I wrote some pretty critical stuff about a magazine called Research Features after they contacted me as a potential subject of an article. Research Features’ website calls it a magazine, but what it really is is a collection of very slickly produced press releases, which are paid for by the scientists they feature. I found this sketchy, and I said so:
What’s sketchy about this is that it’s self-promotion passing itself off as journalism. Research Features calls itself a ‘digital magazine’…It’s full of what look like articles, though their authorship is not attributed. They’re not articles, though; they’re ads. Ads for researchers, ads for labs.
Incidentally, my first post about Research Features has become my most read post by far, with more than three times as many views as the next most read. If you Google Research Features, I think you’ll find it within the top few hits. Which might explain why their Editorial Director emailed me that she was “interested and concerned” about what I had written and asked if we might talk on the phone. When I replied that I’d rather discuss it by email, she left the conversation and never came back, which did not inspire me to change my evaluation. Nor was my impression much improved when a reader emailed to tell me that the authors of those very slickly produced press releases were paid £50 for each one, or roughly 3% of what they were going to charge me.
Much more recently, commenter Tom Potter put a magazine I hadn’t heard of, Research Outreach, on my radar:
Research Features have become Research Outreach. The same address. Use the google yellow man to check the address. 🙂
I was skeptical at first, partly because I misunderstood what he meant by ‘address’:
I don’t think they have changed their name…they are still there at https://researchfeatures.com/, with the same name as far as I can tell, and there are articles as recent as February of this year.
But comments by another reader (Clarissa) convinced me to look a bit deeper:
They do appear to be the same, I believe, from the same design style of the website and magazine, as well as the same Chief Editor shown in the Editor’s Notes of Outreach Magazine.
As best I can tell, Tom and Clarissa are right. Research Features and Research Outlook list the same physical address, the same Editorial Director, and the same Operations Director. The Senior Editor of Research Outreach is the Editor of Research Features, and two of Research Outreach’s three Designers are Research Features’ designers, and the Founder of Research Outreach is the Publisher of Research Features. The Project Managers, at least, appear to be non-overlapping.
Their article layouts are also essentially identical:
So, yeah, it’s the same outfit. Whether Research Features was replaced by Research Outreach or whether there are now two publications run by the same publisher isn’t clear to me. It doesn’t help that their issues are not dated, but what I can see is that Research Features has published at least as recently as this February, and that Research Outreach has published seven issues. I also note that the link to the “Get Featured” page is not prominently featured on Research Features‘ homepage, which might suggest that they’re no longer producing new articles:
There are some other differences. Research Outreach’s website bills it as a “not-for-profit Public Outreach agency.” I don’t find any mention on Research Features‘ website calling it not-for-profit. Research Outreach is also upfront about their fees: on their “Our Services” page, an article in the publication lists for $1970, plus an additional $380 if you want the to “create an enhanced social media campaign, guaranteeing that at least 80,000 people see your work.” With Research Features, it wasn’t until I spoke with the Project Manager on the phone that a fee was mentioned at all (and he called $2230 a “nominal fee”).
I’m tempted to think that Research Outreach is the new version of Research Features, and that they have, at least to some extent, cleaned up their act. Remember, my biggest complaint about Research Features was that it was “self-promotion passing itself off as journalism.” One reason I said that is that it calls itself a magazine, which it isn’t. Research Outlook calls itself a “publication” (which it is) and a public outreach agency (which it is). They also seem to me to be more upfront about their fees. Research Features’ “Get Featured” page makes no mention of a fee (it is on the “Our Business Model” page, but that is not prominent); Research Outlook mentions it both on the homepage (under the “How we do it” tab: “Our content is funded by the research institutes and projects we serve”) and on the “Our Services” page, where the fees are specified.
I’m a big believer in scientific outreach; that’s why I started this blog. I’m still not sure how I feel about the business model of Research Outreach, but unlike Research Features, it doesn’t strike me as deceptive. Have they turned over a new leaf? Maybe these are just well-intentioned people who made some unfortunate decisions early on. I hope that’s the case. I can’t say for sure; they have (probably wisely) not tried again to sell me an article. What do you think?
If anyone from Research Outreach wants to clarify anything, they are, as always, welcome to comment.
Hi Matt, I’m Alastair, and I actually work at Research Outreach as Director of Operations. So, I guess this is as good a chance as any to talk?
Research Outreach is a separate entity to Research Features, but it is indeed related. We set up Research Outreach as a non-profit Community Interest Company last year and are now up to 7 issues of our digital and print publication (and yes, they are printed. We keep a couple of spare copies in the office, as well as all the free ones we send to authors and libraries, let me know if you want a couple).
