Monday, 12 August 2013

Kurt Paulus on ALPSP International Conference. Data, data, data!

This is the third in a series of reflections on the 2012 ALPSP International Conference by Kurt Paulus, former 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, book now to secure your place at the 2013 conference.

Data, data, data

Though not an explicit theme of the conference, speaker after speaker emphasized the need for scholarly publishers to be on top of the information they have, or should have, about the behaviours of their users and customers. Mark Ware enjoined us to use extreme analytics to make sense of the customer and user data we have, indispensable for business-to-business companies but equally important fort the rest of us. Tom Taylor, talking about global consortia and library markets, suggested that consortia deals continue to be healthy and renewed provided we understand the local factors across the world that influence decisions: investment or retrenchment in education and research, general economic climate, open or closed consortia, political stability or lack of it and, of course, direct customer contact and service.

Matt Rampone in the mobile session urged publishers to invest in analysis of their readers. Forcefully, Charlie Rapple encouraged them to get to know their audiences, articulate questions they want answered before doing market research: what are the users actually doing, what devices do they use, what are their problems: evidence-based strategy formulation!

And, as Tracy Gardner of Simon Inger Consulting reminded everyone, there is the fourth scholarly publishing survey, currently in progress, that will be required reading when it comes out.

Open access

The Budapest Open Archives Initiative is 10 years old. Pressure from researchers, funding bodies and governments on publishers to open up access to their information has been intense and has even spilled over into the daily press. Although open access journals are not new, progress has been slow as publishers struggle with the new business models required to make sense of them. The green OA model – author deposit in institutional or other repositories after an embargo period – has been most in evidence, with funding agencies increasingly mandating this. The main argument here then is over the embargo period, ranging from 6 to 18 months.

This is the model chosen by the World Bank for its publications, a relatively small part of the work of the world’s largest development agency, so the business impact of open access is not too severe. For Springer, one of the largest STM publishers, the situation is quite different. Nevertheless, Springer has been moving gradually towards green open access, as Wim van der Stelt explained, helped by the acquisition of BioMed Central in 2008. Springer Open has 100 journals across all subject areas, has 405 members in 46 countries, includes books, and 15% of Springer articles are now open access. The embargo period is 12 months. Price adjustments are made even for selected hybrid journals depending on their OA content. Prices may go up as well as down and they “do make money”.

“Don’t forget: Open Access is just a business model, so keep up with your traditional services.” Wim van der Stelt

Wim advised doubters to be courageous and provide hybrid options, transfer subscription journals to open access, start sister journals and sponsored journals and launch fully open access new journals; also be creative with financial models for society journals, for example reducing or forgiving charges to members for one or more of their papers.

Gold Open Access – fully open access from publication, with authors paying a publication charge – has been slower to get off the ground although there are some early gold OA journals that are now quite well established. Three things have helped to accelerate development. Firstly there has been a gradual increase in the publication charge to a level that now makes business sense. Secondly, some funding agencies have agreed to pay the charge out of research grants. Finally, governments have slowly begun to shift policies, most notably the British government which accepted the recommendations of the Finch report, supporting gold OA, earlier this year, The European Union - green with six month embargo or gold without agreement on funding - has yet to be as bold, and things are not moving very rapidly in the USA either.

Whatever the outcome, the social sciences will move at different speed than the physical ones because of different funding arrangements.  The transition will also bring new administrative issues for author publication charges by institutions as the system migrates, particularly with authors from different institutions.

Freemium: a new business model?

Disruptive as the open access model may appear, as yet it has not yet led to fundamental change in the economics of scholarly publishing. As Mary Waltham pointed out, E-Biomed which morphed into PubMed Central was launched in 1999 to fierce opposition from publishers. Yet progress towards full open access has been quite slow and, as Thomas Taylor reminded us, the subscription based consortia model continues to be strong. At the same time, Cameron Neylon cautioned, in the long term there isn’t much money in controlling access to content, but there is a lot of money in tools and platforms to enable access. This is an opportunity for publishers to produce premium services.

How this might work was illustrated by Xavier Cazin of ImmateriĆ©l, drawing on actual e-book sales experiences in France. ImmateriĆ©l  has found that public domain books often sell at a price, OECD books sell at £11.99 through a bookshop even though they are free from the OECD website and discount offers bring in extra revenue even though the content value does not change. What customers are willing to pay for is ease of access: easy from where I am, readable on my current device, easy navigation through content. They are also prepared to pay for reading rewards: rich and well designed environment, content and curation appropriate to my current needs and sharing functionalities. The two combine to give ‘reading comfort’ which relates directly to the price people are prepared to pay. It follows that there is a job to do for publishers: find out exactly, for your content and your customers, what you need to do to produce products and services that provide this reading comfort.

The model of free+premium = freemium is a combination of a large, addressable audience whose needs we identify through analytics, to whom we offer free versions with a clear value but also premium offers with added value.


Kurt Paulus, 2012
Book now for the 2013 conference.

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