Tuesday 24 September 2013

The Future for Smaller Publishers: case studies from Bioscientifica and Bone & Joint Journal

Timothy Wright sets the scene for smaller publishers
Timothy Wright, Chief Executive at Edinburgh University Press, chaired the ALPSP seminar The Future for Smaller Publishers. EUP themselves are a wholly owned subsidiary of Edinburgh University with £2.6 million total turnover. Monographs are the biggest part of their business, but their journals business is vitally important. They have 39 journals with a mixture of wholly owned society and some editor-owned journals. Smaller publishers face a lot of challenges, but these can be turned into opportunities especially working with key strategic partners.

Peter Richardson is Managing Director of the British Editorial Society of Bone & Joint Surgery which owns and publishes 3 journals including The Bone & Joint Journal. He has personal experience of small and large publishers, but has concentrated on journals over the last 15 years. He opened with a quote from OUP senior editor and Scholarly Kitchen contributor David Crotty:

"The days of the small, independent publisher may be numbered due to the enormous advantages offered by economies of scale."

He counselled that some small publishers can be extremely profitable. They classify themselves as 'not for profit', but they are 'not for loss' as well! His own organisation has recently launched an open access journal and a digest journal.

Key success factors for smaller publishers include:
  • business fundamentals are more important than organisation size
  • focus and specialise
  • unique, high quality products lead to sustainable competitive advantage
  • stay close to the market through authors, subscribers, advertisers
  • outsource selectively to specialist companies - reap their economies of scale
  • listen, research, innovate.
Richardson reflected on the strengths of smaller publishers who can be agile and have rapid decision making which enables an innovative approach. They can give individual attention to editors and societies and have a proximity to the market. Their niche brand for a society or a journal can have real power. Staff will often have broader roles, which can lead to lower turnover and a stable, dedicated team. Weaknesses include a lack of investment. Competition from other activities in the society, consortia sales and sometimes marketing.

Is sales and marketing the achilles heel for the smaller publisher? Library consortia sales, the inability to offer a big deal can feel like insurmountable problems. The solution may be to form consortia of smaller publishers. The Independent Scholarly Publishers Group - ISPG is one example of this with 41 high impact journals from 23 HighWire publishers. Deals have been done in China, Korea, Australia, Sweden and Qatar.

Richardson feels that smaller publishers can offer a lot when publishing society-owned journals. His advice is to find out in detail what the Society wants. Make sure you talk to the right people. Do a SWOT analysis and discuss at your presentation. Offer a detailed development plan for their journal and if appropriate, suggest new products (e.g. an OA journal). Use your own society's strengths.

In his conclusion, Richardson suggested that smaller publishers should:
  • Maximise the advantages of being a small organisation
  • Outsource selectively to expert organisations as larger publishers also do it
  • Specialise, innovate and be close to your market
  • Find a solution to enable you to sell to library consortia
  • Look closely at open access
  • Believe that smaller publishers can complete effectively with larger ones!

Kathryn Spiller is Head of Publishing at Bioscientifica and has experience of big and small organisations having worked at Taylor & Francis. She reflected on the changes they have gone through as a small society publisher in the last couple of years. They are a wholly owned subsidiary of the Society for Endocrinology. When she joined, their portfolio comprised 5 research journals on behalf  of 3 societies (with the most recent launched in 1988). They produced 1 conference abstracts journal and 2 books a year sponsored by pharma. They were overstaffed (e,g. peer review contact for each journal)
with no one person dedicated to product development and little resource dedicated to sales and marketing. The publishing side brought in most of revenue for society, but wasn't structured to evolve and develop.
Kathryn Spiller, centre

The leadership team set a long term vision and short term goals. These were presented as a storyboard to the managers and that process repeated at each level. All staff were involved which inspired and motivated them. It was a (pleasant) surprise to management that the wider teams were often more ambitious with their vision than the managers and leaders.

When assessing your strengths, Spiller cautioned on the limitations of the SWOT analysis. When done in isolation strengths can be the same as your competitors, and as a result, are not USPs after all. Strengths or weaknesses can often be your opinion and not your customer's view. Opportunities don't consider what your competitors might do and if they would have an advantage. Threats can be quite general using a PESTLE model. A more useful tool for analysis is distinctive capabilities where you consider type, capability, sustainability, delivering value to customers in the future, how you might deliver that and is it distinctive?

Bioscientifica identified 3 main areas where they had distinctive capabilities:

  1. Collaborations/partnerships - society brand strong, but not distinctive, partnering with others gives them distinct advantage.
  2. Commitment / agility to launch new products, respond quickly to market - two staff dedicated to new product development and track record of launching products in 6 months.
  3. Stability and helpfulness of staff - low staff turnover and personal service valued.

They have built on these distinctive capabilities through the following projects:

  • Collaborations - ISPG: quality, high impact journals in biomedical and life sciences from not for profit, society publishers. They share costs of sales and expertise and then access consortia who wouldn't talk to them before/individually.
  • They launched Endocrine Connections - an OA journal and more recently Endocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism Case Reports. Created and owned by Bioscientifica that is a unique business model collaborating with societies globally with 9 partner societies.

Where are they now? They have 3 year goals to double the publishing programme, have a product for everyone with an interest in endocrinology, have an integrated search for all their content. They also have clear goals and strategies for each product, a learning plan, a culture of continuous improvement and KPIs by which they measure success.

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