Over the last 4 months, I have attended many of the major publishing conferences and have learned quite a bit about the average attendee. I am going to cut to the chase and say that we publishing professionals are missing out on engaging key audiences.
I was program co-chair for the STM Society Day back in April. For a session on open access, I invited Emilio Bruna, editor of Biotropica and professor in the Department of Wildlife Ecology & Conservation at the University of Florida. I “knew” Emilio from Twitter and sensed that while he thought open access was the ultimate goal, as editor of a small but distinguished journal, he wasn’t sure how to replace the income from subscriptions by going OA.
Emilio gave a great talk but started by saying something very telling. He said that he had learned a lot about the business of publishing and about programs publishers were offering, including Wiley, the publisher partner for his journal, while at the STM meeting. This was the first he was hearing about publisher efforts to extend free or almost free subscriptions to developing countries.
Fast forward to the Council of Science Editors Annual Meeting in May. I invited my friend Jamie Vernon, Director of Science Communications and Publications and Editor-in-Chief of American Scientist at Sigma Xi, to talk about a student journal his organization has launched. Jamie’s passion is science communication.
The session on engaging young students in scientific research was fantastic. During one of the networking breaks later, Jamie said to me, “This is a great meeting. I don’t understand why my friends [in science communication] aren’t here.”
At the Society of Scholarly Publishing meeting in June, I attended a session with early career researchers. After the discussion, one panelist said that he wished he had come to conferences like this when he started researching and writing.
So back to my earlier point—these three meetings, each excellent at attracting publishers, publication managers, and editors, are failing to draw in the very people being served by the industry. Mostly, as in the examples above, a few “outsiders” are invited to speak and if we are lucky, they stay for the whole conference.
This kind of makes sense in that researchers go to their technical conference and science communicators are typically researchers with a side passion. Funds for conference attendance are limited and they rightly choose the meeting most relevant to their day job.
The “sound bites” I took away include:
- Even if authors and editors hear about what publishers are doing every now and again, the info is not sticking. How many times has one of your editors ask that your journal do something that you have been doing for the last 5 years?
- Editors get questions about you as a publisher from their colleagues. They need some basic information to answer those questions on the spot.
- Researchers, especially younger ones, have lots of questions about what happens once they submit a paper. Even before they submit they are wondering what the editor will think, did they format the paper properly, will the reviewers understand what they are trying to convey?
- Science communicators are allies in finding better ways to help researchers tell their stories and yet they are not working collaboratively with journal publishers.
It feels like publishers are missing the boat here. It’s not about telling researchers how best to format a paper or showing new collaborative writing tools. It’s about making the conversation inclusive. No matter what you see on Twitter and in blogs, not one of these communities can chart a course for the future of scholarly communication alone.
I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it–there needs to be room for all kinds of business models, access models, even peer review. Shaking things up, talking about improvements, is very exciting and we have seen good things come out of it. That said, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. It does not exist.
We are still stuck with two sides battling for the future of scholarly publishing and it all centers on one topic—open access. The open access advocates, some of them backed by large library groups, are pulling out all the stops to “take down” the traditional publishing establishment. On the other side are the publishers who expect to be compensated for the work they are doing on the finished papers. Both hardcore sides are small. Stuck in this middle are a lot of researchers that are interested in tenure who are not particularly concerned about whether they publish their work in open access journals or not. Also in this space are smaller society publishers that just want to provide the services their authors/members/readers value.
So how long will we stay in this quagmire?
Science communicators may be even worse off. They are screaming into the wind of a dumbed-down global media presence and a society that believes anything they see on Twitter three times. And yet, a group like the Council of Science Editors, of which I am currently the President, has this as their vision: “To be indispensable in the communication of science.” I believe in this vision, and the role publications can play, but how do we achieve this vision if those on the front lines of science communication are not fully engaged in our organization?
Maybe now is the time to bring folks together and see what we can come up with. There are no absolutes. No “it’s my way or the highway” demands. That is not working. There needs to be negotiation, not annihilation. How can we, as a combined ecosystem of smart people, figure out how to do research, disseminate research, and communicate research in a financially sustainable way? Here are some thoughts on how to get there:
- More engagement: librarians, researchers, science communicators, and publishers need to invite each other the table. Maybe this can be done with workshops, joint conferences, or special sessions at each other’s conferences.
- More listening: no one hears anything when people are shouting across the “room.” Stop shouting and be willing to have a conversation. Listen to what each sides needs and what each side has to offer.
- More cross-over: we need to do more than just invite a few folks to speak at publishing meetings—which is already a hard sell. And if we do invite them, make it worth their time to stick around for the entire meeting. We all have a lot to learn from each other.
These distinct groups of people have a lot of cross-over and share similar goals. Not all of the goals are the same but some of them are identical. Let’s see where we match up and what we can work on together.
What do you think? Are there common goals and ways we can work together to meet them? Are there success stories of groups that are already working together to improve the ecosystem?