Thursday 12 February 2015

What next for science and engineering books?

Liz Martin, Head of Production at IOP Publishing
IOP Publishing launched their born-digital ebook programme in 2013 (and won the Silver ALPSP Award for Innovation in Publishing in 2014). Liz Martin, Head of Production at Institute of Physics Publishing outlined how by not being constrained by the need to digitise an existing print programme, they were able start from scratch thinking about what readers, librarians and authors in the STM community wanted from books.

IOP Publishing sold their whole programme to Taylor & Francis in 2005. They got out of books, so why launch books again in 2013? It came from their mission. They wanted to engage with their community in a different way, with different content, levels and media to reach out to a wider audience. Unlike journals, authors can express views, which is a subtly different way of engaging the community. It allowed their communities to buy what they want, where they want, how they want. It also provided a financial channel.

IOPscience is their delivery platform. It has good usability and discoverability. They also had their platform in place. They have two collections: Expanding Physics (highly developed texts from leading names in the field) and Concise Physics (short, concise 'first' books in a subject that are written and published quickly). They adopted a born digital programme. They offer PDF, HTML and ePub 3 of absolutely everything. It is device independent and fully functional. Equations are used to make it readable and accessible. They provide a seamless reader experience with click through to exercises and embedded colour media. They have a no-DRM model so librarians can share content freely. There is a fee based model for authors so no legacy issues. They have a collections based purchasing model. They use their existing experience and contacts for production and workflow, quality and SLAs. They have an XML workflow to enable all formats. The biggest challenge is around author education. The opportunity is to use their journals.

Roheena Anand, Publisher at Royal Society of Chemistry
The Royal Society of Chemistry's main objective is to advance excellence in the chemical sciences. Roheena Anand, Publisher for Books, talked through how their publishing strategy meets the needs of the global chemical science community, where digital fits in, and their focus for the next five years.

Why do they still publish books? Because their community tells them they still want them. They find them trustworthy and knowledgeable. Books are the best way to learn a new topic and go beyond a review article to present coherent body of knowledge. They also cover different levels of knowledge. As chemical science research output is browning, it provides ways to disseminate.

One of their key offers to the community as a Society is that all surplus from their programme is reinvested in science. The RSC is a specialist in chemical sciences and they cover different levels of knowledge from popular science to engage the public, through student materials to post-grad specialist researchers. There are synergies with their journal programme, they have an ePlatform, eBook Collections and high quality titles with recognised authors and editors. It helps time poor researchers with a fast track to relevant, quality materials.

They have achieved 50% growth in output and a concomitant increase in revenue. More titles are originated themselves with new book series and editorial boards. They have nearly 1500 ebooks in their eBook Collection. They have also reduced publication times by 10 weeks (around 20 weeks). They've diversified formats so ePUB and HTML and they have diversified revenue streams including pay-per-view, pick and choose eBooks and eBook aggregators.

Their focus in the future is on quality and has to be relevant for the international community as their membership is global. Subjects need to be in line with organisational priorities for the wider Society. They will extend formats and try to improve existing (e.g. print/POD? E-textbooks?). They will explore access routes to content and consider open access (which has not been a focus to date, but signs are this is changing).

Ian Stoneham from The IET
There has been a relatively recent resurgence in book commissioning activity, perhaps driven by institutional purchase of ebook collections or in some part as a reaction to rebalancing income from traditional society journal publishing revenues. The IET's Ian Stoneham questioned how secure the future of the book is as a discrete entity?

The IET publish a range of book products including monographs, professional reference, Standards (regulations), major reference works, conference proceedings and commissioned content. They have made a strategic decision to invest in programme expansion with a focus on core areas of IET activity and proposition as a learned society. They focus on quality, relevance and authority with established series and focus on edited multi-contributor monographs. They are looking for sustainable offering with depth and breadth, with a focus on digital that works for their community. Their standards publishing is now digital first with print 'squirted out at the end'.

Commissioned content is key to their knowledge offering. It can be an access to point to all other areas of their knowledge products or services. It can be repurposed and repackaged for CPD programmes and other activity. In engineering journal articles are important for career and funding,  but there is a different imperative to write books. Books can bridge the gap between primary research and practical application. Engineers are very pragmatic and having a book to wave in front of a client is a good thing for business.

In the future, they plan to open up their content for semantic enrichment e.g. auto detection of proper nouns, key terms in the text, linking to internal/external sources, etc. They also hope to improve community engagement (which isn't traditionally great in their field). Challenges included automated search, Patron-Driven Acquisition and protecting IP from third parties innovating around their content. However,  if you don't have the content, you can't meet the challenge of disruptive technologies.

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