Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The Changing Role of Society Publishing

Some in our industry have publicly and privately opined that society publishers suffer from low business acumen. A “can’t see the forest for the trees” myopia impedes their competitiveness in a market dominated by deep-pocketed commercial publishers who have the “W” (WIN) gene embedded in their organizational DNA.
The big-revenue commercial and university press publishers get the lion’s share of library budgets, submissions, citations, APCs, and media coverage. A common perception is that they innovate better and faster and make smart, bolt-on acquisitions to strengthen their market-leading positions and to even reshape the market while society publishers increasingly struggle to compete because of declining revenues from member dues and publications and slow-to-decide, risk averse staff and governance structures. Are these perceptions accurate? Is future success for society publishers tied to commercial publisher partnerships and a quest for size and scale?

David Sampson, Vice President and Publisher for Journals at the American Society of Oncology chaired the penultimate panel at the ALPSP Conference. He believes that culture determines and limits strategy. We need to understand the organizational structure of non-profits; directors have the power, not shareholders. Strategic planning involves creation of vision and mission statements, initiatives, financials and metrics. Revenue forecasting often forgets that customers are in control of revenues. You need unparalleled customer service. Don't be afraid to kill failing programmes and don't be afraid to innovate.

A key element of ASCO's culture is to connect internally and externally. They have joint clinical guidelines to help identify cross-disciplinary work and connect with other associations for events on care for those with cancer. Embracing disruption of societal changes, technology and partnerships are key to the future success of a society. Readers and researchers are becoming increasingly connected with each other; we must connect with them.
Leighton Chipperfield is Director of Publishing and Income Diversification at the Microbiology Society. They have six journals, with £3.3m annual turnover; combining in-house staff and outsourcing. He noted commercial publishers filled the gap created by society publishers' failure to adapt to contemporary conditions. He believes being second to market is fine when it comes to technology. Why would he risk society income on that? They work with technology partners so they can take advantage of a service that has been developed by many publishers.

They love initiatives that can be applied in a cross organizational way such as (ALPSP Awards Highly Commended) ORCID. Things are changing, society publishers are modernising. They tried collecting APCs themselves, but it didn't work, so they partnered with Copyright Clearance Center. Chipperfield believes that the power of societies' collective knowledge is huge. Stick to what you are good at. They have some fantastic assets: high profile expert trustees; journal editorial boards; conferences; and expert members.
Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Associate Executive Director and Director of Scholarly Communication at the Modern Language Association, was inspired to join the panel to debunk the percetion that societies are risk averse. Member needs must outweight business needs and that tension puts them in an interesting position. They launched MLA Commons, a social network for members in 2013, allowing conversations to build beyond conferences. It is an open platform and has a repository at its core.
Simon Inger closed the session by providing some anonymous society publisher case studies. He mapped the journeys of organizations who adopted different strategies. One of the most common mistakes that societies make is to stop worrying about content when they partner with commercial publishers. You need to keep a strategy overview and management watch, but these are not always easy. With declining incomes a society is reluctant to invest in improving its own staffing. This can in turn lead to other issues. He has seen a lot of badly negotiated contracts.


The Changing Role of Society Publishing was the final plenary session at the ALPSP Conference 2016. You can view the video on the ALPSP YouTube channel.

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