|The Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP) Annual Meeting, held June
6–8 at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, offered the 328 participants
and 27 vendors an opportunity to take a breather from all the high-tech
hype and speculation that dominated many of last year's sessions. Instead,
it delivered more grounded insights and advice on topics such as digital
archiving, library consortia, and the pros and cons of launching new journals.
As an information industry, the academic and professional publishing
niche has reached a new milestone by working in both the print and digital
environment. The conference theme, "Embracing the Present and the Future,"
is representative of this awareness. Instead of wallowing in the angst
of not having the ultimate silver bullet for the dual business environment,
speakers and attendees alike seemed more open to incorporating experimentation
in their daily business activities.
Two modest observations about the meeting speak to the shifts taking
hold in this industry. First, whereas last year it was challenging to spot
more than two companies that offered online peer-review tracking systems
at the vendor booths, this year seven companies offered such products.
This increase points to a shift in traditional peer-review tracking systems.
Editors and authors are interested in the flexibility and time savings
that can be realized by employing Web-integrated tracking systems, and
companies have responded by providing options to fit various requirements
Second, much of the buzz at the podiums and in the hallways last year
was centered on e-books. This year, the conference brimmed with conversations
in and out of the sessions that focused on the importance of understanding
what customers want and the need to cooperate with all parts of the business
chain, from colleagues to competitors. E-books were still a topic of interest,
but they definitely took a back seat to discussions on collaboration and
"Building Digital Archiving" was one of three pre-meeting seminars
that was offered. It was well-attended with about 40 participants—including
editors, librarians, and technology company representatives—who paid close
attention to the speakers' remarks.
John Grinnell, vice president of sales at Cadmus Professional Communications
and moderator of the session, made a series of points that was well-received.
"Obsolescence is probably the biggest risk of a digital archive," he said.
To combat this, migration strategies for hardware and software are needed.
Grinnell believes emerging standards for metadata collection will be important
in the reuse arena, as the identification and re-purposing of digital objects
for other functions can be done somewhat quickly.
From Grinnell's perspective, the digital archive has much greater potential
than the print archive but the risks are still being understood. Despite
the unknowns, he believes it's a challenge that we must address because
the print option is not sufficient and because publishing and preservation
costs in both print and online environments are high. Polling the attendants
prior to the seminar, Grinnell discovered that most attendees felt that
individual subscribers won't want print in 5 to 20 years.
Despite the uncertainty of who is ultimately responsible for digital
archiving, many players believe they're partially accountable for archiving
issues—which speaks to a shared sense of collaborative responsibility.
According to Grinnell, most of the current efforts are focused on "experimentation,
interim solutions, and defining standards." Compared to the technological
challenges, he believes that the toughest part of an archiving solution
is the process itself and the organizational relationships. He thinks that
among the most important things members of the publishing community can
do about archiving are to seek out partners and start experimenting, examine
licensing issues, anticipate what the compromises might need to be, consider
several archiving efforts, and start building an archiving fund.
Kent Anderson, publishing director for The New England Journal of
Medicine, provided a publisher's perspective. He thinks the responsibility
of archiving is shifting to publishers, and he sees it as a function that
can play an ongoing role in an organization's business model. He said that
an archival policy needs to incorporate different elements for the two
types of customer bases that many publishers serve: institutions and individuals.
Whether the archiving efforts are public, private, or both, digital archiving
needs to be given proper ongoing attention. It's also important to incorporate
"transition planning" so that there's an opportunity to build a strategy
that makes sense for each business.
Atul Goel, vice president of production technology at Cadmus Professional
Communications, spoke about the importance and the elements of building
a digital archiving strategy. Thomas Robertson, systems software developer
at HighWire Press, provided an overview of LOCKSS (Lots of Copies Keep
Stuff Safe), which he likened to a "global library system" or a "digital-preservation
There was much interest in this pre-meeting seminar, which was apparent
by the many questions that were posed during the half-day session. Participants
asked about the state of standards that might pertain to all media, methods
of refreshing content (the rereading and rewriting of content into new
media), ways to provide hybrid print and digital archiving options, methods
for dealing with the obsolescence of content, durable media in the context
of capacity, and more.
Highlights of Interest
Numerous speakers and participants offered interesting and thought-provoking
views throughout the conference. While I'll focus the bulk of my remaining
comments on the two plenary sessions, I did attend a number of concurrent
sessions that delivered interesting insights from numerous perspectives.
All the concurrent sessions I attended were lively, participatory, and
generally offered useful information that attendees seemed to appreciate.
"Internet Booksellers" provided views on how different publishers, such
as Amazon.com, and vendors, such as ebrary.com, are effectively marketing
their products and services online. The importance of amassing high-quality
content was discussed, as were the different approaches that can be adopted
for selling content online. In the "New Journals" session, university,
society, and commercial publishers shared their experiences on the criteria
and strategies used for launching new journals (or not). The session entitled
"Upstreaming: Changing Expectations in Libraries & Information Provision"
brought together a variety of publishing industry professionals who addressed
how libraries and publishers are working through the challenges of technology,
selection, access, user needs, expectations, and involvement. Representatives
from netLibrary, the University of Cincinnati, Sun Microsystems' SunLibrary,
and Cambridge University Press offered practical, worthwhile lessons learned
from working with users.
In "CrossRef/Linking," Amy Brand, CrossRef's director of business development,
delivered the service's first-anniversary status report. Highlights of
what's ahead for CrossRef were also presented, as were perceptions about
the service by John Wiley & Sons, Elsevier, and Ovid Technologies.
The final concurrent session, "Digital Rights Management," focused on the
considerations that publishers and vendors haveto keep in mind to ensure
that the strategies are on par with a range of new, emerging business models.
