The Author as Customer

‘Look after your authors’ has become something of a mantra in both trade and academic publishing recently.  It’s certainly true that authors can take advantage of more routes to publishing their work than they have enjoyed in the past; and whilst we hear periodically that self-publishing, print-on-demand and the rise of electronic publishing are collectively sounding the death-knell for agents, in fact those agents who have moved with the times have not only struck some amazing deals for their authors, but also loosened the time-honoured ties of giving loyalty to a single publisher, or even to a traditional publisher at all.

The ALPSP seminar entitled The Author as Customer, which took place on 12th May in London, was therefore timely, and for that reason extremely well-attended.  Although it was aimed at academic publishers, many of the takeaways are equally relevant to other publishing sectors:

  • In a world of increased demand and expectations, publishers have to think more about treating the author as a customer.
  • Authors may also be researchers, are often reviewers, always readers and sometimes editors.  Publishers build discrete systems for each of these groups, so often forget that they may be the same people acting at different times in different capacities. 
  • Technology is driving authors’ expectations and they are making use of more sophisticated ways of interacting with each other. 
  • Authors ‘generally have a low opinion of what we in the publishing industry are doing’.  This perception must be changed.
  • Some authors have become adept at using social networks to promote their work and discover the work of others. 
  • But many authors toil in vain and significant barriers to getting successfully published still exist.     
  • The way forward is to provide help with these things and also to engage with authors on social media, set up author focus groups and practical workshops and provide e-mail alerts and similar tools for authors to help promote their own work. 
  • Publishers should also recognise and concentrate on enhancing their own core capabilities.   These should coincide with the authors’ needs; otherwise, they represent wasted effort. 
  • It is for the publisher to ensure accountability for the author journey by understanding who ‘owns’ the experience at each step.  Editors and editorial policies can support research by establishing who owns reproducibility, reporting, code-sharing, data sharing and (in the case of scientific publishing) cell line authentication.