How Scholarly Publishers Are Redefining Roles & Transforming Infrastructure to Master New Tech
Scholarly publishing is a technology business. That’s been true for some time, of course.
Yet the technology-driven approach to business is profoundly and fundamentally different from traditional publishing practices. How can scholarly publishers reconcile that dichotomy? How should a publisher utilize today’s technology in order to drive innovation?
Those were the questions recently put to the opening plenary panel at the 2016 Professional Scholarly Publishing Annual Conference that I moderated. Panelists were Kent R. Anderson, founder, Caldera Publishing Solutions; Phil Faust, VP and publisher of research databases, Gale; and Sarah Tegen, VP of global editorial & author services, American Chemical Society (ACS).
Tackling the Infrastructure Problem First
The description of this PSP session included the statement, “infrastructure [comes] before innovation.” Looking to tease out what this statement means, I asked the panel: Is that premise a given? Is that a question? Or is that a problem in scholarly publishing?
“I think the answer is probably all three,” replied Tegen. “From where I sit in the organization, I think that we have a lot of disparate data about our customers, our consumers, our authors, our readers that end up in lots of different silos. I think that connecting all of that infrastructure underneath gives us the opportunity to better know those people who contribute to our journals, our books, our platforms.” Tegen added that by understanding who those authors and readers are, the ACS is able create new and innovative products to better serve them.
“Whatever the idea is [e.g. for a new product], now you have to think about what infrastructure will we actually need to complete that? It didn’t use to be that way,” Anderson of Caldera Publishing noted. He said that in the past publishers preparing to launch a new publication simply needed a printing contract. With new technology entering the mix, publishers now must consider what infrastructure may be required and what new roles are needed to support a product before charging ahead.
Developing the Agile Publisher
Throughout the PSP Conference, the touchstone metaphor was that of “the agile publisher” -- an idea the panelists asserted could address many of the infrastructure and talent issues they discussed. The notion pointedly calls to mind agile software development, which involves constant, iterative innovation. The speed of change in this environment can be daunting.
“I think some organizations find themselves with a set of initiatives that aren’t perfectly aligned and perfectly timed,” Anderson said. “… I think there’s a role and a layer that’s emerging in a lot of organizations around portfolio management and project management … serving the infrastructure need. That’s something that is going to continue to grow, in my opinion.”
Faust said that Gale is accommodating fast-paced change by adopting some tenets of agile software development and applying those to the company’s office design. “We are … putting a group of people together that have different functional roles within a team, right at the same table in the same space, so that they can communicate freely and openly. Teams can be very honest and very quick in terms of answering questions and collaborating.” Faust said that although this type of collaboration is not always ideal for focused, individual work, it has proven successful for projects that require a more agile approach.
Earning User Buy-In Can Take Time
Even when scholarly publishers develop an innovative approach, there’s no guarantee that researchers and readers will adopt the new product as quickly. ACS learned that lesson when introducing ACS ChemWorx, a collaborative reference manager for saving scientists and authors valuable research hours.
“ACS ChemWorx has been recognized as a leading technology innovation within the industry. But we’ve struggled with user adoption. We still see that scientists in the lab use a paper notebook and tape things into a notebook rather than using great electronic tools that we can provide them. So it’s sometimes disheartening,” Tegen explained. “… I think you not only have to solve a problem for your user, but also you want to lead them to a better place. Convincing people to do things in a different way -- they come along eventually, but it takes some more doing than you think it should.”
Listen to the complete audio of this PSP 2016 session here.