I am, along with the rest of our team, passionate about our work and breaking down some of the barriers that exist between the general public and researchers. We’ve got editors, writers, social media managers, and communication experts all working toward that end, and we’re all pretty proud of what we’ve accomplished.
We’ve had some amazing feedback on Research Outreach and our production process so far and have had the opportunity to work with some stellar researchers and organisations. Some of these are visible on our Testimonials page, which I’ll leave to you to read over rather than citing here, and there’s also the experience of a previous client of Research Features, Carl Johansson, who graciously spoke out in our defence in the comments for your Research Features blog. We didn’t know he’d posted in response to that entry until seeing it this week, but our thanks do go to him for speaking up about his experience with us.
This might also be a good time to explain our response to that blog entry. It, of course, came to our attention, and one of our team reached out via email, as we figured a direct line and genuine human conversation would be more appropriate than a discussion in the comments. We were then, perhaps unwisely, advised by an external consultant not to engage with you. Since then, we have spent time reflecting on our approach to marketing Research Features’ services, and how transparently that services package was being displayed. After going over things with a few consultants, we decided it would be neater and more transparent to launch a separate, unrelated organisation as a non-profit Community Interest Company to make it clear that we do not profit from the research community. Our site is designed to be as transparent as possible on this matter, as you’ve raised in your commentary above.
On the Research Outreach website, we are upfront about our fees, about being a non-profit, and we make it clear that what we offer isn’t aligned with journalism, pop science, or academic publishing. Our goal is to provide an outreach service for those researchers lacking the time, network or production tools to carry out their own outreach and communication activities, or who need assistance with this area. Besides the in-house team, we work with a stable of expert science writers, paid on average £17.50/hr. As a small company, we are committed to keeping these rates as high as we are able to while remaining viable as a business. The actual process of writing the article is just one step in the entire production process including the project management, editing, design, marketing and social media activities we carry out.
We are committed to barrier-free outreach. This means: no payment to read, download or share; no personal details required; and no advertising to detract from the research (although we give away an advert in each publication to a research-related charity). We also offer a free-to-publish section for those researchers with limited outreach funding but wishing to gain experience and exposure, as well as a digital-only option priced accordingly. The rest of the funding for the writing, copyediting, illustration, printing, distribution and promotion of the magazine content comes from the institutes of paying clients. As you point out, this is all clearly indicated on our website and we have created an FAQ section to try and pre-empt questions researchers may have about working with us (if you have any feedback on clarity or visibility of this info, do let us know).
The people who work for us care about connecting society more generally with research so that its value is truly appreciated. In turn, we are dedicated to our team and support them with options to work from home, flexible hours to fit around family life, and as much coffee as they can drink. Which is a lot.
We realise that our model is fairly novel within the research community, but I hope that you can appreciate our motivations are in fact closely aligned to your own: good science is in the public interest. The role of paid-for agencies, such as ourselves, may be contentious, but we believe our services are genuinely valuable to those researchers who choose to work with us. Given the requirement and support for outreach and engagement activities as part of many research grants, we feel the service we offer does have a place within the modern research community.
Hopefully, our transparency puts any concerns about our conduct or business model you may have to rest. We are always willing to listen to feedback and learn from the community we serve. We will continue to champion quality research outreach and communication as valuable to both the general public and the world-class researchers we work with.
As a Community Interest Company, we also aim to give back to the community we are part of, so we have a page on our site called ‘Outreach Leaders’. Here, we host interviews with, or articles from, researchers who are also outreach and communications experts. This is still a work in progress, but we are aiming to develop the page into a resource for any researcher seeking inspiration to develop their own outreach skills and increase the impact of their work.
In regards to your Twitter account, I will unblock you now. This was part of the advice from our external consultant when setting up the RO account, and has been in place since the account went live in April 2018.
So, is Research Outreach a rebranded Research Features? No, it is not a rebrand, but an entirely new organisation based on a completely different company structure. We have taken the good, learnt several lessons (and keep learning), and created something new and (we think) wonderful. Again, our testimonials ought to speak for themselves, and I hope you and any readers who’ve made it this far will take the word of satisfied researchers to be well informed.
We’ll continue to develop our offering based on client and community feedback and keep on improving the way we work. If you, or any of your readers, have any questions, feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, or give me a call on 01453 822574.
Also, here’s a link to an independent review system we’ve implemented for our website. You’ll soon see more reviews as we continue to build this platform over the coming months.