by Matthew Ismail (Director of Collection Development, Central Michigan University)
Written by Matthew Ismail based on a WebEx conversation with Nicholas Philipson, Editorial Director, Business/Economics & Statistics, at Springer Nature on June 25, 2019. Interviews were sometimes edited for clarity.
The origin of the SpringerBriefs series of brief books lies, says Nicholas Philipson, Editorial Director, Business/Economics & Statistics, at Springer Nature, in Springer’s entrepreneurial culture and in the desire of many at the company to be innovative at a time when publishing was undergoing some fundamental changes.
SpringerBriefs was launched in November of 2010, and Philipson remarked that “I don’t think it’s an accident that this is when open access was also really starting to take shape as a viable alternative publishing model that was putting pressure on publishers on the one hand and authors on the other — not necessarily bad pressure, it could be good pressure too.”
SpringerBriefs was launched not long after Springer purchased the pioneering OA publisher, Biomed Central, in 2008, at a time when they wanted to introduce something new and innovative into the market that would both keep Springer fresh and relevant with their customers and also cater to the needs of authors. Springer asked how they could create a publishing platform that would be attractive to authors who needed a new way to present their ideas and were finding that the limitations of the journal article and the monograph were curtailing their ability to express their ideas at their natural length.
“It was a good time for us to take some risks and to see that we could afford to do some new things,” says Philipson. “Let’s shake things up! I think it’s very much a testament to the Springer leadership of the time — Dirk Hank and Peter Hendricks were very much driving this kind of innovation.” The announcement of SpringerBriefs came “about a year after there was a very big announcement at Springer that we are completely changing our philosophy from being a print-first and electronic-second publisher, to being and electronic-first and print-second one.”
“It became clearer and clearer to us,” says Philipson, “that there was a real opportunity to focus on a product line that was somewhere in between journals and books — a format where authors could experiment with ideas that didn’t quite fit into those very traditional formats — either the long format of the book or the very strict format required of journals. We recognized that no matter what subject area you were working with there was the potential that the material wouldn’t fit into those traditional formats — whether it was simply too long for an article because the author might have additional data, more exposition of the literature review, or more background to discuss, or that the author’s theoretical constructs didn’t allow them to adhere to the strict page requirements for the traditional journals. But also, we saw SpringerBriefs as a platform where authors could really experiment with ideas, especially if they were interdisciplinary and didn’t fit into traditional book series or journals. A work might be a piece of research in which the author also wanted to experiment with policy implications or more practical applications of their research that wouldn’t fit so strictly into the traditional academic presentation in a monograph or a journal article. So, I think that SpringerBriefs was born largely out of this entrepreneurial spirit that was being promoted at Springer.”
One of the very helpful aspects of being a large and well-established publishing company was that there was already a stable and productive infrastructure for producing and retailing books. “The reason that we’re able to do these SpringerBriefs successfully, in many ways, is simply because we have SpringerLink so we are not dependent on trade sales. We’re not even really dependent on a very significant number of print sales through any channel. They are first and foremost an electronic product that is a licensed through SpringerLink in our eBook packages.”
“We looked across the company at all the workflows that we had for books and journals and started to create some best practices for the SpringerBriefs based on what we already knew about publishing, so we weren’t re-inventing the wheel. We decided that we would essentially publish these as books — they didn’t follow the standard bibliographic requirements for a journal. What we could do then is publish them as books into series.”
The format, Springer decided, would be between fifty and a hundred and twenty five pages — approximately twenty thousand words to about seventy five or eighty thousand words — and they wanted to be sure that those at the longer end were shorter than any of the shorter monographs Springer published and that they were significantly longer than any of the journal articles. They decided that, for their purposes, the SpringerBriefs would go through the established books workflow, and they would be produced using all the production protocols for books, but with some customizations.
The Springer team also thought about things like the peer review process, and rather than using tools such as Editorial Manager or Manuscript Central, they processed the submissions manually, so that proposals or manuscripts would be sent out for peer review outside those systems. “So, part of the rationale [for SpringerBriefs] was that we have a new platform where authors can experiment — they can do something new. The works still need to have scientific rigor and they’re still peer reviewed and still hue to our very high standard at Springer. But it’s also experimental — we want also to be something new from the author’s point of view.”
SpringerBriefs has since become a very successful set of subject series on a wide variety of topics, ranging from Accounting to Well-Being and Quality of Life Research. Springer says that SpringerBriefs are published more quickly than traditional monographs and that they can include:
• A report on state-of-the art analytical techniques
• A bridge between new research results published in journal articles and a contextual literature review
• A primer on a hot new topic in your field
• A case study or clinical example that you think deserves publication
• The core concepts of a topic, which would be beneficial to a student’s understanding.
Thus, SpringerBriefs do not replace the traditional monograph or journal article but constitute another publishing option for authors whose work might otherwise have difficulty finding a home.