In a recent posting to this blog, Emily Gillingham reported on some of what she and her colleagues learned from a recent meeting of Wiley Blackwell's North American Customer Advisory Board—specifically, she listed ten of the challenges currently faced by librarians, which were discussed at the meeting.
In the same spirit and at Emily's invitation, I have polled some of my colleagues who work for publishers, vendors, consultants, and other service providers on the commercial side of the scholarly communication equation. Here, based on the input I received (and with gratitude to my anonymous interlocutors), are ten of the biggest challenges publishers are currently facing, presented in no particular order:
- Government involvement in the industry. Governments shape copyright (both by defining the law and by establishing patterns of enforcement or non-enforcement) and are increasingly involved in Open Access (OA) initiatives, about which more below.
- Emergence of altmetrics. What gets measured is going to drive what gets produced. Academia's confusion and disagreement over what should be measured and how measurement should be done creates radical ambiguity in the publishing marketplace.
- Lack of respect and appreciation for what publishers do beyond simply adding value to content and making it available.
- Customer budgets are flat or declining. Scholarly publishers' traditional customer base—academic libraries—is working in an increasingly difficult budget environment. (This leads to the next issue…)
- Limited growth opportunities. Business must generally grow or die, particularly if they answer to shareholders. When your customers' budgets are tight and getting tighter, where will the money come from to invest in the transition from an old business to a new one? (This leads to the next issue…)
- Maintaining a legacy business while simultaneously building a new business. This goes beyond just the (considerable) problems and expense of maintaining print while creating an online platform. The new publishing business may in fact turn out to be multiple businesses, and it's not at all clear what those will be.
- Amazon. Amazon controls an increasing share of the commercial exchange in cultural information of all types. Not all of the problems posed by this situation are obvious at this point, but they may become so soon—and painfully.
- Rise of demand-driven acquisition. It used to be that publishers could count on a certain number of libraries buying their books on a "just-in-case" basis. That number of reliable sales is going steadily downward as libraries increasingly decline to purchase books until actual demand for them is demonstrated.
- Rise of Open Access. While OA provides opportunities for publishers, it creates headaches and challenges as well. Publishers who move in the direction of Gold (i.e. author pays") OA face criticism for "double-dipping" and suspicion about quality control; those who embrace Green (i.e. self-archiving) OA face serious revenue challenges. There is no easy or simple way into an OA future.
- Limited capacity for reinvention. Can publishers really provide services and solutions beyond traditional books and journals? How much of a market really exists for "workflow solutions"? As libraries have been realizing over the past two decades, a centuries-long past carries with it a very heavy weight of inertia, one that is not easily (or cheaply) thrown off.
What have we missed? Comments and additions to this list will be more than welcome.
See also Alice Meadows' blog post on 10 challenges that academic and professional societies are facing.