Friday, May 17, 2013

Why are edited anthologies of essays no longer an appropriate vehicle for scholarly publishing?

The short answer is because of the changes in reading nature of scholars switching to online search.

Most researchers find their sources via online search, which is facilitated by metadata descriptions that accompany journal articles and increasingly books. However, there is one category of scholarly work that is gradually becoming obscure due to lack of metadata of its own, that is chapters of an edited compilation. Of course as a book a collection of essays would have its own metadata, that acknowledges the editor and provide a general description of the book. However, the individual chapters unlike journal articles are not provided with independent descriptions of their content via their own metadata that would allow them to be found. They are locked inside a book that gives them poor visibility to their potential readers.

In addition as a publisher we are finding it increasingly difficult to peer review edited compilations to the same standard that we do so for journal articles and monographs. They come as part of a package that the book editor has curated to convey a theme. However, what do we do when some chapters do not meet the peer review standard while others do. Removing the lower quality chapters destroy the theme for the book. Should we reject the whole book just for a couple of poorer chapters?

As a responsible academic publisher we have been trying to find solutions to these issues. Our first reaction was to reduce the number of edited compilations we accept. However, this has not been popular with our community who still see this as a good way of reaching an audience quickly. In particular editors of such books do not lose anything, it
is the contributing authors who are short changed.

An alternative is to persuade editors to guest edit a journal on the proposed topic of their book first before the material is reissued as a book in its own right. In this way we address both problems of online access and peer review in one go. The articles being part of a journal get an independent DOI (Digital Object Identifier) and metadata so they can be individually accounted for and found. Also the journal publication will add the peer review process as a matter of course and the book editor will be left with high standard of articles to curate them into a book later.

While some of our community have accepted the merit of the above solution others find the delay in the publication cycle (that pre publication in a journal brings with it) unacceptable. Most of our journals have material in their pipeline and would fit a special issue within a 2 year time cycle. Our book programme on the other hand has a 12 months turn around from a successful peer review.

As a third option we have been looking at is the possibility of publishing edited compilations as if they were journals, giving their chapters metadata and DOI via hosting them on our journal platform. This may increase costs, not solve the peer review problem but offer a solution satisfactory to some. However we have seen some editors object to this as they see their anthologies as multi authored books that should be read from beginning via the middle to the end. These editors see disaggregation of the book as detrimental to the coherence of their efforts in putting the collection together.

While as publishers we may not be able to satisfy the needs of every scholar in the same way we shall try and address the challenges of change in technology and reading habits.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Future of Academic Publishing

The Association of American University Presses in March 2011 published Sustaining Scholarly Publishing: New Business Models for University Presses. For a summary see an earlier posting on this Blog.

Their paper begins by defining the role of the scholarly publisher and makes a very convincing case against self-publishing by scholars. For the authors the likelihood of existing in the “marketplace of ideas,” is improved by the intensive kind of stewardship by a publisher. More importantly the publisher is there in future to coordinate the migration to new publishing formats.

Their paper mainly deals with the challenge of change over from print publishing to part-digital publishing. While extra ordinarily useful in identifying the challenges it is short of specifics as to what to do next.

It is mainly written with the view to persuade Presses’ parent institutions to invest money in filling the “funding gap” in the transition process to new formats and business models.

University Presses benefit from the advantage of their host institutions’ brand as well as implicit subsidy (such as free web hosting, HR support etc.). They are now asking for more. I doubt if they would get more in the current climate. So how should they proceed if extra funding does not materialise?

In future posts I shall address ways that an independent academic publisher is managing to deal with the “funding gap” by addressing some of the major disadvantages of University Presses:

· They take a long time to publish which frustrates their authors.

· Their cost of origination is higher which means they need to earn more per book to break even.

· They are too broad in their subject coverage so they do not benefit from the focus on niche communities of scholars.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Future Business Models

The Association of American University Presses in March 2011 published a paper entitled, Sustaining Scholarly Publishing: New Business Models for University Presses.

The paper defines the role of the scholarly publisher as

➢ Selection processes - selective acquisition, peer review
➢ Editorial engagement - even the best writers can become overwhelmed by their own engagement in a topic
➢ Presentation (Design) - rare is the book that is not a visual improvement over a manuscript.
➢ Advantages of scale – Printing gets cheaper with scale.
➢ Marketing - promote scholarship long after it’s fresh
➢ Metadata - to be discovered within the hundreds of thousands of books published every year, year after year
➢ Rights and licensing - Translation rights, distribution arrangements, excerption permissions
➢ Distribution - time-consuming details of physical distribution and sales
➢ Multiple formats - build quality assurance, in multiple formats, in a way that will be able to evolve along with the reader, browser etc.
➢ Long-term availability - likelihood of existing in the “marketplace of ideas,” is improved by intensive kind of stewardship, migration to new systems

These are useful pointers to give to potential authors why to choose a publisher instead of “self publishing”.

The paper then presents what is new:

• For at least the next ten years scholarly communication will be conducted using a variety of media, on an array of platforms, funded from a range of sources, employing a variety of business models.
• Downward pressure on print prices from e-book prices being lower or even free.
• Rapidly increasing number of e-book options taking up a great deal of publishers’ time and resources, even while e-book sales remain a small percentage of the total market.
• Digital publishing benefits so much more from scale than print publishing.

