Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Two publisher reps reflect on turmoil in the industry

Miriam A. Drake, Scholarly Communication in Turmoil, Information Today, February 4, 2007.  Excerpt:

Scholarly communication is in turmoil. It is not clear how scholarly publishers will cope with change or if journals will even survive. That’s why we turned to two leading experts to provide some insight into scholarly publishing now and in the future. Sally Morris —former chief executive of the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP)— and Michael Mabe —chief executive of the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers (STM)— both take a broad look at scholarly communications. They are keenly aware of the trends affecting scholarly publishing and the changing ways scholars communicate with their readers and each other.

The key issues confronting scholarly publishing include open access (OA), peer review, institutional re­positories, multiple versions of articles, increasing author awareness of copyright issues, archiving and preserving, and faster communication tools such as blogs, Web sites, RSS feeds, and podcasts. The newer communication tools speed up communication and bypass journals....

The current state of scholarly publishing is marked by confusion, uncertainty, and the lack of a clear path for the future. “I think there is a lot of turmoil,” said Morris. “People are focusing very much on open access and self-archiving in institutional repositories in parallel to publication in journals.” However, she said she suspects that people are looking in the wrong place. “A potentially far more significant development is that scientists are beginning to work and to communicate in completely different ways made possible by the Web,” she said. What this means is that if publishers continue to focus entirely on what’s happening to the article as we know it, the danger is that other people will make copies available for free, and therefore publishers won’t make money selling articles. “We may be worrying about the wrong thing,” she said.

Mabe also focused on the turbulence in publishing. “I think there are a number of competing trends interfering with each other like wave patterns interfere when you drop two stones in the water,” he said. “What you are seeing is the first phase of the digital transition as far as publishers are concerned. Add in the political and economic trends, and the end result is, I think, a very unpredictable mix.” ...

Comment.  This is a long, detailed article.  I've excerpted only the preface and encourage you to read the rest.  Both Morris and Mabe know the publisher perspective on this turmoil very well --which is not to say that I agree with all of their diagnoses.  I'm only sorry that Information Today assumed that the only experts on this turmoil were publishers.  I'd like to see a follow-up in which we hear from researchers themselves and others (librarians, funders, legislators) who have been working for just those new models of scholarly communication that are causing turmoil for some publishers.  The interests of publishers are not the only interests at stake here.