Monday, March 30, 2009

2020: a publishing odyssey

Ahmed Hindawi opened the afternoon plenary session by talking about the "three big changes" that will affect scholarly publishing in the next ten years. He started by looking at other types of publishing and the issues facing those industries:

Newspapers have traditionally had reader payments and advertising revenues, but lose reader revenue when they go online and make their content freely available. Per-page revenue is a fraction of what it was. But newspaper publishers made the decision to go free, and did so because the content they publish is reproduced in many places. This would result in price wars that would only end at zero anyway. There are some exceptions - the Wall Street Journal has managed to keep subscribers because its content is differentiated.

Trade book publishers are just starting to embrace digital. Challenges: no print, less need for publishers? Anyone can get a digital book into a book store, when they couldn't with print. 30m out of print books are "coming back from the dead" and becoming available online - the long tail will vie for space with the new titles.

The music industry has seen well-documented problems with piracy.

Scholarly journals publishing doesn't have these problems: unlike newspapers, the content of scholarly journals is highly differentiated, and you're unlikely to just go and read a different article if the one you want is too expensive or behind access control. Scholarly journals are bought by organisations, so there's still a "middle man" in the sale as compared to author to reader trade book sales. And piracy isn't a big issue.

The three changes that Ahmed predicts will affect scholarly publishing:
  1. Open access vs toll
  2. The journal as a brand on author side
  3. The journal as a brand on the librarian side

(Blogs and wikis have their place, but won't significantly impact scholarly publishing..)

Drivers for open access
  • Recognition of merits of OA by researchers
  • Serials crisis = difficult to expand toll publications
  • Green open access - publishers will realise gold is more secure and more financially viable.

The journal as brand on author side
  • Citation databases could lead to the creation of author impact factors that become more important than journal impact factors
  • This highlights the need for author identifiers! Scopus, Researcher ID, Contributor ID.

Journal as brand on library side
  • Budgets - librarians can't consider individual titles, and will go for Big Deals instead when budgets are tight.

So, five possible futures for scholarly publishing.

1. The Near Past
Journals are toll access, and are important to authors and librarians. It's what we have or have just had, and has resulted in the serials crisis

Possible Future 2: Here comes the Big Deal
Journals are toll, are important to authors, but are in big deals and their brands are not important to libraries. Will see consolidations. Unlikely?
Should expect intervention from external markets.

Possible Future 3: Journal commmoditization
Journals are toll, but lose their brands on the author side. Publishers will have to work hard to keep authors. Publishers will accept more manuscripts (all that are factually correct). New pricing models will emerge - based on subject and downloads. Will be an ongoing market price, so competition for profit will be all about saving costs

Possible Future 4: Open Access
Journals still have a strong brand with authors, but libraries don't need to purchase journals. High impact journals will be able to demand higher author publishing charges. Will be more competition between journals and publishers.

Possible Future 5: Commoditization 2.0
Open access and lost journal brand on author side. All journals are like PLoS ONE journals, publishing all rigorous artlcles. A&I databases will be only place to navigate content.

What will materialize will be more complex than any one of these examples. Open Access is important, but isn't the only issue. Commoditization can bring benefits. Scholarly journals have many stakeholders. It's important to be as "humble and objective as possible" and consider all of the stakeholders. There will be winners and losers.

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