ATG Interviews Mehdi Khosrow-Pour, President and Publisher, IGI Global

by | Apr 29, 2021 | 0 comments

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By: Tom Gilson (Associate Editor, Against the Grain), and Katina Strauch (Editor, Against the Grain)

ATG: Dr. Khosrow-Pour what would you say are IGI Global’s key strengths as an academic reference and journal publisher? How do you differ from your competitors?  

Dr. Mehdi Khosrow-Pour

MK-P:  As you may know, IGI Global is a medium-sized publisher and is among only a handful of independent publishing houses left in the industry. Much of our competition these days are larger conglomerate multinational publishing houses. Although we take great pride in the level of agility and independence we have in directing our new initiatives and programs in support of assisting our customers (academic libraries and researchers) to have access to the latest quality research findings, it honestly has become rather difficult to compete with the larger publishing houses since they normally dominate library budgets. When it comes to publishers of our size there are usually very few funds left for libraries to allocate to our titles, regardless of how affordable we strive to make our contents. Although we are faced with these challenges, we have found that our size can be extremely advantageous in many ways, especially in an operational capacity. Because of our size, we can move very quickly on ideas and remain extremely agile even in the most turbulent of times such as the current pandemic, as there are no limitations of bureaucratic delays in our company. With our ability to manage a high volume of contents and projects through a strong technology-driven infrastructure, which includes a proprietary editorial management system (the eEditorial Discovery® System) and custom applications which are paired with seasoned leadership and staff, we have been able to maintain the highest level of quality, integrity, accuracy, and the fastest possible output over the last several years for our books and journals. We are continually looking at ways that we can streamline our products and services, while offering maximum level of support and care for our contributors and customers. We have also been able to set ourselves up to be extremely flexible with content coverage and taking chances on even the most niche research areas, putting diverse research representation ahead of profit concerns. Since we are an independent publisher, many authors and editors are drawn to our publishing house, especially given that we are so open to an array of new topic coverage.  

ATG: Since the podcast interview that ATG conducted with you in 2017, what additional market challenges has IGI Global confronted? How have you responded? What strategies and solutions were most effective? What role did technology play?

MK-P: Institutional budget cuts, the transition to open access, and government mandates have posed substantial challenges to our publishing house, as we repeatedly are forced to re-examine our practices to ensure that we are meeting all compliance requirements and reinventing our business models to be conducive to budgetary constraints. Also, as the need for prompt electronic content access continues to be of paramount importance in the academic arena these days, we are always investigating ways that we can ensure that we are receiving and publishing authoritative content as swiftly as possible. For book publications, we have been fortunate to cut our publication turnaround time down to roughly 7-9 months from the time a contract is signed to the project’s release. This is all accomplished through the use of technology and our dedicated staff, which have allowed us to streamline and simplify our workflow and processes.  

We don’t outsource much, as the majority of our editorial processes and technical reliance is in-house. We are appreciative and proud of our ability to work closely and directly with the researchers all around the world who are driving the engine of innovation. We listen to our editors, authors, librarians, and partners to understand and offer pioneering solutions that make their lives easier, support their budgets and/or their customers’ budgets, and contribute to increasing global knowledge. We offer new publication formats and/or content areas that help researchers fill gaps in the current body of knowledge and for libraries to position their collection development strategies effectively, as well as alter/update our existing technologies to adhere to new industry standards. Throughout 2020, we worked with so many researchers, allowing them to publish quicker (extremely important when discussing topics paramount to the COVID-19 pandemic) and more confidently, while remaining assured that the ethicality of the process is being upheld. Currently we are in the process of releasing many titles relevant to the current pandemic, including the following major reference works: Handbook of Research on Library Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic (https://www.igi-global.com/book/handbook-research-library-response-covid/255162) (March 2021 Release) edited by Ms. Barbara Holland, Senior Librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library, USA, the Handbook of Research on Remote Work and Worker Well-Being in the Post-COVID-19 Era (https://www.igi-global.com/book/handbook-research-remote-work-worker/256890) (April 2021 Release), edited by Prof. Daniel Wheatley, University of Birmingham, UK, Prof. Irene Hardill, Northumbria University, UK, and Prof. Sarah Buglass, Nottingham Trent University, UK, and the Handbook of Research on Lessons Learned From Transitioning to Virtual Classrooms During a Pandemic (https://www.igi-global.com/book/handbook-research-lessons-learned-transitioning/255922) (Projected May 2021 Release), edited by Prof. Amy W. Thornburg, Prof. Rob J. Ceglie, and Prof. Dixie F. Abernathy of Queens University of Charlotte, USA, among many other publications.  

