Ask pretty much anyone in scholarly publishing – or, indeed scholarly communications more generally – to describe the last few years and the chances are that they will use adjectives such as, “disruptive” (see also this recent Scholarly Kitchen podcast), “turbulent”, “fast-changing”, or “exciting” (depending on where on the spectrum between pessimist and optimist they fall).
Change was one of the underpinning themes at this year’s ALPSP conference. BMJ Group CEO Tim Brooks’ informative and entertaining keynote, Waving – or Drowning?, about how his experiences of managing change in the newspaper and scholarly publishing worlds, set the tone. Other sessions continued the theme, including: Publishing Skills – The Changing Landscape, an interactive look at how we all need to reskill in order to survive and thrive; What is the Publisher Now?, which looked at the changing role of the publisher; and How Soon Is Now? Discovering What Your Readers Expect Now and in the Future, in which three early career scientists/researchers told us about some of the changes in their worlds that publishers could help them navigate.
Interestingly, however, the recently released results of the latest ALPSP survey on scholarly journals publishing practice (free for ALPSP members, or at a charge for non-members) paint a somewhat different picture. Carried out in summer 2012, the survey was completed by over 250 journal publishers, designated as large (100+ journals – 15 respondents); medium (11-99 journals – 57 respondents); and small (1-10 journals, 189 respondents). Of these, 53 were commercial publishers; the rest were not-for-profit publishers, including 22 university presses.
The most striking thing about the 2012 survey from my perspective is how relatively little radical change it reveals. For example, there has only been a relatively small increase in the number of publishers offering some form of open access – from half in 2008 to two thirds in 2012, hardly a revolutionary change! Similarly, I can’t help wondering if many publishers are missing a trick since apparently most of us don’t yet commonly offer text and data mining. And, while there have been some arguably more significant changes – such as the increase in automated manuscript submission systems (from 61% in 2005 to 95% in 2012), or in the option of offering pay per view rising from 65% in 2003 to 83% in 2012 – these are not exactly earthshattering revelations either.
So are we really in a period of unprecedented change or is it more like business as usual? I suspect that part of the answer lies in the timing of the survey, which was carried out last summer before the full impact of the RCUK mandate was understood, and before the flurry of additional OA funder statements and mandates we’ve seen earlier this year. If the survey had been carried out this summer rather than last summer, the results might have looked very different. That’s certainly what ALPSP Chief Executive, Audrey McCulloch, believes:
“Our report has taken the pulse of the industry at a key point in time. Mandates from bodies such as Research Councils UK (RCUK) on open access have yet to affect the data we have collected, and I fear that our next report will reveal some very detrimental effects for learned societies – who have a key role in academic research – if current policies on open access, particularly very short embargo periods, are not reconsidered.”
If that’s true, then the 2012 ALPSP survey could, in fact, be a very helpful benchmarking tool as we all seek to understand the impact of OA mandates on our industry. And ALPSP might not want to wait another four years before carrying out the next one…