Hat Tip: “The Future of Publishing” (But I viewed it from the perspective of open access)

I’m surprised I hadn’t seen this earlier. I want to thank a librarian colleague for the link, who posted it this afternoon to a listerv we both frequent. This wonderfully clever video was uploaded to YouTube back in March 2010. According to the description, “This video was prepared by the UK branch of Dorling Kindersley Books and produced by Khaki Films.”

The video was produced for the commercial publisher’s sales conference. Ironically, I viewed it from the perspective of open access and found its message compelling and powerful.

I encourage you to view the 2:30 video in its entirety. I won’t spoil the experience. But I’ll give you a hint. Notice how the message (in this excerpt) completely changes when it’s rewound.

Is this the message?

I know what I want when I see it and
packaging
is more important than
content
I have to tell you
my attention span is too small for big ideas
and it’s just not true that
I read a lot and I like learning …

Or this?

I read a lot and I like learning
and it’s just not true that
my attention span is too small for big ideas
I have to tell you
content
is more important than
packaging
I know what I want when I see it and …

The part about content or packaging proved serendipitous. Unbeknownst to my colleague, he posted the link just as I was preparing to participate in a thread discussing scholarly societies that turn their journals over to commercial publishers, and how this all too commonly results in increased institutional subscription prices. Here is an excerpt:

In addition to being a medium for research communication, I know many societies intend their journal to be a source of revenue to help subsidize other programming. In the print era especially, offering the journal as a benefit of membership is a long-standing tradition that is surely under considerable pressure as this incentive is losing its appeal in the digital age. I imagine that increasing institutional subscriptions is seen as a partial solution, and making a deal with the (commercial publishing) devil who has a lot of experience and brand recognition is seen as the (only?) way to do this credibly.

I appreciate this is simplistic. But it seems to me that the dilemma of a society in this situation is at least exacerbated where there is the perceived need to view their journal as a source of revenue in addition to it being a medium of research communication. If the revenue component could be minimized, or taken out of the equation entirely, then the focus could shift to simple cost recovery of the later. If, further, expectations could shift to the content and its dissemination rather than product packaging, the costs that would need to be recovered would be further reduced. (I’m working on a piece following-up on a recent article that sees open access journals as a “disruptive technology.” Disruptive technologies originate down-market but grow as they are increasingly able to satisfy core customer demands. Meanwhile, commercially published journals may actually be shown to be over-shooting customer demand, and price consciousness becomes a more important consideration. What do consumers of scholarly research really care about? Content or packaging?)

I suspect that leveraging the perception of increased value might bring the entertainment of thoughts that this product should be able to fetch a higher price in the marketplace, especially based on traditional expectations. But I find it difficult to believe that the initiative for these thoughts generally originate with the societies, especially if the reason for going to the commercial publisher in the first place is to provide a rescue from the near-term prospect of insolvency. It’s a pretty big leap from: “What can we do to keep this thing afloat?” to delusions of grandeur: “Ha! Ha! This will turn our journal into a veritable cash cow! We’ll be rich!” (OK. Maybe that’s just a little hyperbolic. But it’s for effect.)

I imagine, rather, the conversation between journal editors and society publication committees when meeting with their commercial publisher partners to be more like: “Yes, we want our journal to be revenue positive. But can you assure us that there is enough value here to justify raising the subscription price that much? Don’t we risk driving away subscribers?” The publisher replies: “No question about value. More people will learn about your great journal on our great platform, which is sure to increase subscriptions. And hey, we’ll throw-in access to a backfile. Librarians love backfiles! Besides, the increased price will offset any short-term loss of subscribers. Don’t worry. We are committed to the long-term viability and success of your journal. We can’t succeed if you don’t succeed. We’re in this together!”

Content or packaging? Selling a product or getting a message out? Which is more important?

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Posted in "The Hat Tip", Commercial Publishing, Economics & Business Models, Open Access, Scholarly Associations, Scholarly Journals

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