Information Today
Volume 18, Issue 8 — September 2001
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IT Report from the Field •
SSP Annual Meeting 2001
E-books took a back seat to discussions about collaboration and experimentation
by Ana Arias Terry

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 and preferences.

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 experimentation.

Pre-Meeting Seminar
"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 Internet appliance."

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, and vendors, such as, 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 population.

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 publisher success.

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 that reference linking has significantly raised the bar in terms of user 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 hotel rate.

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

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