Technology & Innovation Challenges in Scholarly Publishing
Recorded at 2016 PSP Annual Conference, Washington, DC
February 3, 2016
- Kent R. Anderson, Founder, Caldera Publishing Solutions
- Phil Faust, Vice President/Publisher, Research Databases, Gale | Cengage Learning
- Sarah Tegen, Vice President, Global Editorial & Author Services, Journals Publishing Group, American Chemical Society
- Christopher Kenneally, Director, Business Development, Copyright Clearance Center
KENNEALLY: My name is Chris Kenneally. I’m director of business development at Copyright Clearance Center, and very pleased to moderate a panel coming up, which is looking at technology and innovation challenges in scholarly publishing.
I thought I’d reflect on something – an anniversary that is coming up next month. In March 1989, Tim Berners-Lee submitted a proposal for an information management system to his boss, Mike Sendall. Vague but exciting were the words that Sendall wrote on the proposal, allowing Berners-Lee to continue. Vague but exciting – that was all Tim Berners-Lee needed to hear. His proposal was for a management system of information at CERN. And it led to the creation, of course, of the first Web server, running a single website – info.cern.ch. Today, 27 years later, we have a Web – a World Wide Web – of more than 60 billion pages and hundreds of millions of users. Vague but exciting – vague and open. That seemed to be the crucial distinction for his proposal. We are allowed, within that World Wide Web, to fill in the details.
It strikes me that that is where we find ourselves today as well. To sort out this vague but exciting world where we must fill in the details, I have a wonderful panel to do all of that. I will start at the very far end. I want to welcome Phil Faust. Phil, welcome. Phil is vice president and publisher of research products and online learning at Gale, a part of Cengage Learning. He’s a veteran of the publishing industry and leads the organization in bringing innovative education and research platforms to academic, K-12, public, and special libraries.
To Phil’s left is Kent Anderson. Kent, welcome. Kent is founder of Caldera Publishing Solutions. He has founded The Scholarly Kitchen and is a past president of SSP. In his career, Kent Anderson has served as publisher of AAAS Science, CEO at JBJS, publishing director at the New England Journal of Medicine, and director of journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics.
And then finally, directly to my right, is Sarah Tegen. Sarah, welcome. Sarah is vice president for global editorial and author services within the publications division at the American Chemical Society. She oversees operational management, financial oversight, and strategic planning of the global editors and editorial offices of ACS’s nearly 50 peer-reviewed journals.
Sarah, I’d like to start with you. In the program description for our discussion today, there was a statement made, infrastructure before innovation. I guess I have to ask you, is that a given? Is that a question? Is that a problem?
TEGEN: I think the answer is probably all three. From where I sit in the organization, I think that we have a lot of disparate data about our customers, our consumers, our authors, our readers that end up in lots of different silos. So from where I sit, I think that connecting all of that infrastructure underneath gives us the opportunity to better know those people who contribute to our journals, our books, our platforms. And by understanding who those people are, we have an opportunity, I think, to better serve their needs and to advance our own businesses.
KENNEALLY: All right. Well, Kent Anderson, your experience with technology – tell us about it, because where we are at, and Joe Esposito referred to this, is publishing has become a technology business. Now, that’s not a news flash. That’s been true for some time, and everyone on the panel is nodding. I hope that’s not news here. But the technology attitude – the approach to business, in part again related to Joe’s remarks on the opposition of startups to traditional publishers, is profound and fundamental. How do you reconcile that? How do you approach, within a publisher, this attack on infrastructure to drive innovation?
ANDERSON: Well, I think that a lot of infrastructure is being built that we can leverage for innovation right now. You look across the industry and side industries, tertiary industries, there is a lot of infrastructure that you can leverage. I do think that now, when you talk about a new initiative, a new endeavor, you do have to think, do we have the infrastructure to actually get it done? And if you don’t, then you’re going to just run into trouble.
A lot of it is, like Sarah mentioned, around the customer data and the customer information. But a lot of it can be in deliverability, can be in commerce, can be – whatever the idea is, now you have to think about what infrastructure will we actually need to complete that? It didn’t use to be that way. It used to be much simpler, where you could simply say I want to launch a publication, and you would just need a printing contract, and you would go. Now you need to think about, OK, what other integrations do I need? What infrastructure do I need? What specific roles are going to have to be brought to bear on this particular idea, because there are so many different technology facets now.
KENNEALLY: Yeah. But is the time we have to do all that thinking – is it available to us? We are using this metaphor again, as Joe pointed out, of the agile publisher. That harkens back to agile software development, which implies a kind of constant innovation rather than the opportunity in, I believe, the waterfall model, to kind of think things through a bit more. Do we have that time?
ANDERSON: Hmm. That’s a really good question. No. (laughter)
KENNEALLY: Please elaborate.
