Revisiting: Peak Subscription

Revisiting Michael Clarke’s 2014 post on the 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?

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 Terrible Burden of a Prestigious Brand

While all publishers like to have a strong brand, some brands are so prestigious that they actually serve to paralyze the managements responsible for them, making it impossible to introduce innovations and to develop the business. Vast bureaucracies arrive whose purpose is not to develop the business but to protect the vaunted brand. This is a management problem, not a marketing one, but it can stymie a publisher from pursuing a progressive agenda.