Wednesday 25 September 2013

The Future for Smaller Publishers: Policy Press and EBSCO perspectives

Julia Mortimer from The Policy Press
Julia Mortimer, Assistant Director at The Policy Press kicked off the final morning session at The Future for Smaller Publishers seminar. Policy Press publish books and journals in the social sciences, have 6 journals with a 7th coming next year and 3 launched in the last 5 years. They are keen that journal and book content works well with each other and combine broad subjects with niche areas.

The future is not guaranteed, so much is unknown. But Mortimer believes that small is beautiful. The advantages of niche are the expert knowledge, unique relationships, that content is king and often, smaller publishers are not for profit and mission-focused. She believes that small is the new big. There is a rejection of large corporates, a desire for personal interaction/feedback. This provides a level playing field and if you have the quality and service you can do very well. However, you do have to make it easy for authors and customers (e.g. online submission systems).

It's about community, community, community. Why do people want to engage with you? Are you interacting with them enough? There is a virtuous circle and it is about loyalty - building it and keeping it. They use an annual conference for one of their journals each year - fantastic to engage with authors and readers.

Policy Press works in partnership with a number of organisations. The University Press Scholarship Online project makes full text available of over 300 of their titles in 3 subject areas - Public Health and Epidemiology, Social Work, and Sociology. The Oxford University Press sales team help with sales. There are small upfront costs and a revenue share model. This is relatively risk free and they have seen significant sales in the first year. They are working to get content on to more ebook platforms. Mortimer advised not to give anyone exclusive rights as there are plenty of opportunities out there.

They have signed up to the CNPIEC and Ingenta Connect eReading platform for China. It hosts journal and ebook content directly so it is hosted in China. This is crucially important for local librarians as it reduces time delays and getting thrown out. A recent visit reinforced the view of the power of a tailored response to a geographic market. And they were treated like VIPs and respected for bothering to turn up! This tailored, collaborative approach is an effective way for a small publisher to access international markets.

At a time when everything is 'e' Policy Press launched the new Journal of Playwork Practice which straddles childhood studies and other disciplines. They are printing a lot of copies for a large number of individual practitioner subscribers. This is a result of dealing directly with the market.

Mortimer's advice to smaller publishers is to embrace change and join forces (with other publishers, platforms, mobile companies etc). Portals and new kinds of resources are real opportunities and provide added value for your customer. They might not be as expensive as you think if you pick and choose and ensure you get relevant offer for your community. Also think about added value for you through repurposing content for low cost channels. Think about what will be the next big thing? Read blogs, be in groups, go to events, check out website resources. Get out and about at academic conferences, industry events and trade fairs. She closed with a call to:

  • Innovate
  • Think about what will customers want in the future?
  • Develop skills in-house and externally
  • Be flexible
  • Experiment
  • Discoverability is key.

Ann Lawson from EBSCO
Ann Lawson, Senior Director for Publisher Relations and Open Access, Europe at EBSCO, observed that the heat is on. Should smaller publishers get out of the kitchen or call in the experts?

Lawson asked: what does small mean to you? Only you can answer that. EBSCO works with 95,000 publishers. They have around 360,000 title listings across journals, ebooks and databases. In 1994, the largest 10 publishers took up 19% of revenue in EBSCO books. In 2009, the largest 10 publishers took up 50%. In 2013, 68% of revenue came from the top 10 publishers. Some big deals go direct and don't use an agency, so this statistic could be higher.

There is a hugely disproportionate market economy going on when you look at the volume of titles with 10% of title volume published by top 10 publishers, but 68% of revenue taken up by top 10 publishers.

University spend with EBSCO shows a heavy proportion focused on e-collections. The result is that the big deal has become a bit of a cuckoo. EBSCO are publishing their price projection report this month. One conclusion is that there is a vicious circle (virtuous circle?) of big deals driving more content to bigger publishers with SMEs locked out.

There are risks associated with being too big:

  • Lack of agility
  • Hungry shareholders drive short or medium term decisions
  • Can sometimes be a risk of reducing things to lowest common demoninator
  • It's not all easy to be a big publisher

And it is possible to make the most of being small:

  • Agility
  • Less hampered by legacy
  • Sometimes less hampered by mindsets

Is there a new level playing field for SME publishers in the open access area, with new discovery systems, the emergence of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and Patron-Driven Acquisition? Whether or not these initiatives mean the explicit break-up of the big deal, they do provide more more competition on a level playing field.

Lawson observed that we are all intermediaries between the author and reader. Working with intermediaries involves creation, dissemination and management of content. Any intermediary, supplier or partner you work with should provide: efficiencies of scale, specialist expertise, cost-saving and process improvement. But consider areas where you might not want to outsource: where you might want to protect your crown jewels.

Tips and techniques for successful outsourcing include: take a close look at mission, value, strengths, weaknesses, experience, aspirations. Involve your stakeholders and be realistic. Review offerings of potential partners, get advice and do the sums. And once you have entered into an agreement, manage your partners well and closely.

Her five tips on outsourcing are:

  1. Outsource what you can, but make sure you identify core competencies or unique services and keep them in-house
  2. Make sure someone is responsible to develop and manage the relationship with a supplier
  3. Treat the process as a proper project, with sensible planning, timelines and budgets
  4. Think creatively about outsourcing (not just production)
  5. Think about cultural issues - everyone is different.
And in the future? Well, you can give up and sell to one of the top ten publishers. You can try to grow, although that requires investment. You can change the game and start a new busines model or you can use new technology and all that it offers to compete on a level playing field (working with the right partners). Lawson closed by urging smaller publishers to collaborate, get creative and compete.

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