ATG: In particular, how have the continuing cuts in library budgets impacted your bottom line? Have you found effective solutions in coping with the potential downturn in profit created by such budget reductions? If so, what are they?

MK-P: At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were the first publishing house to address the immediate digital access needs by offering our “Print to Electronic Conversion” program where libraries around the world could obtain electronic copies of any print versions of IGI Global books in their collection at a 50% discount. We simply trusted their word and if they told us or any of our partners/partnering platforms (e.g., EBSCO, GOBI, ProQuest, GVRL, and many more) about their interest in this program, we allowed them to purchase the e-version of their print publication at a 50% discount with no questions asked.  Furthermore, we reduced the price of all our publications by 50% for the electronic version.  We also extended trials to our databases from 30 days to as long as 90 days so that libraries could assess our databases for a possible acquisition. We even promptly developed an affordable K-12 online learning-centered database of research content designed to support educators and administrators in the K-12 field as they work to navigate transitioning their curriculum to remote. Finally, as we all continue to deal with the impacts of the virus, we have decided to lock all renewal and update pricing for our InfoSci®-Databases customers through 2021 and beyond if needed. For our databases, librarians can select access options such as subscription, perpetual purchase, or EBA. All of IGI Global’s databases offer institution-wide unlimited simultaneous access, full-text PDF and XML, no DRM, and absolutely no hidden maintenance or archiving fees of any kind, overall offering some of the most flexible and customizable electronic resource options in the market.

As always, we are very much committed to the library and research community and want to ensure that our content is getting into the hands of those who need it the most. We are realistic, not profit-driven, and take pride in our commitment to expeditious and quality research delivery. We are fortunate to be able to act on ideas swiftly to ensure that we are setting up libraries in the best manner possible to serve their library patrons. Putting our customers and contributors above profitability can be such a challenge in times like these when so many aspects of the academic publishing industry have become so profit-driven, but we remain committed to not selling out to any heavily profit-driven business plans.  

ATG: During that same podcast interview you were very concerned with the false competition from predatory publishers and the threat it posed to quality control in reference and journal publishing. How has IGI Global reacted to that threat? How do things stand today regarding predatory publishing? 

MK-P: These are still very real threats. Researchers, especially early career researchers, are very often being misguided and are not being fully informed as to what constitutes a credible vs. predatory publisher, or what are considered credible reference sources to cite in their work. Regrettably, in addition to ongoing threats posed by predatory publishing houses, in recent years, many academic publishing houses are now dealing with a new threat known as “predatory research”, where credible researchers will use predatory sources (content often presented within blog posts, editorials, lists, repositories, or articles posing as vetted research) within their scholarly work. These predatory sources are typically created under a guise of being properly vetted and/or scientifically supported work. However, these predatory sources have actually been created solely to suit one individual’s very specific agenda. They are primarily opinion-based one-sided pieces with no real data or facts backing them. To complicate the matter further, credible publishing houses will publish work that cites these pieces in one of their scholarly/scientific peer-reviewed publications. Among some of the damaging results of this kind of “predatory research” is the practice of inaccurately mislabeling groups or publishers within, for instance labeling an established academic publishing house as being “rogue”, “vampire”, or “vanity” among many other labels maligning years of their long-established strong reputation of academic publishing achievements, or conversely possibly painting a predatory publisher as being credible. Over the past decade, our publishing house and so many other publishers globally have been dealing with these unprovoked attacks by many individuals (oftentimes bloggers, online trolls, and/or predatory researchers) who make false claims and accusations about our publishing practices and ethical stance. Sometimes it is an author that had a work rejected and is dissatisfied with the outcome, or even a competitor of the publisher that is fueling this. Sadly, they do this because they are either severely misinformed and/or are acting to suit their own business agendas above industry values and standards. In the process, they are working to discredit their peers’ efforts, negatively impacting the lives and careers of millions of researchers and scholars who have collaborated with these publishing houses and research organizations as reviewers, authors, and editors on a voluntary basis to help advance scholarly discourse through quality vetted research. 

