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Afternoon Plenary: View from the C-suite: Leading publishers Look into the Crystal Ball

by | Nov 3, 2021 | 0 comments


In this session, moderated by Heather Staines, Senior Consultant, Delta Think, three publishing executives presented their thoughts on current issues affecting the industry: Allix Vance, CEO, AIP Publishing; Frank Vrancken Peeters, CEO, Springer Nature; and Niko Pfund, President and Publisher, Oxford University Press.

(L-R) Frank Vrancken Peeters. Niko Pfund, Alix Vance

How has your organization adopted new technology?

  • Alix: We think that open is the future. It also requires expertise that we have not had so far.
  • Frank: Technology does not have such a positive connotation. But it has helped our industry significantly, and it plays an integral role, especially in using AI to detect plagiarism, etc.We have published two books that were completely written by machine. Technology is becoming the heart of our industry.
  • Niko: We are directed in the institutional library space. Technology is connected with office life as much as with the research environment. We are moving to a fully hybrid working environment; we do not do well in isolation It is impressive how effective we can be in a virtual environment. Writers write; we do not turn them into technology experts but need to know who can do work on what.

How has the pandemic changed the work of libraries?

  • Niko: It has brought us closer together. Our offerings have become complicated, so we are trying to simplify our processes. What we have learned has been very valuable.
  • Frank: The pandemic has shown us that digital is what users value today. We must allow easy access to our databases from off the campus. I am hopeful that we can return to a more normal situation.
  • Alix: Publishers went virtual first which might change our culture and make collaboration more difficult. In times of crisis, we move quickly on some things, and can look toward new types of partnerships.

What other issues are affecting our industry?

  • Frank: Commitment to OA is driven by our wish to make a difference in society.
  • Alix: Our vision centers on having more people in the community to solve problems. How do we bring their expertise to bear? We want to serve a global audience, and open is a large part of that.
  • Niko: I do not want to go back to the way things were before. A lot of our air travel cannot be sustained. When people start working at Oxford University Press, they must understand that we are not a social justice publisher.We are a non-ideological publisher of science. Climate change is also having an influence. We have hiring panels to interview candidates for jobs which have proven to be expensive but very effective. The way we have interacted with our younger colleagues has been impressive.

What changes will we see in higher education?

  • Alix: What does a more open environment mean for education? We are thinking more about collaborative and shared efforts. How does work get done in a community? We are interested in connected groups of researchers. There is not just one type of artifact, but we need to look at the version of record and support people’s efforts.
  • Frank: Changes will be a gradual process; we will slowly see the form of the article evolve. But “lower education” (K-12) is more important–we have seen more digital adoption in this audience.
  • Nike: The impact of technology will be much greater in the future. We tend to overestimate the impact of technology in the short time and underestimate it in the long run. We have learned a lot in the last decade. The impact will be transformative.

How does the digital divide affect us?

  • Alix: If the content is open, where will users find it? How do we all develop and become discerning users? Reference librarians must help users shape their questions.
  • Niko: Cultural literacy is very important. It may be the most important concept in our industry. Information literacy is everything and we have a role to play in it. Teaching people where to look for reliable content has proven to be a major challenge.
  • Frank: We are privileged in North America and Europe. In some places, children must walk an hour to find a Wi-Fi hot spot.

Has the tension between libraries and publishers changed during the pandemic?

  • Alix: We have talked about cross-community efforts. We must change some of our traditional ways. We have more in common than not, and we want each other to exist and coexist. For every challenge, we must look at where we have common efforts.
  • Niko: Little things bother you less as you get older. Most publishers think they have a global audience, but when it comes to access, if we could magically convert our special books to OA overnight, we would be converting from a sales model to a service model. If we feel confident that there is a source of funding for that, we would move to do it.
  • Frank: Much more trust has been created. We have worked to provide access wherever needed. We as research publishers are an integral part of the research process.

If you could wave a magic wand, what would you change?

  • Alix: I would like to have more insight about how we can get content to interrelate beyond access to utilization.We still have issues with lack of metadata. We have limited insight on what it costs to prepare the content.

For folks starting out now, what are the things you are putting in place?

  • Niko: It is hard to replicate the serendipity that happens when people are in the room together. We are thinking of bringing people to New York to spend a weekend in contact with each other. That sort of contact is important.
    Frank: We have an extensive policy of at least 2 days a week working at home, but working in the office and having fun will not disappear.
  • Alix: We try to take a mentor-intern stance. Your workplace will not be like the one your parents went to. People are coming in who want to have more say in the business. We are focused on what matters to employees and are finding fresh ways to convene. The ways we organize work is going through a radical transformation.

Don Hawkins
Charleston Conference Blogger



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