ANDERSON: If you’re asking a binary question, I would say no. But that’s –
KENNEALLY: We have time for – another hour to answer that question.
ANDERSON: But I think most organizations – and maybe this is not entirely the case – but they find themselves with a set of initiatives that aren’t perfectly aligned and perfectly timed. You have to do a lot of sorting out of those things and prioritizing, and that takes a lot of work and a lot of communication. I think there’s a role and a layer that’s emerging in a lot of organizations around portfolio management and project management that that’s part of serving the infrastructure need. That’s something that is just going to continue to grow, in my opinion.
KENNEALLY: Phil Faust at Gale – so choosing the right time for all of this is critical, and we’ll get to talking about choosing the right team in just a moment, but it’s hard to separate the two. Who you have working on the project is going to matter enormously, and it’s going to really be about how fast you can get it done, isn’t it?
FAUST: Yeah, I think it is. Joe made some great points about sort of the consistency of the market and the industry for years. As things are evolving today and technology is becoming more of what everybody in publishing does, having the right people there and the right skill sets and those people who can be agile and pick up those new things when they need to, as well as maintain that sort of baseline going forward of those traditional things that have gotten you to the point that you are as a larger commercial publisher, as a successful business – figuring out, how do you balance those two things and which players you put on each of the various projects – that’s a little more challenging to do. But having a balanced bench with people with both skill sets, I think, is really critical.
ANDERSON: Just one of the things that happens, though, I think because we’re in a technology space, is sometimes you have something come in where you just have to respond – you know, a new schema or a new demand or a new vendor or consolidation out there, and all of a sudden you have your priorities change.
KENNEALLY: Or a new business model, like open access.
KENNEALLY: Fair enough. But yet what you can focus on most of all – and focus is really the issue, Phil Faust, right – is on your team, on your challenges. I’d like you to drive a little deeper into the relationship there – the challenge and those working on them. You need to find people who are – well, describe them. What are the kinds of people you’re looking for in a world where their roles may be changing, if not from day to day, but certainly over short periods of time?
FAUST: Sure. I say at the core of the really good people that we find and we look for today are people who are really passionate about solving a problem. Depending on exactly how that problem takes form and the solution that we create for it, it may vary. It may be very traditional. It may be something new and very different. But people who are passionate about that, I think, are kind of the core value that we look for in anybody.
As we interview these days and over the last several years, and as we look at people, and even as we analyze our teams, we really look for people who are agile – not to overuse that word – but flexible, who are really comfortable with change and change management. That’s never been a super highly important skill set in publishing for many, many years. And I’d say in the last 10, it’s definitely becoming more and more critical. We’ve actually even changed some of our interviewing approaches and the kind of things that we ask people and look for, for new people coming in and for our existing team. As we look at those new opportunities, we really want to find people who are willing to want to solve that problem and take that new hit or that new change that comes from the market, be it a competitor, be it a new opportunity, or be it a new technology, and run with it.
KENNEALLY: Sarah Tegen at ACS, you’re accustomed, I would imagine, to hiring a lot of PhDs in chemistry. I’ve met a couple of them already here today. How well suited are they? How have they responded to these kinds of challenges? And do you now reach beyond that chemistry community?
TEGEN: Yeah, if I think about the PhD chemists that we hire – and I think this goes for a lot of people with advanced degrees – the things that gets you through a PhD is being creative and being fearless, and that so well suits our industry right now. There are skills that when you come out of an academic background, that you have to teach – teach chemists, teach whoever – including business skills and project management and all kinds of that. But I think that that zest for new knowledge is something that helps serve our industry pretty well.
KENNEALLY: That would seem to be true throughout the scholarly publishing industry. It actually is an information business. Kent, you’re nodding at that. I think it must be, then, driven by this thirst for knowledge. But Sarah mentioned creativity. How does that play a role?
ANDERSON: My favorite trick for hiring good people – and it’s probably changing and shifting a little bit now that we’re this far along – is I always looked for people with humanities backgrounds who were playing around with computers a lot, because to me, they represented people who could think in a synthetic way – synthesize a lot of information – and they wouldn’t get flustered by concepts, but they just love to tinker. Now I think it’s a little bit shifting to more credentialed individuals. But still you look for music – an interest in music, an interest in history. Those people, to me, tend to stand out.
KENNEALLY: Right. We’re hearing a lot today in publishing about big data. There was an entire preconference on that topic. Of course, the data scientists are the crucial hire there. But a term came up in the discussion, data artisans, which I thought was a curious one. It’s about the people who are charged with taking the findings of the data and representing them. Is that the kind of person you’re looking for, who can communicate as much as calculate?
ANDERSON: Yeah, absolutely, and who can talk about things in a way that boils it down to the essentials – not be blinded by the technical aspects or enamored with them, but really can discern the need, boil it down, see that it’s met, and are just comfortable with concepts, comfortable with big ideas.