As more people are working online these days and social media usage is at an all-time high, the navigation of different types of editorial pieces, publisher lists, etc. will become much more difficult in the year ahead. In my opinion, it is the responsibility of the publishing industry to police itself against these types of predatory research demonstrations and exercise more sensitivity toward the negative implications they can have on different publishing houses, researchers, and the industry as a whole.

ATG: You also mentioned adjusting to the open access movement as a major challenge. What strategies does IGI Global employ in meeting the challenge of OA publishing? How have authors and funders responded to your efforts?

MK-P: In January 2021, we converted more than 30 of our subscription-based journals to Gold Open Access and also began adding new gold open access journals to our portfolio. In terms of the ways that we are making open access publishing more attainable for researchers, one of our most notable sustainable open access solutions to date has been IGI Global’s OA Fee Waiver (Read and Publish) Initiative (https://www.igi-global.com/publish/contributor-resources/open-access/read-publish-model/), which was introduced in early 2018. Under this initiative, when a library invests in IGI Global’s InfoSci-Databases, including the InfoSci-Books ((https://www.igi-global.com/e-resources/infosci-databases/infosci-books/) and InfoSci-Journals (https://www.igi-global.com/e-resources/infosci-databases/infosci-journals/) databases, IGI Global will match the investment with a fund of equal value to go toward providing 100% Open Access Article Processing Charge (APC) subsidies for their patrons when publishing their work under open access in an IGI Global journal or book. This initiative has been extremely successful and has inspired other Read and Publish models that are widely utilized today. We are continually looking to build on the foundation of sustainable OA, and through our collaborative efforts we can work to fundamentally shift the accessibility of high-quality research. We have also employed programs that ensure that if authors utilize IGI Global Author Services (translation, proofreading, copy editing, etc.) the amount paid for such services will be deducted from the open access APC. Also, just like so many other publishers we offer discounts and waivers of APCs to those residing in developing countries. Our APCs are quite low, much lower than the industry average, and we strive to be as flexible as possible with our authors and in many cases offer a sliding scale, allowing them to pay what they are able to if they are having difficulty securing funding for the full APC amount. 

ATG: Does IGI Global still publish its content in print as well as digitally? The last time we spoke, print made up 40% of your revenue. Is that currently the case? If not, how much of your revenue is derived from print sales?

MK-P: Yes, we still publish every single title in both print and electronic format and feed all published electronic content into our proprietary database platform, the InfoSci® database platform. During 2020, IGI Global’s digital sales made up 65% of revenue where the printed counterpart accounted for only 35%. When reviewing individual title-level interest and sales, although some may feel that our individual print and e- titles are highly priced, we offer very deep discounts on individual titles through our online bookstore as well as through our various partnerships with global distributors. For print we offer hard cover pricing and to further reduce the cost of print, we have also recently positioned most of our titles into a soft cover format option as well which are priced at 25% less than the hard cover format. Taking this all into consideration, our revenue for electronic content has increasingly been derived from our digital collection sales, which also yields the best value proposition for our library customers. Our digital collections, including InfoSci-Books (6,000+ e-books) and InfoSci®-Journals (185+ e-journals) databases have seen a tremendous growth of interest. Recently, we significantly reduced the price of our InfoSci®-Databases in response to the current pandemic and the reliance of libraries on digital contents as well as the library budget cuts. Unlike many larger publishers, we listened to our customers and immediately lowered the collection pricing by applying less value to backlist content. For example, now librarians can perpetually acquire IGI Global’s entire e-book offering as part of the InfoSci-Books database for less than $10.00 per e-book as compared to the average single title price of approximately $200. The costs per title significantly reduces to as low as $1.00 per e-book for the full collection’s subscription option and we also offer discipline and subject-based collection options, independent copyright year options, and custom pick and choose options. Think about getting a major reference work such as a multi-volume encyclopedia publication worth thousands of dollars, for just $1! We also have affordable Evidence Based Acquisition (EBA) options which offer library patrons full access, all or a large portion of, IGI Global’s collection of digital content for up to 12 months. Ultimately, at the close of the 12-month subscription access, the library utilizes the full value of the EBA (paid upfront) to purchase perpetual rights for heavily utilized content from IGI Global’s collection. As the EBA model continues to proliferate, we project digital revenue will continue to overtake/supersede print through 2021.

