Friday, 2 August 2013

Kurt Paulus on ALPSP International Conference. Isn't change fun?

This is the first in a series of four reflections on the 2012 ALPSP International Conference by Kurt Paulus, now retired, formerly Operations Director at the Institute of Physics, and long time supporter of ALPSP. Our thanks go to Kurt for capturing the sessions. If this whets your appetite for the 2013 conference, book by Friday 9 August to avoid the late booking fee.

“Isn’t change fun?” Toby Green 

Toby Green, the ALPSP Chair, summarized the three key themes of the conference as “New, Change and Open”. Another formulation might be “Change and how to cope”. In uncertain times it is helpful to have some experienced guides, and Mary Waltham and Mark Ware were volunteered for these roles.

After a wide ranging review of scholarly publishing since ALPSP was formed 40 years ago, Mary pointed to some emerging factors which will strongly influence the next 40, or even the next 10:
  • The geographical distribution of scholarly research and publishing is changing rapidly: in chemistry, China’s output has already overtaken the USA and other ‘developing’  countries are snapping at their heels.
  • Technology has enabled the big deal and allowed the deployment of metrics that have assisted both publishers and customers to make better informed decisions and have facilitated access to information from developing countries. Technical solutions to remaining problems are never far away.
  • “Publishers behaving badly”: publishers have been their own worst enemies in ploughing their own furrow, e.g. over journal pricing, and not taking care to keep their library customers on board by communication and engagement and by not helping them to make a better funding case.
  • There are some underlying factors that have not changed: the continuing need for validation through peer review, the desire to find information quickly and accurately, the specific needs of authors for help with their professional work and for peer recognition often provided by scholarly publishing. In Fred Dylla’s words: authors will still give their first born to get their papers into Nature or Science.

“By 2020, all services will be digital, mobile, customizable, intelligent, interoperable with multiple revenue streams.” Mark Ware


Mark Ware has engineered many surveys of the developing publishing scene for employers and clients over the years and shared his views of some of the economic and technological factors that will drive scholarly publishing in the coming years:
  • We are told that 25% of waking hours are spent on mobile devices: think about it!
  • Understanding your users through ‘extreme analytics’ is crucial.
  • Mergers and acquisitions are becoming smaller and more focused, possibly threatening smaller niche publishers.
  • Aggregation, e.g. of different journals or books and journals leads to more value added products but also a need for  more user aware curation.
  • Sales growth will be based on value added rather than just number of articles in the database.
  • An in-depth understanding of user workflows  will be critical to the ability to add value.
  • Change and competition will force us to move from product centric to service focused behaviour.
  • Open (access, data, standards, platforms) will be the watchword.


Kurt Paulus, 2012
Booking for the 2013 conference is open.

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