AC

Throwing Down the Gauntlet: Moving from Ideas to Action

In Innovation, Society for Scholarly Publishing on May 27, 2011 at 7:00 am

Image by Robyn Jay on flickr

Everyone wants to find new ways to compete while they also keep the machine oiled and running. The planners of the 2011 SSP IN Meeting have been wrangling with this duality between big ideas and practical requirements for weeks.

A recent story in Information Week pinpoints the need for executives to have the skills to evaluate, prioritize, and sell ideas in order to take them from the drawing board to the market.

Companies are attempting to codify the processes through which innovation can be nurtured. More important than ideas, which quite frankly are cheap, is the ability to pick which concepts are worthy of the heavy investment of time, money, and corporate mindshare required to take them to productization. — Alexander Wolfe in “Top 5 Tech Trends for 2011″

But keeping things running is what’s keeping people up at night as well, as a colleague found out when she spoke with a handful of society publishing directors recently (under conditions of anonymity). Their concerns are:

  • Competition on price and availability: New ways to deliver content, which are taking shape on the web, threaten publishers because they compete, not on quality, but on price. Our journals are costly to produce, the subscription model is threatened, and it getting more challenging to compete and retain market share with more inexpensive, “good enough” content.
  • Pressure from consolidation: Users are getting irritated with all the interfaces. Suffering from information overload, our users are saying that they prefer fewer, better, go-to resources. How will smaller publishers compete with the behemoth databases, especially in an environment of acquisition and consolidation? Is PubMed Central be the model for the future? No journals, no branding, just data-based information?
  • Workload and resource demands: The workload of accepted papers is increasing but publications revenues cannot keep up with increasing demands for services and programs by other areas of the society that either do not produce revenues or are not self-supporting.
  • Changing membership: Making our publications program more relevant to new members, who may not have terminal degrees, without devaluing journals for academic authors and reviewers.
  • Journals cuts: Our discipline is facing challenges — many departments have been closed or merged with departments for other disciplines.  In some places, the subject is being taught by people without a discipline-specific background. There are scientists doing pharmacological research who identify with larger practice areas, not sub-specialties. With fewer people to speak up in defense of journals, it has become easier for them to go on the chopping block. Also, how to compete with big package deals — journals are significantly less expensive than their commercially published competitors but are easier to cut than larger packages. Most, if not all, consortia will not bother with small numbers of journals, so we get squeezed out of that market.
  • Keeping pace with technology: Semantic tagging is important, but I have neither the money nor the time to implement it.  My editorial boards are seeing new technologies before I do — and want to know when I’m going to adopt them.  The pace of change seems to be quickening. Staying informed is a challenge and arriving at ways to implement technologies is more difficult. At the same time, my resources are shrinking.
  • The squeeze: What if subscription sales decline and scientists’ research grants can’t support publication charges?
  • The bottom line: What keeps me up at night? The need for more sustainable business models.

SSP members were also recently asked to vote for three strategic issues (of eight identified by the SSP Board of Directors) that they felt would most wouldsignificantly impact them — and about which the society is positioned to take constructive action. What they flagged:

  1. User expectations that they can get information in variable shapes, sizes, and prices (especially free) challenge existing publisher/librarian roles and business models (128 votes)
  2. New products and technology require new skill sets from employees, straining traditional career progression and job descriptions, and requiring constant revamping and retraining (123 votes)
  3. Publishers’ increasing reliance on multiple, unstable revenue streams places a premium on business agility, adaptability, and collaborative partnerships (104 votes)

IN Meeting organizers have incorporated feedback from SSP members about their strategic priorities throughout the planning process. The dual purpose of this 2.5-day meeting is to give attendees new ideas and experiences and to help them translate what they’ve heard into practical, needs-focused actions — as moderator Mary Waltham has put it, steps they can take “within the first 10 days back in the office.”

Continue reading on The Scholarly Kitchen.

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