KENNEALLY: Right. Phil Faust, the sort of hire that is made at Gale again has changed, obviously. The team approach that you have is unusual. I’ve seen pictures you’ve shared with me – what the room looks like. We’ve all seen an open plan office, but this is even more open than I think many of us are accustomed to. Can you illustrate that for us with some words – tell us about what that office looks like?
FAUST: Sure. It’s very much taking a page out of the agile software development industry and applying that and putting a group of people together that have different functional roles within a team, right at the same table in the same space, so that they can communicate freely and openly, that they can be very honest and very quick and rapid in terms of answering questions and collaborating.
There’s definitely times where you need to break away and have some very focused time. There’s definitely some editorial tasks that don’t work in that sort of environment. It brings in its own special challenges in terms of keeping teams working together and focused in the right ways. But we’ve found it to be really beneficial at allowing ourselves to – at least for those projects that require a more agile approach and sort of a different approach to what we were doing, it’s been really successful.
If we’re doing more of the same – doing some of those things that have gotten us there – we might not use that specific approach all the time. But really, as we think about innovation and the future and doing things as we move forward, we need that fluidity and flexibility across the team, and we’ve sort of set the physical infrastructure up in a way to support that.
KENNEALLY: Right. Of course it’s obvious, but that’s all about collaboration. So again the sort of people you’re looking for, creative – this is a heck of a charge to find these kind of people. They need to be creative, communicative, to have a thirst for knowledge. But the collaboration piece would seem to be absolutely essential to all of that.
FAUST: Yeah, that’s really key. We really want people who again want to solve a problem, but are also willing to do it with a group and with others – the whole idea that all of us are smarter than one of us, so to speak. Finding those people, and finding those people who want to lead, but also want to lead a team as opposed to just be that single point is challenging. But if you can get the right one or the right ones together, you really see the output that’s much greater than the individual contributions.
TEGEN: And I’d add on to that too – when you have a team that is geographically separated as well, but you need to work in a team environment, you have to think about people who also know how to communicate and know when it’s OK to IM or e-mail, or need to pick up the phone or get yourself to Washington to headquarters to talk about what you need to talk about. So then also using technology to help facilitate that kind of collaboration, so Box or Google Docs or whatever your favorite collaboration software is becomes so much more critical.
KENNEALLY: Right. But the charge here is to develop new knowledge, to find insights, and drive that through your various publications and other forms of content. Sarah, is all this discussion of technology ultimately distracting to your approach to the work?
TEGEN: No. I think you just have to use technology to get it done. I think maybe I’m missing the point of the question.
KENNEALLY: Well, is it overstated – is the emphasis on technology and infrastructure overstated? Is there a chance that one can lose sight of really the mission?
TEGEN: No, I don’t really think so. I think if we get to the heart of it – you know, for a long time, we as an industry have thought about ourselves as being providers of content, and the content was king. And I think if we go back to it and think a little bit harder, we probably should be viewing ourselves more as media companies, and we can deliver lots of different kinds of information in lots of different ways. I think Joe talked a little bit about that in his last slides about his crystal ball view – how does mobile play into it, how does slicing and dicing content different ways – that sort of speaks to a different mindset for us.
KENNEALLY: One of the things that technology is doing is driving us beyond text to various other forms of content. Each of you have attacked that in different ways. I wonder if you can share some insights there. How difficult is that transition to move beyond the article into videos or interactive content? Sarah? Or Kent, please?
ANDERSON: Sure. Well, I think we all have to have the facility with the technology and deploying it, using it, in order to not become overwhelmed by it. That’s just the table stakes at this point. So you have to be facile with it. I was talking to Sarah earlier today, and we were talking about how every successful technology deployment has been around serving some sort of customer need.
In multimedia especially, one of my favorites still – and I still have something that I’ve held on from this – was in medicine, there was a point where they changed the hours for residents that they could spend continuously in practice. That created a skills gap, and a lot of residents weren’t getting the training that they needed in some basic skills – how to puncture an ear abscess, how to do an IV, how to do an intubation.
So we said, OK, what can we do? Knowing the technology and being facile in it, we developed a series of videos for New England Journal of Medicine. They became hugely popular. They were very effective. They were referred to a number of times. But knowing the customer need – they needed it on mobile, they needed it in a technology they didn’t have to download a player. This was back in the days – you might remember this, all the old-timers here – where Real Media and Flash were going head to head.
We had to do some usability testing, because we knew that it needed to have a high success rate for that particular brand. It went terrifically. But the facility with the technology and the customer need is what made that possible. It wasn’t that we fell in love with video technology and said we need to do something in video. It was kind of the reverse.
KENNEALLY: Phil, you’re nodding there. Gale is, above all else, a reference provider. How does your approach at Gale towards 3D and interactive and all the various other forms of new content sort of dovetail with what Kent was just saying? Is it a response to customer needs? Do you have to try to get out ahead of the customer a bit?
