Academic Book Week 2017: Outcomes of the event

Jenny McCall, one of our Publishers responsible for commissioning social science content for Emerald's expanding book publishing division, feeds back on the unconference Emerald hosted as part of Academic Book Week, January 23rd 2017.

Image: Jenny McCall.On a cold, foggy Monday night, a large group of dedicated publishers and academics assembled at London Southbank University for Emerald’s Academic Book Week event “Creating the Future of Academic Publishing – Strengthening the Research Ecosystem”.

Peerlessly compèred by Richard Fisher, ex-CUP Director of Academic Publishing, a Chair with a hugely rich and deep understanding of the industry, we kicked off the evening with presentations from Martin Eve and Katharine Reeve.

Katharine, Course Leader of the BA Publishing degree at Bath Spa University, brought her 15 years’ experience as an Editor to bear in her talk and focused on the special role of the Editor in the "ecosystem" – the part they have to play in the development of academic book projects, and the value they can add.

Martin, Chair of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London, and Founder of the Open Library of Humanities, had some fascinating points to make on innovation, a sustainable open access business model, and securing the digital future for scholarship.

Following the opening presentations, we split into discussion groups, which took three key themes of innovation, interdisciplinarity and impact; delegates had submitted questions in advance, ensuring lively conversation and debate, before we all came together again to sum up our key findings and questions for further exploration.

  • PUBLISHER COLLABORATION - Social Sciences/Humanities publishers need to find ways to stand together, and to collaborate around new ways of offering services to our author base – adopting the tactics of STM publishers. It’s only by scale that we can affect change in upstream policy, particularly in such areas as interdisciplinarity and the measurement of impact. With their combined expertise in how academic content is created, read and used, HSS publishers should be Image: Meeting.part of the conversation earlier on, to help to shape further innovation and impact measures across HE.
  • "NO" TO INNOVATION FOR ITS OWN SAKE – publishers should always be led by the needs of the community they serve. Innovation needn’t all be about flashy technological wizardry – the simplest ideas are often the best. We mustn’t forget that academic work and the academic book is at the core of what we do. The book has remained a fundamentally unchanged and effective vehicle for research for hundreds of years. Publishers shouldn’t leave this behind in a bid to be "innovative" just for the sake of it – and we also need to be careful to future-proof access to the content we publish. 
  • PUBLISHERS AND INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH – although many challenges for truly collaborative interdisciplinary work are systemic and cannot be solved by publishers alone, there are opportunities for publishers to help break down silos between disciplines – for instance, through industry events and forums or around key conferences.
  • OPEN ACCESS AND SUSTAINABILITY – Martin Eve made the point that “something free to read was not free to produce”, and that OA needs to account for publisher remuneration. It’s important to have a sustainable publishing ecosystem, with publishers being reimbursed for their labour, but OA is vital in helping academics engage with the public, otherwise they are just cloistered away and become an irrelevance – resolving this conundrum of the need for OA plus need for publisher labour is still not fully resolved and both parties need to be open and keep the dialogue going.
  • PUBLISHERS AS HSS CHAMPIONS – The social sciences and humanities remain under threat from cuts to funding and side lining of research findings. We should explore how HSS publishers can better support these beleaguered subject areas. Academic Book Week is an important part of this, but publishers need to work together and explore other avenues too.Image: Panel.
  • DEVELOPMENT OF PUBLISHER SKILLS – There is work to be done on the development of a new skill set for academic book Editors. Increasingly they need to take on a role in helping academics to reach a wider market with their work – but often lack the skill or time to do this.  Innovation is often hampered by academic publishers not having the relevant skills in digital publishing. 
  • PUBLISHERS NEED TO BE MORE TRANSPARENT – Academics remain confused about how scholarly publishing works, and this can breed a culture of mistrust and lead to little collaboration.  We, as publishers, should do more here to find out what the community does not understand and to put this right. We should also be more upfront about the value of a good Editor, and the service they offer.

"Creating the Future of Academic Publishing – Strengthening the Research Ecosystem" was part of  Academic Book Week 2017.

See Jen’s previous post on our “Creating the Future of Academic Publishing” unconference