diderot - a normative model
The French philosopher, writer and encyclopedist Denis Diderot (1713-1784) was the main architect and contributor to the l'Enclopedie (Ch. 28.7) which has formed our idea of an encyclopedia. In a digital age, so much is different, and so much is possible that we need to develop an updated idea for an encyclopedia based on signed articles. In hommage to Diderot, I have named the model "e-Diderot".
The normative model e-Diderot (Ch. 10) formulates some basic requirements upon which different business models may be constructed. One can always argue if a set of basic criteria are "objective" or tainted by subjectivity. However, these criteria are modelled on some of the most established criteria for science.
Transparency is the key factor. Reading an article in a modern encyclopedia based on signed articles it must be easy to know more about the author(s) when the article was written and possibly updated. The encyclopedia should be free for all and contain links to related articles and to some major external websites on the subject. The service should have a page for a meta-discussion about its content and policies.
32.4.7 Data about the NE encyclopedia
The Case Impact Method has made it possible to collect a wide variety of data about the NE Encyclopedia. In Who writes in NE (Ch. 21), it is shown that about 30% of all writers (close to 300) in "Medicin" are dead and that the middle age of the others is about 70. The article content has shifted significantly compared to the old printed edition - that enjoyed high Reference status - into what I call a "Note model". The study New articles in NE (Ch. 22) looks at new articles under a whole year and found that they were short and to some 90% written by the NE editors and were devoid of references.
There has been a number of studies in the world comparing Wikipedia to a local encyclopedia. Until my very different research design, they have all been based on a "Word comparison model" asking a few experts to judge the accuracy of between (mostly) 10 and 50 articles (words). In contrast, my study Comparison NE and Wikipedia (Ch. 19) starts with a discussion of HOW to compare encyclopedias. Wikipedia is clearly the most useful service and is also more trustworthy than NE. In a long-term study over several years the study NE subscriptions (Ch. 17) with active links to all Swedish public libraries, shows the steep decline in subscribers of NE. A reasonable explanation for this is the waning Reference status of the NE encyclopedia.
The NE encyclopedia is part of a middle-sized private group whose biggest investment in recent years is the production and sale of vodka. The group bought NE in 1994, and the financial result of that investment has to date been a staggering loss of more than 600 MSEK (Ch. 16.5).
Having no cooperation with the NE company, it was possible to question and criticize the core marketing statements about the encyclopedia. In a ruling at the Swedish Patent and Market Court, a company that claimed that it "was the foremost" lost as it couldn't substantiate this. In September 2020, I reported NE Sverige AB to the Swedish Consumer Agency (KO) (Ch. 15) for breach of the Swedish marketing law. It will, if the case is admitted, shine more light on a business model which is based on a proclaimed high Reference status, but in reality fails to deliver on the same level of quality as before.
Maybe it is wise in academic research to shy away from normative models or statements. And predictions. But those are of interest to readers and practitioners outside Academia who have to make real-world decisions. However, it is predicted (Ch. 12.7) that the future of the NE encyclopedia is bleak with a sinking Reference status and impact.
32.4Impact of this thesis
The quadrant B indicates that a thesis is excellent and may have a "big" impact. Questions about the relevance and societal impact of research (Ch. 30) are becoming increasingly important.
It is perhaps a bit much, at this stage, to say that one's thesis has any impact at all but that aside a few signs might be noted.
Impact is, in my experience, not something that you can just wait for it to happen. It takes a strategy and quite an effort. I differentiate between actual and possible impact and between impact in Academia and in other sectors of society.
- Long-term I think that the concept of a web based thesis-as-a-service has great potential to enhance not only PhD-theses but also other forms of research.
- The thesis adds to other researchers insights about the need to improve the relevance and impact of management studies. This will lead to more interest in presentation skills and designs that permit simultaneous communication with different audiences.
- By continuing to push for a different format for a PhD thesis at my department of Business administration one can expect an increased awareness of new digital research and publishing models.
- The thesis has already influenced a how a fairly large number public libraries view the NE encyclopedia.
- The impact on the NE encyclopedia and how it is perceived by teachers, school and the general public will grow.
- The thesis is a valuable background for the ongoing project of creating BiBB ↗ - a new modern encyclopedia based on signed articles.
Published: August, 2018. Updated: December 7, 2020
Ingår i Johan Schlasbergs avhandling 'Webbavhandlingar och affärsmodeller för uppslagsverk'.
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