Bob Campbell, Wiley’s Senior Publisher and a well-known and highly regarded figure in scholarly publishing, is retiring today after 46 years in the business (although he will continue to work part-time as a senior advisor). He started at what was then Blackwell Scientific Publications in 1968, and helped oversee the merger with Blackwell Publishers in 2001 to form Blackwell Publishing, and was closely involved with Wiley’s acquisition of Blackwell Publishing in 2007. He has helped numerous colleagues establish their careers at Blackwell and Wiley, and across many other publishing organizations – especially learned societies. Needless to say, he has plenty of stories from his many years in publishing, some of which you can read in this farewell interview.
1. Bob, many of our readers will understand what we mean by “a week can be a long time in politics” but 46 years is certainly a long time in publishing. We should start at the beginning, what brought you to the industry?
My parents were both writers so I had an interest in publishing and I needed to get a job quickly as I was getting married to Frances after graduation. It was quite easy to enter publishing in 1968 with a science degree. Publishers wanted to expand their STM programs and science graduates were a rarity in publishing. I went for Blackwell Scientific Publications (BSP) as it was small enough to give me experience in every aspect of publishing and the people were very friendly. Although mainly in book production (a department of three) I also stacked back issues in the warehouse, made sales visits to bookshops, printed out subscriber address labels, and helped prepare catalogs. After about 18 months, I took on more editorial work and started visiting universities in the hunt for ideas and authors.
2. This interview is a celebration of those 46 years and your career; what have been your most satisfying moments, personally and professionally?
Well, obviously, bringing up three children with Frances, although I have to admit she did most of it. She gave me the time to work long days and weekends.
I have been lucky to have been at the right place at the right time. I didn’t plan a career with objectives, I was always totally absorbed in whatever I was doing at the time; I just love publishing, and managing organizations to be able to publish more effectively. Management itself has been harder, but I had amazing support from colleagues throughout my career.
Publishing a book that makes an impact on the subject and has helped students, or launching a journal that serves a research community building a new subject, are immensely satisfying, as is seeing younger colleagues achieve things that I never managed to do. A distinguished surgeon and editor once described the three stages of salmon fishing to me: first you want to catch fish yourself, then you enjoy teaching people to fish, and finally you are happy to watch others excel. Unlike fishing, where I am still at the first stage, struggling with Spey casting (although I did enjoy seeing our daughters catching their first salmon), I feel I have reached the final stage in publishing. I really enjoy the success of my colleagues: listening to their presentations about publishing, launching new ventures, or winning a contract to publish for a learned society. I suppose related to this is my interest in writing about publishing.
3. You’ve “done time” on many trade bodies and committees, most recently working with Dame Janet Finch. Tell us about these experiences.
My boss and mentor for many years, Per Saugman, was active in trade associations and got me involved early on. In the late 1970s I started an international course for the STM Association on journal publishing with Gillian Page which is still running every year. Later Gillian and I, with Jack Meadows, wrote the first textbook on journal publishing.
I remained involved in the STM Association partly because I felt its lobbying role was central to our industry, but also because, having only experienced one company (BSP), I found the interaction and learning from others stimulating. Chairing STM from 1998 to 2000 did take up a lot of my time, however, and chairing the ADONIS project through most of the 1980s was even more time-consuming. But the lessons we learned about how publishers can work together to develop a technically sophisticated system served us well when we came to launch CrossRef in 2000, which I was also involved with. Later on, I was involved in the Publishers Association, serving twice on its Council, and with the Association for Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP).
It was through my role with trade associations that I was invited to be a member of the Finch Group, which was set up by the Government as an independent body to advise on widening the access to research output. Starting with the assumption that we shall have a mixed economy (several publishing models) for the foreseeable future, we produced by consensus a balanced set of recommendations which we hope will work for the UK and be a helpful model internationally.
4. I’d like to focus on your work with CrossRef for a moment – it’s been a great model of collaboration, what are your feelings about what’s been achieved and what’s next?
It's certainly been a great model of collaboration. When planning it in 2000 we realized that it needed to be a not-for-profit, with strong representation from learned and professional societies. We were lucky enough to recruit Ed Pentz, who served a board of directors from differing backgrounds and maintained a politically neutral policy, as well as successfully managing people and technology. CrossRef’s mission was much debated, but the guiding principle was that we could achieve more collectively than individually to add value to the article rather than just reference linking which was the original objective. Along with a range of services CrossRef is supporting exciting ventures such as ORCID and CHORUS.
Throughout, Craig Van Dyck has been a central figure in shaping policy, so I was happy to hand over my place on the Board to him recently. CrossRef's slow start with CrossMark has been a disappointment, as in a world of different versions of an article it will be essential to identify the Version of Record on the publisher's platform.
5. We’re in a period of massive change – what’s your prognosis for the next decade?
If I really knew I would keep it to myself is the wrong answer. We are entering an era of open science, open publishing, sharing data and ideas. We have to work out our future together as we tried to do in the Finch Group. CrossRef has demonstrated the power of co-operation. The trade associations will also play a part in this.
Peer review, the nature of the article, the role of publishing in providing metrics, and maintaining the scientific record are all basic functions that represent opportunities for us. It was fun helping Arnoud de Kemp organize the program for the APE 2014 conference, which addressed these issues.
6. Some of these changes are being driven by “new stakeholders” – funding agencies and central government – how would you describe their influence now and what it may be in the future?
Huge and will remain so. We have to understand their needs. They want impact and publishers should be the experts at providing this.
7. You’ve worked with learned societies for much of your career, how do you see their role evolving over the next decade?
The combination of the threat to income from disruption of subscription revenues and societies recruiting excellent and forward-looking staff is driving change. If we get it right, societies will offer a wider range of services in future, and we shall help them with this.
8. Peer review is the essential component of what editors, publishers and learned societies do – do have any predictions for how it might evolve?
When I started in publishing in 1968, I was told that journals were doomed, as we would not be able to find enough reviewers. But in fact, just as the annual growth of the research community has been around 2-4%, generating more papers at the same growth rate, so it also provides more reviewers at the same rate. As shown in Mark Ware's survey, published by the PRC, researchers agree to review papers because they like doing it. There does not seem to be the same motivation for post-publication review, however, the success of PLOSOne is based on limited peer review. So publishers will continue to experiment with varieties of peer review, offering authors more choice, such as double blinded peer review, a more transparent process, utilizing elements of social media, and differing degree of requirements to revise. Curiously, as yet, many funders do not seem too bothered, simply wanting quick publication and low cost open access, although there is still pressure to publish in high status titles, especially in China
9. And peer review focuses on articles – the lingua franca of scholarly communications – most “new” publishing models appear to retain the focus on them, would you care to comment?
J. D. Bernal predicted in 1946 that at some stage an international organization will develop a distribution system using the latest technology with the article as the basic unit of publication. I guess PLOSOne with its article level metrics and other value adds is close to this. We shall certainly see more investment in adding value to the article as we compete for authors; CrossRef was only the beginning.
10. Retirement means different things to different people, what do you want it to mean for you?
I hope to be more involved in local conservation based on a trust we have set up (the River Thame Conservation Trust), which has already won funding, as well as hosting a forest school, and perhaps getting involved in a completely different area of publishing. Our son Tom and daughters Chloe and Nancy all write. Just as my parents introduced me to publishing, so our next generation may take me along a new path. What our grandchildren will get up to seems a step too far.