ALPSP Conference 2013


Last week Inspired Selection attended the ALPSP conference, 3 days at the Belfry in Birmingham dedicated to the academic and STM publishing industry. Throughout the conference there was an overall theme of communication – ensuring we are speaking in the right language for our consumers and also a chance for everyone to network, learn and discuss current challenges that the industry is facing.

We kicked off on Wednesday with a keynote speech from Tim Brooks, CEO of the BMJ; Are we Waving – or drowning? He talked about the difficulty of change and how we can be so blinded by our own language that we stop seeing what the consumer wants and what language they communicate in. Tim discussed how to ‘storm the barricades’ so to speak and really encourage change by talking with everyone in your organisation and offer the opportunity for people with insightful things to say to talk. It’s important to push different disciplines together, let new members of staff input and influence the future as they will be the leaders of tomorrow.

The conference was jam packed full of fantastic information and ideas from the industry on what we’re doing right and what we could be doing better – specifically in the area of communication. As an industry we are strong on communication on behalf of our products and authors but perhaps we need to improve on our communication of what it is that we are responsible for in each of our roles within our publishing sector! To focus on key themes from the conference important for moving forward as an industry:

Data is the language of the future; it is clear that were are now entering a time of change where content is key but the way in which that content is delivered needs to change. The way we consume data through devices will adapt and grow and we will need to change the way we consume and sell this content. Hazel Newton talked about a way in which we can challenge the restrictions imposed by traditional print publishing with the input of digital technology; Palgrave Macmillan has created Palgrave Pivot – a way for researchers to publish their research at its natural length, quickly and fully peer reviewed.

Communication is key; as publishers, a huge amount of time is spent talking about authors and their research – but are we talking in their language? A key theme of the conference was to ensure that we are looking at everything from our audiences’ point of view and ensure that we are communicating everything in a way that others can understand.

Accessibility was a strong theme for one of the plenary sessions. The focus was on making content available for everyone; the majority of popular books, newspapers and magazines are published digitally and there is an opportunity for those who are print impaired to read and access these products. The key challenge for publishers is to make everything available at the same time and price for print impaired readers – including academic content for students and researchers.

Publishing skills are changing – we are seeing more roles come through that are content, digital and platform focussed and for these roles there is a need to seek candidates with a different set of skills. Publishing is becoming more diverse and as well as current candidates within the industry adapting to the change in skillset we are also seeing a rise in candidates coming from outside of the industry. 

For researchers, there is a huge focus on making data accessible; this has a huge benefit for research but it must be done in such a way that it encourages researchers to make data available in an arena where they will get recognition and credit for doing so. Data could be made discoverable through Open Access however this could be taken beyond the discoverability of data to become knowledge sharing – a way of accessing the data and using the data to assist current research but also allowing credibility for the person who shared the knowledge in the first place.

The whole issue of current trends within Open Access publishing is a major factor for all publishers – both journals and books. Fred Dylla, CEO, American Institute of Physics led an interesting update on government responses (UK, US, EU) on the issues involved with the differences between Gold and Green Open Access publishing.

The conference was a fantastic platform for networking and for the sharing of information across the industry. It is a sector that is thriving with activity, change and exciting adaptations. Everyone we met and spoke with at the conference was brimming with new ideas and it’s clear to see how much passion publishers have for their industry and for the future.


The role of the Publisher

As the Open Access debate rages on, and mainstream academic publishers increase their Open Access offering, it’s interesting to revisit the role that publishers play in bringing research results to market. This will certainly come to light in discussions at the upcoming ALPSP conference to be held 11-13 September, which Inspired Selection will be attending.


Our specialist STM/Academic publishing team – Esme Richardson and Donald Smith – are keen to hear what current practitioners have to say. We’re certainly looking forward to attending some of the talks and getting up to speed with latest developments.


Proponents of Open Access have for some time been putting journal publishers under pressure to prove their worth, questioning their value beyond managing the peer-review process and copy editing materials. Scholarly Kitchen see the author community claiming that “journal publishers do so little”, but is this perception really just a result of the fact that they are only aware of a small part of the overall journal publishing process?


So what role does the Publisher have in light of the growth of Open Access? Scholarly Kitchen recently posted a thought provoking guide highlighting 60 key benefits  publishing companies bring to the table. This post highlights the added value that publishers offer – Scholarly Kitchen argue that many authors are not aware of the complexity of processes involved in preparing, promoting and disseminating scholarly information; nor the commitment and resource required to maintain and further develop the necessary technological platforms.


We’ll be at the ALPSP conference to learn more about the issues surrounding Open Access and the value added to the industry by both big and small publishers; if you’re there please don’t hesitate to get in touch we’d love to hear your thoughts.


Esme Richardson    

Donald Smith           

The Role of a Commissioning Editor

So what does a Commissioning Editor really do? Last night we attended the Women in Publishing event at the Hotel Strand Continental to hear Rukhsana Yasmin from Saqi and Kirsty Schaper from Bloomsbury talk about their experience as Commissioning Editors and tell us a little more about the tools and skills you really need to make the job a success.

Kirsty began her working life abroad teaching English as a foreign language; she came back to the UK and got a job at Continuum as an Editorial Assistant and worked her way up from there before making the move to work on the Sports non-fiction list at A & C Black, now Bloomsbury. It was really interesting to hear about the difference between commissioning for Academic and for Trade; with Academic publishing you can identify the persons qualifications and have their work peer reviewed but with Trade it becomes far more risky, you must quantify the qualifications of your authors within their field of expertise but also assess factors like marketability; Do they have a blog/twitter? How well known are they? Can they market their own brand? The most exciting thing about commissioning is finding an author who can become a bestseller.

Rukhsana came into publishing through an Arts Council programme to increase Diversity in Publishing through Saqi Books, she found that working in a smaller publisher gave her a wealth of experience and knowledge to take forward into her next role at Profile where she commissioned her first book; she is now Commissioning Editor for Saqi’s newly formed Westbourne Press and won the Kim Scott Walwyn prize last year.

A huge part of the role is market research and finding out where your competition is; this might involve doing focus groups or spending a lot of time on the internet (and trying not to get too distracted). Author care is also hugely important, you need to be able to nurture relationships but also be quite firm and ensure that the author is delivering on time in order to get the book published on schedule which also relies on the expertise and backing of other departments.

When choosing a proposal to commission, there are several things to consider:

–          What does a good proposal look like?

–          Structural breakdown

–          Target market

–          Are there any competing titles out there?

You must also consider whether the author can actually write and communicate their ideas effectively and whether the book is going to be commercially viable for your target market.

It is important to remember that publishing is still a business, as a Commissioning Editor you must be both creative and commercially minded and remember that the market is changing all the time; for example with the advance of digital – whilst eBooks are important, they are still only a small percentage of the market; people are drawn to what stands out, if you can turn a book into a beautiful object, people will buy them.

It seems that the role of a Commissioning Editor is hugely varied; it is both creative and commercial as well as relying enormously on building relationships and doing your research. Sometimes there is an element of risk taking but this is backed up by your market knowledge and the support from the rest of your team, and the best thing is that it could just be the gamble that pays off…