FAUST: That’s a great question. It’s really hard to get too far ahead, especially, I’d say, in our industry with our users and customers. It’s funny – you talk about technology and how technology can lead to what we do or our users do. You know, you’ll build some really great interactive platforms, you’ll allow these fantastic new levels of interconnectivity and things within a text file. You’ll use those great metrics that we now have, and we’ll see that most people download a PDF and will print it off and read it later, just like they always have.
So the technology is great, and it’s great to have some of those features and functionality, but I think it comes back to the situation that Kent just talked about. You really have to kind of look at what that user wants to do and what is best suited for them. If a new technology applies, then you find that new technology and you put it in place. If you’re not going to build a better mousetrap and that’s all you need, then you do what you’ve done before. You do what you know is consistent with the needs of that user.
KENNEALLY: Sarah Tegen, can you talk to a specific success story there – and particularly the caution, which I know you told me about, which is again that point of getting too far out too fast?
TEGEN: Yeah. I think, to be candid, ACS has experimented with some workflow tools for researchers in the form of ACS ChemWorx. ACS ChemWorx has been recognized by the folks here in this room as a leading technology innovation within the industry. But we’ve struggled with user adoption. We still see that scientists in the lab use a paper notebook and tape things into a notebook rather than using great electronic tools that we can provide them. So it’s sometimes disheartening, because I could see that it could just be so much better. But ultimately our users are probably a little bit more conservative than in the consumer space.
So I think it’s really – you have to solve a problem for your user, too, but you also want to lead them to a better place. It’s kind of like the Henry Ford analogy. When you describe a car – do you want a car, or did you want a faster buggy, right? So convincing people to do things in a different way – they come along eventually, but it takes some more doing than you think it should.
KENNEALLY: Right. Have you then developed any techniques that help make the customers more comfortable with all this – the researchers and others?
TEGEN: You try lots of different things. You try video, you do a lot more marketing outreach. You find exactly the niche that they need and what’s the one killer part of the thing that you’ve got to get people to use it more frequently, and then hope that you can expand beyond that.
KENNEALLY: Kent, what about that – the comfort level? How does one get to that as quickly as possible?
ANDERSON: I think it comes down to crafting the solution in a way that people grasp, and that’s really tricky. Another example that I thought of, preparing for this, was again at New England Journal, where the idea of social interaction, social networks and all this was all faddish at the time. The editor in chief boiled it down very nicely to why don’t we just ask them questions and provoke them with statements that will get them fired up and ask them to respond, instead of just letting them all comment openly, which was kind of the mode at the time? And created this feature that’s still going called Clinical Decisions – a tremendous hit, tremendous use worldwide. People stay on topic. People find it very interesting. It gets a lot of feedback. There’s engagement. I think if you don’t provoke engagement, whatever the technology, then you’re not going to get a result.
KENNEALLY: Right. Phil Faust, engagement with the content – that’s really a challenge. If we think about the world today outside of scholarly professional publishing, we hear a lot about diminishing attention spans, the move from a text-based world to a visual world. Certainly the phones and the tablets that we all use outside of our work, and even at work, are driven by visuals and videos and all the rest of that. Is your work responding to any of that? Does that seep into your approach to developing new content?
FAUST: Yeah, very much so. A little different than I think my colleagues here with some of the markets we serve – we heavily serve the K-12 schools market as well, so we actually see a lot of the things that the academics are going to be doing a little earlier on or at least when they’re a little younger, when they haven’t quite got there yet. And a lot of the innovation in the things that we’re doing and the technology changes we actually start with in the school space and in places like the high school space.
So we’ve been able to kind of test things in that area and create content that might be an infographic or might include things like infographics or videos along with the text that we’d be creating, and then try those different things – put those different things out in ways that we can evaluate the usage and access, time on page, and see how it resonates with the user. And then what we’ve found is that sort of is the leading indicator of some of the things that go on in the more academic space and the academics products that we create.
The example Sarah had about the user login – that’s something that we’ve been trying to get good at for 10 years in the digital products. We’re going to make a great login, we’re going to give you a ton of fantastic tools and functionality, and it’s going to give you everything that you need, and you will be a better researcher and a better scholar because of it. Quite honestly, we did a terrible job of getting people actually converted to, gosh, I have to create another login. I’m going to remember this one, though. It’s going to go in the back of my print notebook where I keep all my other ones, like my bank one. (laughter)
It turned out that no one was using it. So what we actually did is we went and we did really an ethnographic study. We started in high schools instead of in colleges. We did college as well, but what started to do is we just watched students and what would they do as they would use the products or as they would do research, be it in our product, in somebody else’s product? And what we started to see is that 80-90% of the people that we watched would take the content, maybe take the citation, maybe pull a little – the entire article and download it or copy and paste it into something like Google Drive. We watched this happen over and over and over.
