“Piracy Isn’t Really an Issue:” STM in the Digital Age

In Feature Articles by Erin L. Cox

By Erin L. Cox

Digital publishing is a huge focus of the Fair this year, yet no one is further along that road than the STM publishers.

At yesterday’s STM Frankfurt Conference entitled “Surviving Our Mid-Life Crisis: Forward from Forty,” Science, Technical, and Medical (STM) publishers discussed the already successful tools they use for reaching users digitally while also illustrating some of the new and recurring problems that exist in publishing online only; those of piracy concerns, the best methods of reaching readers and aggregating content, and whether scientific publishing is ready for a digital-only model.

Theoretical physicist and writer Michael Nielsen delivered the keynote address entitled, “Is Scientific Publishing About to be Disrupted?” comparing scientific publishing to that of the newspaper and music industries, which did not move quickly enough to capture the new digital audience as it developed and, thus, are on the decline. With more mathematicians and scientists posting their research findings online—in blogs, on websites, in digital journals—their peers can see and respond to these findings in real-time, thus, making the content active, unlike the static content of print-only.

Citing Timothy Gowers’ polymath project, where he posed a problem on his blog, “Gowers Weblog,” and used the comment function to produce a collaborative solution with mathematicians around the world. In a print-only world, this kind of project would have taken years and resulted in dozens of papers debating the solution. Instead, it took 37 days, 27 people, 800 substantive mathematical ideas, and 170,000 words. Gower said, “this process is to normal research as driving is to pushing a car.”

Cynthia Cleto, Global eProduct Manager, eBooks, Springer Science+Business Media, outlined Springer’s “Thinking Outside the Book” program, which partners with libraries around the world to give readers an opportunity to checkout an e-book and then purchase a print-on-demand version via the library computer to be sent directly to their homes. Because their program allows unlimited concurrent usage and perpetual access, opening it up to the opportunity for anyone to download their content at any time, piracy seems like a major threat.

When asked about Springer’s program and threat to rights, Cleto stated “there’s nothing really we can do about it…the people who are pirating are not the people who will be using the books.” Cleto went on to say that they haven’t seen a significant impact on their revenue and, when they find pirated content, they demand the websites take it down. In the end, online piracy, to Cleto, is akin to users photocopying their books, “they’re just going to do it.”

About the Author

Erin L. Cox

Erin L. Cox has worked as Business Development Director for Publishing Perspectives. She is a Senior Associate at Rob Weisbach Creative Management, where she represents writers and handles publicity and advertising clients.