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Developing Thoth’s “Software as a Service” Model

WP5 project updates about Thoth’s progress in developing its “Software as a Service” model toward long-term sustainability

Published onAug 30, 2022
Developing Thoth’s “Software as a Service” Model
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One component of the Research England and Arcadia funded COPIM project (WP5) has been the development of an open source platform for the management and dissemination of open metadata called Thoth. Alongside the creation of Thoth’s open software, we have considered how best to ensure the financial sustainability of this initiative beyond the end of the funded COPIM project. 

After developing some initial ideas about different approaches to a sustainable business model, we collaborated with Rob Johnson, Founder and Managing Director of Research Consulting, to help us assess the potential of our project and the different avenues toward long-term financial sustainability . WP5 held two internal workshops in January 2022 to scope out various value propositions for publishers and libraries, and to consider the costs/revenues associated with the possible free and paid services. We also continued to refine our business model in a workshop with a small number of scholar-led and new university presses on May 9th. After receiving feedback from the OA community, we have finalised a model, “Software as a Service.” This model is reminiscent of so-called “freemium” models often used for open-source software, in which core functionalities of a platform remain freely accessible, while extended functionality and personalized features are available at a cost.

In this post we outline the Thoth’s Software as a Service business model. Specifically, this model includes  two services: Thoth Free, a metadata management service which will continue to be free of charge, and Thoth Plus, a curated metadata management and dissemination service for which fees will be charged (fig. 1). 

Fig. 1. The Thoth Software as a Service model

A core consideration has been to ensure that Thoth is a non-profit and community owned infrastructure, focused on supplying free or low cost services to smaller Open Access book publishers. To that end, we are now in the process of establishing Thoth as a Community Interest Company registered in the United Kingdom. This is a UK-specific company structure that is accountable and must report to the UK CIC Regulator, who monitors the company accounts and activities to ensure it operates as a not-for-profit enterprise. Any assets of the company are tied for use only to achieve the defined company objectives, in our case providing open source software and services for the management of open metadata.  

Thoth aims at providing its services to small and medium sized publishers specifically. We recognise that there are potentially valuable services we could provide to libraries, funders, and other users - and these are areas we will well look to develop in the future - but initially we will be focusing on providing services to publishers. We welcome any further feedback or comments on the structure and proposals made.

Thoth Free: Open Metadata Management 

Title metadata management is typically a difficult problem for most small and medium sized publishers working with open access publications. Extant metadata management software is often not tailored toward open access publication pipelines, and in the current dissemination landscape metadata is needed in multiple different formats for many different outlets, including printers, the publisher’s own website, open platforms, and a range of discovery and dissemination channels, and archiving/preservation solutions. This can feel overwhelming to the publisher, and often it can be difficult to distribute clean metadata.

Thoth provides a single source for publishers to create, store, and manage metadata information about their books and book chapters and output the multiple different metadata formats required for dissemination to different platforms from that single source. All of Thoth’s metadata is openly licensed as CC0 and all of our software is open source via an Apache 2.0 licence and available on Github.

Thoth has implemented multiple functions for its users to enhance metadata management and workflow. It allows publishers to manage their metadata as a progressive process from a single source, highlights when additional data fields are required for any particular output, and ensures consistency of metadata provided across all different outputs/platforms. 

Metadata ingest

Publishers can input data using 

  1. Thoth’s user friendly user interface (fig. 2);

  2. Thoth’s open API;

  3. Using ONIX or other formats (as part of Thoth Plus, see below).

Fig. 2. Thoth user interface

Metadata export

  1. Thoth’s open ExportAPI provides outputs in multiple formats (including ONIX, KBART, XML, CSV, JSON, …) tailored specifically for ingestion by various platforms and dissemination channels (including OAPEN, DOAB, Google Books, CrossRef, JSTOR, OCLC, university repositories, and so on) (fig. 3)

  2. Thoth’s open GraphQL API allows GraphQL queries of the database itself by any third party application. Examples of use are OBP’s website (where all book pages are created ‘on the fly’ from data accessed via the Thoth API) and the OBC platform.

Fig. 3. Thoth’s current metadata export formats

The Thoth metadata manager is presently being used in production by three publishers: media studies press, Open Book Publishers (OBP) and punctum books, while several other scholar-led and small university presses are in the process of transitioning their metadata to Thoth.

We intend for the Thoth manager to remain open and free to access by all parties, including publishers ingesting data via the UI or the API and platforms accessing the metadata via either the Export or the GraphQL APIs. However we will be inviting voluntary contributions by heavier users of the database (either publishers or platforms) to help support our ongoing sustainability.

Thoth Plus: Curated Open Metadata Dissemination and Enhancement 

We recognise that, even with well formatted metadata, many publishers will still find the process of dissemination metadata and content to multiple different channels time-consuming and difficult. Different platforms not only have distinct metadata requirements, but also have preferred dissemination pipelines using preferred FTP servers, crawlers, and upload schedules. Thoth Plus can facilitate those tasks by transmitting both the metadata and, if required, linked file content to a range of dissemination outlets that we have established relationships with, on behalf of the publisher. 

In addition, Thoth Plus includes services such as

  1. assistance to publishers in formatting and ingesting their backlist metadata into Thoth;

  2. providing checks on the quality and completion of title metadata prior to dissemination;

  3. enhancing the title and chapter metadata within Thoth;

  4. assistance to publishers in establishing relationships and credentials with different dissemination channels (where these are required);

  5. assistance in developing archiving and preservation strategies.

The Thoth Plus services will be provided as curated services to publishers according to their specific needs, charged either at a per title or annual subscription rate – with the payments dependent on the number of titles, the density of extant records, and the set of distribution channels selected by the publisher for their titles.

Where are we now & next steps:

The Thoth Free package is currently operating and used in production by several publishers. 

The Thoth team is also conducting outreach to new and developing uploading services with a range of dissemination platforms (including OAPEN, DOAB, CrossRef, ScienceOpen, OpenAlex). As a result, we are learning new ways to enhance Thoth’s features and capabilities. This work will continue to develop over the remaining eight months of the project.

We are always keen to engage with new publishers interested in learning more about Thoth and its capabilities as an open metadata management, dissemination, and enhancement service. Please do email us at info@thoth.pub if you have any questions or would like any further information.

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