So about six, eight months ago now, we replaced or supplemented our individual user logins with the ability log in to your Google account through the products and tight integration with something like Google Drive. So if you wanted to build your bibliography or cite an article or highlight something and save it for later, we said, well, we’ll let you guys do that in the place that you’re doing it today. Because we watched them do it manually with a little bit of copying and pasting, and we said, well, let’s not beat them. Let’s help them out. So we implemented that in the summer, and it’s far surpassed in a few months the usage that we ever saw for our own individual single sign-on and user logins, and it’s continuing to take off.
ANDERSON: So I think, to one of your earlier provocations – is technology overblown? I would say yes, because compared to ethnographic research, compared to finding ways to engage customers, compared to the fact that you’re actually trying to get people to engage with your content or engage with your service or do something or change, then the technology should definitely be subservient to that. Little things that aren’t technological, per se – you can test e-commerce pages, for example. And if you change one little element, your response rate can go up hugely, because there’s a little bit of something about color or placement or trust that conveys, that all of a sudden, the psychology of the audience resonates with that. Now, that’s not about technology. That’s about psychology. And that’s really, really – you can become so enamored with technology that you forget that it’s actually you’re trying to connect with people.
KENNEALLY: But the technology can tell you how well you’re doing. I think that’s the critical piece. You can make changes and evaluate them and go with what works and eliminate the rest.
ANDERSON: I don’t think the technology can tell you as much as sitting in a group of residents or visiting a lab. Depending on which stage you’re at –
KENNEALLY: So it’s not just data. I’m just talking about data.
ANDERSON: Yeah. Depending on which stage you’re at, the data can help. At some point, it’s going to be financial data, because you want to know whether it actually met its financial targets. So I think you need to match the measure with the stage you’re at. Data can matter at certain stages. At certain stages, it’s not about the data, so to speak.
KENNEALLY: Right. Sarah Tegen, I’m just looking at a recent post from Scholarly Kitchen by Kent, which is an update to an ongoing list of things that publishers do. I guess it started somewhere around 60 things three or four years ago. It’s up to 100 now. The projection is it’ll be over 200 sometime later this year. It’s a lot of different things. One of the new ones that Kent added this year was vendor management, and I suppose I would group partnerships with that. When it comes to multimedia, non-text, and so forth, a publisher like ACS must be approaching this and thinking the best way to go is with partners rather than trying to do anything in house.
TEGEN: I’m really glad I actually read your post, Kent, so that’s good. (laughter)
KENNEALLY: Everyone should.
TEGEN: No, it’s a great list. But I think, you know, we’re a midsize company. We have a lot of great talent in our organization and a lot of people who do a lot of different things. But we also have to recognize when it doesn’t make sense for us to build in-house capabilities. We do that in a lot of different parts of our operation, whether it’s management of peer review, whether it is journal production, whether it’s IT delivery – there are all different kinds of things.
That’s part of the thing, too, that we look for in employees is someone who can figure out how to help negotiate a contract or at least read a contract, or someone who can develop the management skills, because it’s a different kind of skill set, right? I got to have people who are willing to get up and have a meeting at 7:00 in the morning, so that our Indian team doesn’t have to stay until 10:00 at night. So you have to have people who can manage the clock, too, right?
KENNEALLY: Right. When it comes to the relationship, though, is it something that you really want to be specific about what they’re going to do, or does it go beyond a kind of really strict roster of responsibilities and become more of a real collaboration?
TEGEN: It depends on the kind of thing that you’re having a vendor partner do. Where it is appropriate to write rules about what you’re doing – composition engines and things like that – it makes sense. But we also have a lot of vendors who are managing very directly interrelationships with authors, with editors, with reviewers. That requires people who are really attuned to communication, who know when to raise a hand and say there’s something weird going on here. That’s where we have really good collaborative relationships with those kinds of vendors. They bring, I think, a real intuition about publishing to the people that they hire, to the people that work with us.
KENNEALLY: Yeah. Kent Anderson, can you elaborate on that point? It was one of nearly 100 in your Scholarly Kitchen post, so it was very brief. But tell us your own experience when it comes to that.
ANDERSON: I think as we’re trying to manage all the change, it’s great to be able to turn to a vendor to help you move in a certain direction without having to go all in with a staff of 10 and a full commitment. They’ve come up to scale in some line of business that you’re thinking of exploring, and you can go as far as you want with them. So it’s a way to mitigate risk, but it also does put a burden on the organization, because you have this whole slate of vendors of varying degrees of integration with your workflows and with your future plans, and you need to manage those. It is just a new, relatively big function, I think. And actually it’s not that new, but it’s getting to the point where it’s appreciable.