The paper then gives examples of experiments being conducted by University Presses as well as a new kind of non profit publisher, The National Academies Press and The RAND Corporation. These are called “mission-driven publishing” as they are required to publish all that is produced, without thought of market demand; and they are encouraged by their institutions and authors to be as open as possible. NAP and RAND’s authors, and institutions, want dissemination, influence, and impact; their authors are jockeying neither for tenure nor windfall royalties.

These new Presses’ approach is similar to intellect’s mission. However, they benefit from substantial financial support from their host institutions. The paper argues that traditional University Presses don’t. The link between a university press and its host institution is looser as it only may publish in the region of 10% authors from that institution and is expected to be self-funding.

The paper then presents some suggestions that may assist University Presses to deal with the uncertain future.

➢ build lists in specific scholarly arenas, focus their publishing programs on specific fields
➢ “author fees,” although they are typically paid not by authors themselves but by research grants or other institutional funds (Since there is no tradition of fee-based publication, scholars tend to equate the model with vanity publishing.)
➢ working with large group of digital vendors
➢ selling collections of titles, breaking down the concept of the “book” in favor of packaging “content,” and selling access to collections
➢ take advantage of the full range of features made possible by digital technology.
➢ born-digital titles
➢ launching new programs with experimental business models while maintaining traditional modes of publication with their long-tested—if eroding—business models
➢ a portfolio of multiple business models (each new business model is actually a new business startup, with all the accompanying business issues and risk)

The paper concludes by saying

… it seems likely that the mix of revenues, once derived primarily from the marketplace, will shift such that a greater share of revenue will come from the producers of content, whether in the form of publication fees or institutional support of other kinds.

This is the kind of “little and often” business model which has sustained my company, Intellect in the past few years. The question for me is where to go from here if others plan to do the same.

Monday, January 17, 2011

My first business model

I had never thought that I could ever have enough financial resources to start publishing all by myself. However by 1986 I had reached the point that I could not see how I could stay true to my passion without going all the way. Walter Johnson gave me a tutorial on why I did not need any capital to publish my first books. He explained that as I already had a job I was credit worthy and I could use a letter from my bank to open a 30 day credit account with a printer. My academic colleagues were willing to provide their books in Camera Ready Copy (CRC) using early day laser printers. My job was to design the cover, fill some bibliographic forms and take the CRC to the printers with a promissory note to pay them after 30 days.

Ablex was willing to purchase 300 copies of my books as a co-edition and that was enough income to pay the whole printing bill. Any more copies I sold outside the US would contribute to my limited over head costs. I made an agreement for non-US distribution with Blackwell Scientific Publications (BSP) who were jointly publishing my journal, Artificial Intelligence Review. They were willing to market and distribute my books but unlike Ablex were not willing to make any firm commitment to purchasing a fixed number of books. I began by publishing 3 hardback books in 1987 and 4 the following year.

I was finally a publisher in the sense that I could decide what topics and at what price the books would be sold. However, the rest of the tasks where done by other who were experts in distribution and marketing based on their own long term heritage. I had learnt that I could leverage the skills as well as financial resources of my suppliers to create my own operation with my creativity instead of finance.

In 1987 I did not know what a business model was. I was not aware of cash flow or commitment accounting but I had started in business any way! I was given a crash course in cash flow management when after 30 days I was chased by my printers while Ablex's payment had not yet materialised. My panic call to Ablex was dealt calmly by the reply - No one actually pays after 30 days! You wait till they chase you, then you say 'cheque's in the post'. So what is the average time it takes to be paid? Between 60-90 days. Only salaries are paid after 30 days!

I set myself the target of not exceeding 60 days credit and be open about that with my suppliers. Some didn't like it but were grateful that I was being honest. I needed 60 days because the average time I could get paid was over 60 days. My aim has been to contribute to reducing the average time it takes to get paid and pay.

It is clear to me that we are part of a big chain of suppliers funding producers by their cash flow terms.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Joining Walter J Johnson at Ablex publishing

In 1984 I met a legendary academic publisher, the late Walter J Johnson.

He had launched Academic Press and sold it off with a handsome profit. Some time later he decided to come out of retirement and established Ablex in New Jersey to cover new subject areas of communication studies, Cognitive Science and Artificial Intelligence.

He explained to me that he had chosen Ablex as the name for his new venture so that in alphabetical listings it would appear before his former project, Academic Press.

I joined Ablex as an editorial advisor seeking for Walter authors and editors in Europe among my own community of academic colleagues.

Walter had a passion for books and having been born into a publishing dynasty gave him a good sense of what would and would not be successful. Although he was financially astute, his publishing decisions on individual projects were not based on profit but on the merit of each project based on the advice of academic advisers such as me. He trusted my judgment and he had a business model which made sure his company overall was handsomely profitable even if some individual projects were not.

From my time at Ablex I learnt the importance of streamlined operations with a very clear business model that works like clockworks.

