After Disruptive Change, What’s Next for Scholarly Publishers?

In Digital by Edward Nawotka

A report from the 4th ALPSP International conference, organized by the Association of Learned and Professional Scholarly Publishers (ALPSP).

By Arend Küster, Managing Director, Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Journals

Arend Küster

Earlier this September, more than 250 international publishing professionals descended on the idyllic Heythrop Park in the Cotswolds to discuss current industry trends at the 4th ALPSP International conference. Organized by the Association of Learned and Professional Scholarly Publishers (ALPSP), this was the ideal setting to look at current issues and exchange ideas, only a month before the business focus of the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Since embracing online delivery and technology over the last decades, the scholarly publishing environment has experienced constant, disruptive change, brought upon the industry by a huge variety of stakeholders, including researchers, research funders, and publishers.

During the first keynote, Kevin Guthrie of Ithaka wondered how books might evolve in the digital age. Online journals had it much easier than e-books, since the reading requirements of online journals are similar to those of print journals. Yet the transformation from book to e-books will be less comprehensive: all books are not created equal.

Richard Charkin of Bloomsbury reflected on shift from “e-phobia to e-phoria.” Publishers, trade or scholarly, need to be realistic: removing print from the supply chain only saves around 15%, and the savings are then replaced by new digital costs. Charkin asked whether the agency agreement is just another way of reintroducing the net book agreement. Accordingly, publishers need to be wary and smart about their actions.

Other plenaries focused on the disruption of social media on the publishing scene. After all, “Science is social, with a few bugs,” noted Kaitlin Thaney, Digital Science.

Researchers, such as Jonathan Goodman of the University in Cambridge pondered whether publishers should venture out into data publishing, and essentially curate and publish terabytes of data.

Huw Morris, Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Salford, gave a stark reminder that universities understand the clear value publishers bring to the process, but that funding could be the bigger disruptive change to the current status.

Delegates learned how Korea (KoreaMed), Brazil (SciELO and RedALyC) and Qatar (Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Journals and the platform, where I work) could provide models for further change. These initiatives are closely watched by the established journal publishers, as they strive to develop something fresh and are born out of unique opportunities to learn from many years of journal and scientific publishing development. The challenges these start-ups share are the same, as they need to build up reputation and standards within the international community.

The final sessions looked in into the future, asking “Are we still publishers?” Charkin’s keynote provided an answer. Academic and scholarly publishers are part of a service industry, serving our authors. The processes might change, the social web might accelerate and make the peer-review process more transparent, but overall, the publishing process serves the academic community well. However, what and how we publish, changes.

Sessions were lively and questions and discussions happened both in the physical space of the venue and virtually by a Twitter back-channel using the hashtag #alpsp11. Tony O’Rourke of IOP also took questions from the twittersphere in a session on social media and relayed them to his excellent panelists.

However, it was not all serious. Plenty of space was given for networking, discussing business proposals or just catching up. ALPSP deserves much credit for creating this collegiate and friendly atmosphere which — amidst fierce competition — still characterizes the scholarly publishing industry.

The ALPSP annual awards ceremony recognized innovation and took place after the Awards Dinner. The industry acknowledged Bioanalysis of Future Science as the Best New Journal 2011, with Nature Communications named runner up. Your Better Life Index by the OECD received the award for Publishing Innovation 2011, the Berg Fashion Library from Berg Publishers were runners-up.

Every year, ALPSP recognizes an outstanding personality for their contribution to the scholarly publishing community. This years winner, Cliff Morgan of Wiley Blackwell deservedly collected his award. “I love ALPSP and I want to have your babies,” stated Cliff before turning swiftly into the master of ceremonies for the after dinner quiz.

This years conference was a success and a welcoming thinking break. Thank you ALPSP and we are looking forward to 2012.

DISCUSS: What Role Does Social Networking Have in Scholarly Publishing?

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.