On occasion, when I’ve been talking to librarian groups, I’ve pointed out that any sentence that begins “Journal publishers…” and then goes on to make some statement that is intended to encompass all (or even most) of the entities that fall into that category, is either inaccurate or trivial, even when one is only speaking about those who are working in the STM market. I’ve spent a lot of time talking with publishers (both in formal presentations and informal conversation) over the past year or so, but never has that been more apparent than at the annual meeting of the STM Association in Frankfurt, where I gave a talk on Tuesday.
As Michael Mabe (now CEO of STM) said to me after my presentation, STM itself takes no position on open access – its members include dedicated open access publishers, many publishers who are experimenting with a wide variety of open access options, and a few, perhaps, who wish the whole damn issue would just go away (my words, I hasten to add, not Michael’s – he was far more circumspect). But there are very few in that latter group.
The people at the meeting encompass the broad spectrum of scientific publishing. As I was getting up from dinner Monday night (the speakers had been invited to have dinner with the STM board members), I turned to a tap on my shoulder and there was Erik Engstrom, CEO of Elsevier, saying hello and resuming the acquaintance that we’d begun last April in Miami. The next day, as I finished my presentation, the first person to come up to me was Jan Velterop, late of BiomedCentral and now working to develop open access initiatives for Springer. During breaks I talked with people from Hindawi Press (an open access publisher with a very hard-headed business sense), from the NRC Press in Canada (which is associated with their national library and thus often finds itself trying to figure out how to straddle the library/publisher divide on a national scale), from the International Publishers Association, the Association of American Publishers, and a host of other interesting individuals.
Perhaps they were just being cautious around me, but I did not notice a single cloven hoof or forked tail, and even when I was trying to be as inconspicuous as possible (I was not wearing my telltale hat), I did not manage to overhear a single conversation discussing ways to screw librarians out of the last remaining dollars in their meager budgets.
I heard much that I disagreed with, of course – it’s unlikely that the assembled couple of hundred could find a single proposition on any topic that they all agreed upon -- other than, perhaps, the fact that they believe that they’re in an industry that provides a social good, that they want their organizations (commercial and non-for-profit alike) to succeed in the future, and that they’re having a devil of a time trying to figure out what the right thing to do is in this very complicated environment.
I included in my talk my usual schtick about the need for librarians & publishers to redefine their relationship as we work to transform scholarly publishing. The message was well received, but it was also quite clear that these people are going to be redesigning scholarly publishing whether librarians are at the table or not. If we want to have some influence over those changes, we’re going to have to do a better job of engaging with the publishing community than we have so far.