Ablex published expensive hardback books aimed primarily at 300 libraries with whom it had established a trusting relationship. The librarians trusted Walter Johnson''s publishing choices and had enough budgets to buy his output almost automatically. He would accept libraries returning unwanted books for full refund even if the books were used.

My publishing time at Ablex was a happy one. I had the freedom to choose what books got published without the worry of how they would be funded. However, gradually I began to notice that my authors were unhappy with the prices that Ablex charged for their books, about $60 in those days. Ablex had no interest in lowering the prices as its purchasers were not making their decision on price but the quality of service they got and security that they could return unwanted books for full refund, something I was told hardly ever happened in reality.

The authors felt that they would get a wider readership if the prices were low enough that individual academics could make a personal purchase instead of going via their librarian.

On day I gathered my courage to confront Walter Johnson with this dilemma. Walter explained to me that authors' works were so specialist and the areas of research so new that lower prices would not create enough revenue to keep his business profitable.

In a surprise move Walter invited me to prove him wrong by publishing the books under my own company's imprint Intellect!

How could I manage the financial burden? I had already used up all Intellect's initial share capital on a few experiments in running academic seminars and the launch of my journal Artificial Intelligence Review. For all intents and purposes Intellect had been the editor's expenses account for that journal. There was only £90 left in the bank, not enough for the launch of a new imprint, I thought. Walter Johnson assured me that I was wrong in that assumption. He had started Academic Press with $10 and maybe I could do the same if I got my business model right.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Publishing as an academic

When I took up my lectureship at Exeter University in 1981 my relationship with publishing faced a dramatic twist. As a young academic there was a tremendous pressure to publish both research and tutorial texts to justify being given a permanent post. I was a "game keeper" in publishing and I was expected to become a "poacher" now!

In some ways it disappointing to me that my knowledge and passion for publishing was not much help in my academic carrier. The kind of publishing was different to the one used to at school. I did publish a tutorial book, which sold well and edited and wrote some books. However, my colleagues were at it at the same speed as me even without inside knowledge of printing or publishing.

I differed from my colleagues in one way I wanted to take part in the publishing process beyond the writing while they were happy to delegate that to others.

I formed Intellect in 1984 with two other academic friends to give me a chance to link my passion for publishing with my need to get published.

Intellect began its life not being sure of its business model. I had some experience of organizing academic conferences which lead to edited compilations published by other established publishers. Intellect hosted a seminar which resulted in a book, Artificial Intelligence: Principles and Case Studies published by Chapman and Hall. I also began producing a slim magazine called Intellect Review, which promoted our seminar programme as well as offered short books reviews.

Blackwell Scientific Publications approached me to see if I was willing to turn my magazine into a proper academic journal. At the time I was the secretary of the Society for the Study of Artificial Intelligence and Simulation of Behaviour (AISB). The society had turned an offer down to turn their newsletter into a journal via a partnership. Instead I was able to do a journal on the same topic under the Intellect imprint.

I took up the challenge and Artificial Intelligence Review was born in October 1986. I was doing the editorial work and outsourcing the marketing to Blackwell Scientific Publications in Oxford.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pull and push styles of publishing

Access to a printing press on my arrival in the UK was a joyful experience as the Shah's censorship in Iran had denied me the chance to use a proper press. Up to that point the best I had been able to use was a duplicating machine that used "stencil" sheets to reproduce pages at a poor quality by turning a handle. As the runs where short, the same publication was read by many people, there was only a small improvement on my school magazine of one copy posted on the school gate. But in the UK I had found a way of having long runs at minimal cost. You could get a copy in the hands of each student at the university.

I took delight in learning about the mechanical process of printing. How the signatures (sections) could be gathered and folded etc; how we could most effectively match plate and paper sizes to reduce the costs. That is why I insist that all new staff at Intellect visit our printers and at least have an idea of the printing process. Sometimes a small change to the number of pages or the size of a publication makes a significant difference in the costings. Thus an uneconomical proposition can turn into a successful project with creativity on the production side.

As I gained confidence and understood the potential of this new technology I began to understand that the notion of what "publishing" was for me was changing. While at school my publication was a single sheet of paper on the wall, here I had many copies of the same material duplicated. Before I had to bring the readers to the place where the magazine was, now I had to take the magazine to where the readers were. While before I had a record of the reader's reactions now I did not.

In today's jargon my school magazine used a "pull" technology while my university magazine used a "push" technology! Pull the audience to your publication or push yours into their hand. This blog and many other web-based publications remind me of my school magazine. As there is one central copy of the publication you can be sloppy with spelling and grammar as you can go back and correct it. You can also go back and see the reactions of the readers who could be bothered to comment. With the printing press you need to get everything right before you duplicate and when people mark their copy of your publication you have no way of seeing that.

Which system do I prefer? I am not sure!

I think it is a good discipline to strive for excellence and try and get it just right before pressing the "publish" button. But I also think it is good to be able to see a trace of the reader's reactions or at least know the pages were most read. There can be a more intimate relationship with the pull technology while a better quality with the push technology. I presume it will be horses for courses at the end.

And what about Apps that can change the content you see depending on your location or your user profile? Well that is another challenge altogether that I am just getting my head around.