KENNEALLY: Indeed. Phil Faust, when it comes to current workflows, talk about where those are headed – how you’re managing that particular challenge as they evolve. The holy grail would be e-first, and you may be there in some areas and not in others. Describe that for you.
FAUST: Yeah, sure. We’re definitely there in a lot of areas but certainly behind in others. We’re always striving to become a little bit more born-digital. We’ve done some things over the years where we’ll create a text, a printed work, a digital, PDF version of a printed work, and we would refer to it as a digital version. That’s sort of evolved quite a bit over the years into being much more interactive and much more functional and taking advantage of the medium itself.
That said, we would take that and maybe take pieces and slices of that and use those to build up databases, to build up other reference products that we’d make available to people. What we’re starting to really evolve towards – and we’ve kind of gotten to that point where we flip the other way – you know, we’ll have about 1,000 authors at any time engaged creating content for us through vendors, through various networks, and we’ll take that content and put it into an active sort of evergreen database all the time in pieces, where it makes sense based on user needs and search trends and things like that.
What we can actually do now is kind of take the opposite approach. From that we can actually source out and create maybe 20%, maybe 50%, maybe 70% of a more traditional reference work. So we’ve kind of switched the process over the last several years of being able to really start with digital content creation and get to the point where we can really reduce the cost of creating a brand new title or creating a brand new work if we did that starting from scratch and building from the ground up.
KENNEALLY: Right. Sarah Tegen, workflow is a bit of a different challenge for you, because of course you’ve got researchers involved and submissions. Talk about that. Talk about how a submission-friendly process is really critical.
TEGEN: Yeah. If there’s one thing I could say, it’s please, dear God, don’t leave metadata on the cutting room floor. When we have authors who submit works to us, they provide us with a Word file, a LaTeX file that has all of this beautiful metadata up front about who the authors are, where they’re at, what’s the funding, what’s their ORCID – all kinds of stuff like that. And you know what? We make them enter it twice. They’ve written it in their Word document, and they input it into our peer-review management system. That seems like a lot of wasted effort on the part of busy researchers. So it brings me a lot of hope to see things like Overleaf and Authorea and all the other sort of authoring tools that are coming online now and being integrated with all these peer-review management systems that provides authors the opportunity to have to only do it once. So if there’s one thing that I would love to see, it’s more efficiency for busy researchers.
KENNEALLY: Kent, go ahead.
ANDERSON: Well, it’s also interesting to me that – and this is probably speaking out of turn, but I’m going to do it anyhow – that it’s becoming very commoditized – the article. I think that’s a big change that the open access movement brought to a large extent, where experimentation in the article format and services and all of that sort of wound down, and it became about commoditizing an article. That’s where vendors actually help a lot, and where you can actually scale them up, because now you have specifications that you’re not going to change much, and you can execute with vendors much more easily than if you’re doing in-house, high-craft work. So I think that that – the commoditization of the article – has actually led to more vendor integrations.
KENNEALLY: Interesting. But Sarah, I want to take you back to something you breezed by pretty quickly. You were talking about metadata. You mentioned ORCID. There’s a whole raft of standards. Sometimes I wonder if we need to standardize the standards, there are so many of them. But have we crossed a tipping line, or rather a tipping point, with the adoption of standards, with the recognition that we’re going to need those to achieve the kind of (inaudible) workflow we’re looking for?
TEGEN: Yeah. We’re certainly getting there. I think the announcement last month or December that Springer Nature had 200,000 ORCIDs in their database is a great milestone. I think that the announcement from the eight or so publishers earlier this year, they’re going to require ORCID, are wonderful things and really do help us standardize what we’re doing. I think that the next big advance for us is standardizing institutions, because that helps us with e-commerce processing at the end. It helps us be able to tell institutional librarians who’s using content, who are their authors, all kinds of things like that. So we’re getting there. And I think that the next couple years, we’re going to see a really big push, and we’ll be over the hill.
KENNEALLY: Phil, what about the role of metadata in all of this in terms of developing products and achieving the kinds of goals you have?
FAUST: So much of what we do now is digital that metadata in terms of just search and discovery of content is critical – the quality of it, the ability to surface the content that a user’s looking for. Where I think it’s sort of starting to transition with us a little bit is to maintain that same level of metadata that we have now, but also layer on some new forms of metadata, new forms of indexing of our content to make things a little bit more discoverable.
So the application of the content might be changing, whereas something for a researcher might have great relevance, it might also be very valuable for a faculty member in terms of an instructional context. Would they go looking for it the same way? Maybe not. Maybe they’d use different terminology and a different approach to find that content. We want to make sure that we sort of have an understanding of what those needs are, what sort of metadata we need to start capturing and appending to our content, and including that in the ways that we surface and make our materials discoverable to kind of broaden out that base.