ATG: IGI Global recently celebrated its 30th year in publishing. As you look back, what were your most gratifying accomplishments? 

MK-P: Wow, I am so proud of our accomplishments that I would love to provide exhaustive detail on each one, but I will stick to just a few. First, the fact that we began publishing titles in electronic format very early around 2001 is one of our greatest accomplishments, as decades ago this was a huge risk as the resources needed to execute such a thing when the electronic market was so dismal could have absolutely led to our demise. Alongside our electronic publishing, we also launched several proprietary content databases, the InfoSci®-Databases, as well as our proprietary editorial management system, eEditorial Discovery®. Over the last several years we have formed partnerships and collaborations with some of the most prestigious institutions, research groups, consortia, ethical organizations, indexes, subscription agencies, and book distributors worldwide. Also, we have expanded our content coverage and publication holdings by 90%. To date we have published nearly 6,000 reference books (more than 1,000 of these are major reference works) and 185+ journals, most of the titles covering innovations within the fields of computer science, business, education, and medicine. The citation impact for our published titles is at an all-time high, with a large volume of titles being accepted by prestigious indexes such as Web of Science™ and Scopus®.  

We have integrated a number of new publication formats into our portfolio over the years, aside from our standard authored and edited monographs, we have also added single- and multi-volume handbooks of research (large edited volumes of exceptionally focused research), casebooks (edited and sometimes authored sources of real-life application and implementation), and most recently, protocols (edited or authored guides covering policies, protocols, procedures, clinical trials, and more). We also have published more than 40 encyclopedia publications ranging in size from one to 10 volumes. 

Also, within the last few years, IGI Global’s commitment to ethical publishing has been accredited by the international Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). Our rigorous double-blind peer review process was one of the many ethical areas that the COPE Council conducted an in-depth review of for more than a year prior to accepting IGI Global as a full member. We have also participated actively as a committee member for Peer Review Week, Open Access Week, among other industry-wide events and have formed panels on ethical publishing for a number of renown international conferences. 

In 2019, we expanded our operations and opened a subsidiary office in Beijing, China and will also be forming a collaboration with the International Center for Informatics Research (ICIR) of Beijing Jiaotong University in China in support of acquiring contents from top Chinese researchers and disseminating our contents throughout China.

We also are beginning some really exciting new collaborations this year, such as a collaboration with the Healthcare Standards Institute to launch a new journal, the Journal of Healthcare Management Standards (JHMS) (https://www.igi-global.com/journal/journal-healthcare-management-standards/270445), edited by Dr. Sharon Kleefield, Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA, which will feature high-quality evidence-based research content, commentary, and correspondence that will advance the field of healthcare organization management (HOM) and standardization and explore the use of voluntary consensus standards, conformity assessment systems, and how publishing standardized processes influence the integrity and effectiveness of HOM.

ATG: You’ve said that staying agile is essential in being successful in publishing. How is IGI Global maintaining the necessary flexibility and innovation required to remain agile in such a highly competitive market?

MK-P: As mentioned previously, the size of our publishing house allows us to run leanly, efficiently, and not carry as much of the overhead costs that larger publishing houses do. Our headquarters is still in the small town of Hershey, Pennsylvania (yes, the chocolate factory is just up the road) instead of being in New York or London or Amsterdam, so we can manage to run a very lean operation and in return not ask for astronomical pricing for our databases, etc. This has been our hallmark from our inception, and we will do whatever we can to maintain this philosophy. Our agility allows us to make the necessary shifts in our practices to meet the challenges of the industry and the markets. For instance, it only took a matter of minutes during one of our weekly management meetings to decide that we needed to accommodate the needs of librarians and researchers during this pandemic, thus immediately launching the aforementioned Print to Electronic Conversion Program allowing librarians to easily and affordably obtain electronic copies of their IGI Global print publications at a 50% discount. 

ATG: In July 2020, IGI Global released the fifth edition of the Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology which once again you edited. As you were working on it, what new trends in information science jumped out at you? And looking forward, what future trends should we anticipate?

MK-P: It is certainly no surprise that both information and technology continue to impact and disrupt organizations, processes, and society as a whole across every discipline and industry, and that is very much the central theme of all editions of the Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology. Ultimately, examining how information and technology is progressing and impacting a variety of environments and organizations is relevant.  

