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.
While it certainly is the case that scholarly publishing is a mature business, some of the companies operating in this industry have found new avenues for growth by expanding beyond the publication of content into data science. This is an opportunity that is only available to the larger companies with enlightened management.
While many of the traditional publishing tasks remain intact, new tasks that are much more technical in nature have changed the skill sets required to be scholarly publishers. As new and developing standards and services such as Funder Identification, ORCID, CHORUS, and more come online, publishers and their vendors must integrate when they would rather innovate. The trick is in realizing where integration allows more innovation.
Although we in scholarly publishing typically focus on the problems we face, there is a small group of highly successful journal publishers. These publishers fall into three broad categories. To a great extent, these publishers are resistant to challenge.
[Editor’s note: This is the edited text of a presentation that Joe Esposito gave as a keynote at the PSP conference in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 3, 2016. The slides for the presentation are embedded at the end of the text. […]
One of the unanticipated consequences of the introduction of digital media to scholarly publishing is that publishing properties increasingly are organized into networks, with one property pointing to another for the benefit of all. This essay describes the network publishing model and comments on some of a network’s characteristics and economic opportunities.
Why do publishers and platform providers spend so little time seeking incremental improvements?
Professional societies are facing growing resistance to place their publications in libraries. This results in these societies seeking arrangements with the largest commercial publishers, whose sway with libraries and especially library consortia is significant. Libraries have demonstrated a clear preference to work with the larger publishers over the smaller ones. This leads to increasing concentration and market power in the academic publishing industry.
Publishers have to distinguish between features, products, and businesses. Not all features can become full-fledged businesses. Sometimes the best business case for a feature is to link it to an established business, where it adds value to assets that are already in place.
Strategy can mean many things to many people. Why is strategy important? How do you go about developing strategy? Chef Robert Harington discusses how, in his view, societies should approach strategic development in context of building a sustainable publishing future.
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.
Leadership at organizations of all kinds often justifies inaction with the statement, “We’re risk averse.” But is being risk-averse itself courting a set of risks? Is there any risk-free choice?
The governance of not-for-profit publishing entities plays a large role in those entities’ success or failure.
At some point book publishers will begin to copy the Netflix model of selling by subscription. This changes the nature of the business from one where products are sold to one where publishers attempt to monetize readers’ attention.