This includes making the process seamless and hassle-free for end-users,
as well as making sure that the controls that are defined are appropriate
for the various types of content. Participating in this discussion were
representatives from the Copyright Clearance Center, the Software and Information
Industry Association, Content Directions, Reciprocal, and Academic Press.
First Plenary Session
"Surviving as a Publisher" provided participants with an opportunity
to hear from two representatives of the financial community about their
assessments of the future of publishing. Back by popular demand was Keiron
Hylton, managing director of Berkery, Noyes & Co., an investment banking
operation. Hylton has been a speaker at other publishing events, where
he's imparted visions of what he thinks lies just ahead. He's gifted at
taking business principles, selecting highly relevant commentary from researchers
and business professionals, and incorporating his own expanded visions
of what the publishing future might hold. Hylton delivered a presentation
that was fresh and engaging. Part of his trademark is to encourage publishers,
vendors, and librarians
to think creatively and differently. This year
was no exception.
Hylton's web of comments expanded from his introduction to Arthur Levine's
five forces on the future of universities. Levine is president of Columbia
University's Teacher's College. The forces speak to the importance of "just
in time" as opposed to "just in case" education, a change in demographics,
the impact of new technologies, the perception by the private sector that
higher education is a troubled environment, and a growing trend toward
consolidation. Today's information economy requires a workforce that is
highly educated and with better skills than in the past, said Hylton. Scholarly
publishers who are paying attention understand that there's an evolution
taking place in which their roles are changing from just publishers of
periodicals to mediators of knowledge. In the higher education realm, today's
students are in search of a different type of relationship with their institutions.
The "traditional" student fitting the 18–22 age bracket no longer exists.
Less than 20 percent of the college population fits this label. It's the
older, working, part-time student that now makes up the majority of this
Hylton recommended that the best way to manage a publishing business
in turbulent times is to experiment. As for achieving success, he suggested
that publishers not overlook ways to differentiate themselves and to add
value. This requires "non-linear imagination and creativity." Publishers
need to think in terms of customizing publications to meet the interest
areas of customers and to acknowledge that the industry is experiencing
a migration toward services.
Larry Crutcher of Veronis Suhler, another investment banking organization,
discussed the challenges facing the publishing community today and offered
ways of combating some of them. He spoke about the inherent challenge of
moving from print to electronic publishing, and how developing new pricing
models is crucial to the success equation. If publishers want to provide
real solutions, they need to start by improving their value propositions
to customers, providing authors with the extra benefits of what's changing
(i.e., working through digital rights with them), and assessing how their
organization can meet the new publishing challenges. In Crutcher's view,
"whenever and wherever has to be the focus of the future." To accomplish
this, publishers need to increase the value for their customers (i.e.,
participate in "solutions-oriented publishing," in which the offerings
genuinely meet the needs of that customer) and understand their customers
(i.e., use in-depth market research and establish ongoing two-way dialogues
with customers). At the heart of all this is the importance of creating
a "customer-oriented company," said Crutcher.
Questions and commentaries were high on the list of the participants
who filled this room. The topics of the queries included whether the publisher
should select the articles or let readers choose their own, the intersection
of online education and publishing, perceptions of the primary reason for
extensive friction in library negotiations, and common denominators of
Second Plenary Session
"Scholarly Research in the Electronic World" provided various interpretations
of what users—identified here as the research community—want in a digital
environment. The linking theme—linking scholarly papers to other references,
databases, and from user group to user group—has stirred quite a bit of
interest in the publishing environment.
Michael Mabe, director of academic relations at Elsevier Science, addressed
a key question related to user preferences: "Will the e-transition really
change the fundamentals or wither publishing trends?" Basing some of his
comments from insights gleaned from an Elsevier survey of users in 1998,
he mentioned that what users state they want sometimes varies from their
behavior. Some of the results of the survey on author behavior indicated
that while authors say they want to publish more, they're actually publishing
fewer papers. They say they want to read less, yet they're reading
more, even if fewer papers are being published. The survey also indicated
that peer review is important to them and that they want wider name distribution.
They also value browsing (which is seen as crucial) and high-quality information.
David Pullinger, a professor and e-publishing consultant, shed some
light on why instant linking isn't growing at a fast rate. Based ondata
from a SuperJournal survey, it appears that the majority of a group comprising
mostly graduate students (approximately 86.7 percent) still reads on paper
rather than on screen. Add to this the fact that this industry lacks "sufficientquantities"
of links to remove reader doubtsabout their value, and today's economic
models are not particularly designed to support a linking strategy.
Zsuzsa Koltay, coordinator of electronic publishing at Cornell University
Library and manager of its Project Euclid initiative, provided a number
of very interesting "snapshots" of user needs. Among these, she indicated
expectations. Koltay thinks that it's imperative to observe and listen
to what users want so that publishers and vendors can get a realistic grasp
of the level of usability of their current products. "They're the only
ones who can give us a valid report card" and thus provide a road map for
future products, she said.
In a Nutshell
Conference critics are never in short supply. But my ears picked up
only a few rumblings from a couple of individuals who thought they'd heard
it all before. About the only thing I didn't appreciate was the astronomical
This year's SSP conference was well worth attending. The questions and
conversations that took place inside and outside the meeting rooms pointed
to a crowd that was engaged and found something worth sharing with other
colleagues. The meeting had an upbeat atmosphere, and the colleagues who
attended different sessions than I did shared mostly positive feedback
about them. Organizers did a fantastic job of lining up speakers who had
interesting anecdotes, survey results, lessons, and observations, and who
really demonstrated a keen sense of "Embracing the Present and the Future."
Ana Arias Terry is vice president of Informed Strategies, a consulting
firm that provides market research and analysis, product development, and
PR services for publishers and vendors of the information community. Her
e-mail address is email@example.com.