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Highlights from the 2016 Charleston Conference

Highlights from the 2016 Charleston Conference


During last week’s Charleston Conference—my first—I had a chance to attend several interesting sessions. Here, I would like to provide a recap of just one, a Thursday afternoon session titled “Is Small Beautiful? The Position of Independent Scholarly Publishers in an Environment of Rapid Industry Consolidation.” Three panelists spoke candidly about the benefits and challenges of being a small publisher.

Steve Cohn, director of Duke University Press, is looking for growth in the international market, as the domestic U.S. market is flat. The press publishes 53 journals and about 120 books—mostly in the humanities and social sciences—and is self-supporting thanks mostly to revenues from journal subscriptions. One opportunity involves greater synergy between books and journals, which Steve hopes will lead to more combined book/journal sales in the future.

Richard Gallagher, president and editor-in-chief of Annual Reviews, publishes 46 review journals that ask big questions in the world of physical, life, and social sciences, and seek to appeal to a wide audience. Richard outlined three distinct types of challenges for his organization. The first and most urgent challenge is to maximize the impact of the journals. Annual Reviews is launching a magazine that guides readers toward the articles in the journals. The second challenge—dubbed most important—is to ensure long-term sustainability of the journals. The response to this challenge is tiered pricing, which in addition to being fair to subscribers promises to return more overall revenue to Annual Reviews by asking larger institutions to pay more. The third—and most difficult—challenge is accommodating open access. While Annual Reviews supports open access as a concept, the reality is difficult because article processing charges (APCs) are not a good fit for review articles. Is it fair, Richard asks, to invite someone to contribute to a journal and then send him or her an invoice? He added that, based on the number of articles published, the individual APC would have to be higher than the industry standard. Therefore, future plans involve trying to develop a more collaborative model with a goal of having some journals completely open access within five years.

The third panelist, George Leaman, director of the Philosophy Documentation Center, described his organization as a highly specialized university press. With an emphasis on philosophy and religion, fields with little money to spread around, the Center provides publishing services in order to diversify its revenue streams. In addition to publishing 32 journals and book series, the Center manages memberships for about two dozen other groups and hosts more than 100 journals on its own publishing platform. Maintaining such a platform is both good and bad, George said, but is actually more cost effective than outsourcing. A potential growth area is foreign translation, which involves not only staff members with expertise in languages but also a variety of usable font sets—a more significant challenge than you might think!

Thanks to Charlie Remy, electronic resources and serials librarian at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, for hosting this session. I encourage readers to check the conference website for copies of the slides from this and other sessions: Click on Full Schedule, then select specific sessions that interest you to see a summary and download slides if they are available.