Neither Fish Nor Fowl: Journal Publishing and the University Press

University presses are not well positioned to thrive in journal publishing because they have not adopted any of the (relatively few and common) business strategies that are necessary, given market dynamics, for success. I do not put forth this thesis lightly. I have great affection and admiration for university presses, their value — craftsmanship, attention to detail, “getting it right”— and their mission. This is not admiration from afar: I served, in the formative years of my career, at the University of Chicago Press (Chicago), where I learned the tools of the trade and many of the practices and protocols of scholarly publishing still in use today. But after nearly two decades of observing university presses, from within and without, this thesis seems to be inescapable.

The Changing Nature of Scale in STM and Scholarly Publishing

Smaller independent and society publishers are finding it increasingly difficult to compete with the economies of scale around production, technology, and (most important) institutional sales that can be brought to bear by a large publisher. If you are a society that has been self-publishing for many decades, such effects may appear as only a recent headwind in a long publishing tradition. This headwind, however, is most likely not a temporary zephyr but rather a permanent fixture of the STM and scholarly publishing landscape, and one that will only increase in intensity. To understand why, it is helpful to look at the two vectors on which scale operates in STM and scholarly publishing: horizontal and vertical. While horizontal scale has long been the province of commercial publishers, society publishers are typically organized to take advantage of vertical scale. The headwinds are presently blowing along the horizontal plane, from the perspective of the society publisher.

Peak Subscription

Since the late 1990s there have been two drivers of growth in STM and scholarly publishing: site licensing and global expansion. As successful as these activities have been, however, we appear to be nearing, if not a peak, at least a plateau. Institutional library budgets have not kept pace with the growth in global research output. At the same time, institutional market penetration is nearing saturation for many publishers.

So the question is, where is the growth going to come from?

Data Detectives: Investigating What is, and What is Not, Measured

Businesses are using more data than ever to inform decision making. While the truly large Big Data may be limited to the likes of Google, Amazon, and Facebook, publishers are nonetheless managing more data than ever before. While the technical challenges may be less daunting with smaller data sets, there remain challenges in interpreting data and in using it to make informed decisions. Perhaps the most daunting challenge is in understanding the limitations of the dataset: What is being measured and, just as importantly, what is not being measured? What inferences and conclusions can be drawn and what is mere conjecture? Where are the bricks and mortar solid and where does the foundation give way beneath our feet?

The End of an Era for and Other Academic Networks?

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Elsevier has issued a sweeping series of Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) take down notices regarding Elsevier-published content to, a file-sharing network for researchers and other academics.

This has prompted a storm in the Twittersphere, a response from Elsevier, a number of commentaries on blogs and list-serves, and a truly bizarre article from CNET. for its part is reportedly encouraging authors of affected papers to sign this Elsevier boycott petition despite the fact that their own terms of use prohibit the posting of content that infringes on the copyright or license of publishers such as Elsevier.

Is this a footnote or the end of a chapter in the annals of digital science publishing?

Professional Associations and the Strategy Gap

Given the pace of technological change, new sources of professional information and community, the increasing competition for attention, shifting demographics, and an uncertain economy, an effective strategy is more important than ever. While most commercial organizations have developed strategic frameworks, and many now have leadership roles dedicated to strategy, not-for-profit organizations tend to focus less on these activities. While some of this “strategy gap” may be due to relative resource scarcity and its associated time pressures , there are also structural and governance issues at play, particularly in the case of professional associations. These challenges are not insurmountable, however. Professional associations can close the strategy gap by incorporating this series of steps into their strategy development and implementation processes.