KENNEALLY: Getting back to where we started and thinking about technology and innovation within publishing, so many of the suppositions we have about innovation come to us from Silicon Valley. There are sort of taken-for-granted notions in terms of how businesses get built and how technology is created. There’s a phrase I think Tim O’Reilly first said, but it could have been someone else, about fail fast, right? You’re supposed to fail fast, move on, learn from it, and go to the next iteration of it. I see some nodding of heads.
I want to start at the end with Phil Faust. In the team development that you do, in the interview process, you told me you ask people about – tell me about something you screwed up. So Phil Faust, tell me about something you screwed up. (laughter)
FAUST: (laughter) Oh, that’s a good question. Wow. Gosh. Yeah, glad I get to go first.
KENNEALLY: But something you screwed up but you learned from, you know?
FAUST: Sure. At one point not too long ago, we partnered with a provider in the past here and actually introduced a product in partnership with them. We’d done the research. We’d identified the need. We had done everything that we thought we needed to do, that it had proved successful in the past. It wasn’t as terrible of a failure because, luckily, it was a partnership, so we didn’t have as much investment into the launch and into the product.
Within about 12 months, it was clear that some of our assumptions were just wrong. The market wasn’t ready for what we were doing. The opportunity wasn’t there. Some of the problems that we were certain our product was solving just weren’t there. And we realized that.
So we shut down the product. We pulled it off the market and had to go in and explain to the powers that be what we did wrong. But the way we actually did that was we took the initial business case and we marked up all the assumptions that we made and then what we actually learned instead from the market. And we were able to go in and say we thought this, we found this, and then here’s what we’re going to do differently.
So we not only tried something, we failed at it. But we learned from it, and we were able to actually display that learning and then try and apply that learning the next time that we go through one of these. So the next time we’re looking at one of these situations, we can say, well, we thought this, we found this. Are we thinking the first thing again, and are we really off base – before we take that step forward.
KENNEALLY: Right. Well, thanks for your candor, Phil. I think Joe Esposito would be proud of you for doing that. Sarah Tegen, you already alluded to experiences of that kind. Can you share a little bit more about that?
TEGEN: Yeah. I think from where I sit, our product is still out there, and the lights are still on. We still have users. But there is an internal effort to sort of say, OK, what are the parts of this that really matter to us? What are the parts that are going to be really important to our authors? How can we go back, retrench, redesign, re-launch this thing that we know can be really valuable? I think that, Phil, you said it really well – it’s take the business case and look at it. What were your assumptions? How were they wrong? What would you do differently? That’s a really valuable lesson.
KENNEALLY: Kent, finally, then, has screwing anything up really mattered to you and made you a different man?
ANDERSON: Absolutely. It’s been the core informing strategy of my life. (laughter) I’ve always said you learn more from spilling a glass of milk than drinking a glass of milk.
One of the first companies – publishing companies – I worked for was a private subsidiary of Medical Economics and had a wild CEO. His whole belief was it was better to trial something in the market and measure it carefully for three to six months – and it was more cost efficient, too – than to do a bunch of market research and little dribs and drabs testing. Let’s just go in, try it, and measure it carefully. If it doesn’t work, we pull it out.
I’ve launched a number of publications. Probably 30% of them worked, so one-third success rate. That’s about Joe’s .300 batting average, so that’s not too bad. But that informed a lot of my – you know, you have to be ready to fail if you’re going to try new things, and you have to eat crow fast. There’s nothing worse than spoiled crow. (laughter) If you’re going to eat crow, eat it fresh, with your spilled milk. It continued – a lot of successes, some failures. At New England Journal, we set up a beta site, which was basically built to let us test and fail, and we took some successes and learnings from that. When I was at JBJS, we had a lot of successes. We had an e-books program that we pulled pretty quickly because it didn’t work.
I think that the biggest mistake, though, is holding on to things. This is where nonprofit governance really can be not helpful – is you can have people who just, for whatever reason, want to keep something. It doesn’t help the business to have to carry a whole bunch of ballast that means nothing and actually drains the organization. I think you have to be very careful about that, because failing has two flavors in that instance. There’s a failure to fail. If you don’t accept that something failed, that’s a bigger failure, in my opinion.
KENNEALLY: Well, a great discussion – open, exciting, vague once in a while, but not too bad. I really appreciate the candor from our panel today. From the end, again, Phil Faust, vice president and publisher of research products at Gale, Kent Anderson, founder of Caldera Publishing Solutions, and Sarah Tegen, vice president for global editorial at American Chemical Society. Thank them all for me, please.
I’d like to take the time that we have left for any of your questions for the panel, looking at that subject of technology and innovation challenges. Surely, there are things you all deal with on an everyday basis. Maybe you have a story of when you screwed up that you want to share. We’re all friends. Any questions for our panel. Yes, please? Maybe there is a microphone. I’m not sure if there is. Is there a handheld – no? OK. Well, I’ll restate the question – or stand up and give us your biggest voice.
