The ALPSP International Conference

The ALPSP International Conference, of which we were a sponsor, was held for the second year at The Belfry, near Birmingham, and was attended by delegates from a wide variety of branches of academic publishing and associated industries from several different countries. 

Tim Brookes, the keynote speaker and CEO of the British Medical Journal, asked why change is so hard, and concluded that this was largely because of cultural obstacles. He said that whilst it may be true that the Queen thinks that the world smells of fresh paint, this problem is not confined to royalty. Many organisations have a good news culture, which means that the people at the top genuinely don’t know when bad things are happening: stuff that’s causing difficulty gets filtered out as it moves up the organisation. Digital natives are needed in industries such as publishing, but they aren’t drawn to legacy environments. Marrying digital skills to an enterprise’s established skills (or vice versa) is therefore challenging and time-consuming. 

Breaking Boundaries in Scholarly Communications, delivered by Hazel Newton, Head of Digital at Palgrave Macmillan, was one of the best presentations of the conference. She spoke about Palgrave Pivot, a new venture whose aim is to publish research at its natural length (i.e., to devise a format that can be longer than a journal article but shorter than a monograph), to obtain high quality, peer-reviewed publications within 12 weeks of receiving the MS, and, as part of the whole process, to re-evaluate publishing norms and rationales that are based on a print economy. Grace Payne from Nature and Helen Bray from Wiley gave two very polished and thoughtful presentations about the importance of communication in the publishing industry. This was not just another session about persuading publishers to communicate better in a more general way. Its message was stark: tell people what you do as publishers, and make them appreciate it; otherwise you will not survive.

Three speakers shared a session entitled Research data and how it relates to primary publications, which will resonate with academic publishers who know that many university libraries have been charged with the daunting task of collecting and storing raw data from academic research in their institutional repositories, as part of the general drive to enable the university itself to capitalise on research ‘completed in working hours’. 

The key takeaway for publishers from this session was that there is a definitive role for them to play in the collection, standardisation and dissemination of data, and that academics are increasingly realistic about whether it can be delivered via an Open Access business model. 

This was the best ALPSP Conference for several years. Delegates seemed to enjoy it – a sure sign was that the debates continued after the formal proceedings had finished on each day, sometimes far into the night.