After publishing various editions of this encyclopedia for more than 15 years (now having released a total of five editions), with the third and fourth editions carrying 10 volumes each, we conducted a very comprehensive assessment of the future editions of this publication by collecting data from our contributing authors and libraries and it became very clear to us that instead of publishing a 10-volume set for the latest fifth edition, we needed to divide this encyclopedia into more focused areas so that libraries can obtain the publications that are directly suitable to their particular needs instead of paying for a 10-volume set where some of the contents included in the set may not be suitable to their needs. Ultimately, we decided to publish two encyclopedias and one handbook of research as follows: 

The Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology, Fifth Edition (https://www.igi-global.com/book/encyclopedia-information-science-technology-fifth/242896) (July 2020 Release), a three-volume set that includes 136 chapters that present multidisciplinary research and expert insights into new methods and processes for understanding modern technological tools and their applications as well as emerging theories and ethical controversies surrounding the field of information science. 

The Encyclopedia of Organizational Knowledge, Administration, and Technology (https://www.igi-global.com/book/encyclopedia-organizational-knowledge-administration-technology/242894) (September 2020 Release), a five-volume publication that includes 193 chapters that highlight major breakthroughs, discoveries, and authoritative research results as they pertain to all aspects of organizational growth and development including methodologies that can help companies thrive and analytical tools that assess an organization’s internal health and performance. 

The Handbook of Research on Modern Educational Technologies, Applications, and Management (https://www.igi-global.com/book/handbook-research-modern-educational-technologies/242895) (July 2020 Release), a two-volume scholarly reference comprised of 58 chapters that provide cutting-edge multidisciplinary research and expert insights on advancing technologies used in educational settings as well as current strategies for administrative and leadership roles in education. 

I’d also like to mention that prior to the release of those three major reference works, I also edited another encyclopedia of interest in the 2020 copyright year, the Encyclopedia of Criminal Activities and the Deep Web (https://www.igi-global.com/book/encyclopedia-criminal-activities-deep-web/223181) (February 2020 Release), a three-volume set that includes the most diverse findings and new methodologies for monitoring and regulating the use of online tools as well as hidden areas of the internet, including the deep and dark web, and offers strategies for the prediction and prevention of online criminal activity and examines methods for safeguarding internet users and their data from being tracked or stalked. This is an extremely prevalent topic as more and more people are conducting their business, educational, and social activities online these days. 

Since all these publications were released during this pandemic, we reduced our regular pricing by 50% to make them more affordable for libraries to acquire. 

ATG: Speaking of the future, what do you see in your crystal ball for IGI Global? What about for reference and journal publishing in general?

MK-P:  Our primary mission as an independent publishing house is to serve our customer base and to focus on their needs first before our own, without any level of greed. Regrettably, many entities among the academic publishing industry have become very greedy in terms of what they charge librarians for their contents and as the process of consolidation continues by a few larger companies acquiring smaller publishing houses, and ultimately merging among themselves, the industry may very well reach the point where there will be only a few major players that control the market. This will eventually take the competition culture out of the equation leaving very few affordable purchasing options for libraries, and less publishing outlets for researchers. That is why it is so important for everyone to understand how important it is to have medium-sized publishing houses in the picture. Publishers of our size are a very healthy element of this industry and without independent publishing houses, the pricing options and the level of innovation across the publishing industry will be left in the hands of only a few multinational publishing houses where regrettably their main concern will be angled heavily toward profitability. Unlike what Michael Douglas quotes in the movie Wall Street, that “greed, for lack of a better word, is good”, the publishing industry is the last place where greed should be the driving force!

Our other goal for the next few years will be to continue investing resources into the open access publishing movement, specifically examining how we can further expand our open access publication portfolio. We also hope to continue to foster fruitful partnerships which will include looking at new opportunities for collaboration and the exploration of ground-breaking content areas and publication platforms and formats that we may not have tapped into before. Additionally, we will remain invested in our core principles as an independent publisher, which allow us to be as innovative and accommodating as possible to researchers and libraries all over the world. My hope is that we will continue to be an integral part of the academic research ecosystem for many years to come. 

I greatly appreciate the opportunity that you have provided to me to share our exciting initiatives and prospects for the future. 

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