M: I’m (inaudible). So we’re a technology provider (inaudible), and we find at times –
KENNEALLY: Hang on, John (sp?). Here comes a microphone.
M: Thanks. We find at times that it’s not just about getting acceptance for something that we want to do that’s innovative, that it’s about pushing it and getting publishers – kind of pressuring them to try it. I’m wondering the same thing about your users – researchers who just want PDFs, who don’t want to try something. What leverage do you have or have you thought about using to try to pressure them to do things that they might not want to do? Another example would be Apple taking away your CD drive or different connectors all the time on your laptop. Do you follow strategies like that or think about that?
KENNEALLY: What about that, Sarah? Gentle pressure, I assume – you don’t want to go too far. It’s a membership organization, after all.
TEGEN: (laughter) Yeah.
KENNEALLY: But gentle pressure – that can work, I would think.
TEGEN: It can. I think thinking about the PDF as king and people – you know, we have lots of different formats, several different formats that our users can use, and PDF is 90% of our downloads or something like that. It begs the question, well, then why bother to have these other formats? I think that there is important reasons to do that. We know that in a global marketplace, our users in Asia are probably not so much looking at PDFs on a laptop. They would maybe rather have content streamed to their mobile device. So we think that thinking about where the market can be led by thinking about the geographic diversity that we all have is a good tactic. That may give us opportunity to experiment more in mobile, in re-flowable content in different sizes in our global markets than thinking about the Western world.
KENNEALLY: Right. That’s a great point. Geography makes a difference. Phil Faust, you’ve got a lot of different markets that you’re addressing – the academic market, special libraries, schools, everybody. Are certain segments more yielding to gentle pressure than others?
FAUST: I think public libraries are much more innovative today than really any other segment of the market. They’re doing very different and very cool and exciting things all the time now, almost based out of necessity, really springing from the recession in 2008.
But to your question, I think what I’ve seen the most is we’re able to put some pressure on our economic buyer to provide a better service to our end user. So with our products, you’ve got a librarian who’s actually purchasing or a faculty member who’s really involved in this and then a researcher or a student or somebody that’s actually using it. What we’ve found is we can – the data, which is great stuff but it’s always backward-facing – we’ve found that we can take data and take that to the economic buyer and justify maybe a feature change that, gosh, I love that. That was my favorite button, and where did it go? When you can show them, well, John, you’re actually the only person who uses that feature, (laughter) and everybody at your entire institution – no one else has touched it in five years. But look how much they love these two other ones that we added. That’s usually the most leverage that we’ve been able to bring to bear on streamlining a platform or streamlining a product and focusing more on that end user.
KENNEALLY: Kent, please?
ANDERSON: I just want to add to that. I think you have to appreciate again that the people that you’re trying to reach are under pressures and have incentives, and you need to design to those. If you try to become another one of those, you risk becoming hated. So it’s better to just understand what pressures and incentives they have – carrots and sticks they’re dealing with – and design to those, I would say.
KENNEALLY: Empathy is a critical thing.
ANDERSON: Empathy – absolutely.
KENNEALLY: Great question. Any other questions, please? We had someone there. Yes?
HOLMES: Lyndon Holmes, Aries Systems. Sarah, your comment about bringing Overleaf into the equation and leaving less on the cutting room floor of the metadata is very interesting. Authors have historically used two tools to prepare their manuscripts up to this point, Word and a TeX editor – simple text editor. A tool like Overleaf or Manuscripts (sp?) or PubRef requires a different experience on the part of the user. People tend to be very diehard, like in the PDF situation, in sticking with the tools that they know. What do you see as the uptake or the transition rate that authors will be willing to undertake to some of these new tools that can provide benefits to the publishing workflow?
TEGEN: Yeah. I think it gets back to Kent’s point about understanding the motivations and the pressures that an author is under. I think for adoption of any of these manuscript tools, you have to say to authors, is this going to get you published faster, or in an open access world, can we do this cheaper for you? I think with those kinds of incentives, you can get some sort of uptake. But if you’re just going to get them to say, hey, try this new cool feature, they’re not going to do it. They have to really see a tangible benefit to themselves.
ANDERSON: And with the metadata, I think getting them recognized and giving them credit for authorship in more places and with ORCID and things like that – disambiguating who they are – all those things sort of hint to them that Word is not going to be adequate anymore, that they need to step up their game, because they’ll get more from doing that. And it’s not that big a step, but they’ll get a lot more benefit.
KENNEALLY: Right. It’s kind of a reward system that you want to encourage. All right. With that, I want to conclude the panel discussion this afternoon. I want to thank you for your attention. Again thank, please, Phil Faust at Gale, Kent Anderson at Caldera Publishing, Sarah Tegen at ACS. My name is Chris Kenneally for Copyright Clearance Center. Thank you all.