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Open access: academic libraries and article processing charges

Despite challenges, the new emphasis on OA provides librarians with a positive platform to re-establish their role in the research process.

A new report published by SAGE explores the current – and future role – of academic libraries in helping implement OA processing charges.  The report explores the current state of the art, and shares recommendations.  Although librarians support the goals and principles of open access, the OA mandates from funders are creating many challenges.

Institutional policies – still evolving

  • Although some participants reported full OA policies were already in place, the majority of policies are still ‘evolving’
  • Libraries at every participating institution are involved in OA policy development
  • Institutional repositories are an essential element
  • Participants expressed concern at possible shortfall in funding for author pays (‘gold’) OA publishing (RCUK is currently making some funds available)
  • Some institutions are making up the shortfall; others are not

What roles and tasks are librarians undertaking?

  • Entering into publisher OA agreements
  • Allocating funding for individual papers – including one library which split its total funds into equal quarters for the year
  • Most reported a low take-up of APC requests by researchers – many librarians are working to educate and advise researchers
  • Working with publishers to administrate the cost – a task which many reported as frustrating or overly-complicated


  • Funders should provide clear guidance on reporting and measurement
  • Publishers need to better communicate copyright options and which of their publications are RCUK policy compliant
  • More robust systems for managing APCs are needed
  • Cross-industry initiatives and international standards should be developed

The report Implementing Open Access APCs: the role of academic libraries summarises the round table discussions of a panel of academic librarians and other interested parties and is available for free download here.

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Dealing with mission impossible – a publishing case study

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) disseminates scientific information in the interdisciplinary fields of geophysics.  With over 60,000 members worldwide, the AGU publishes books, research journals, newspapers and other scientific periodicals.

In 2012 the AGU announced a publishing partnership with Wiley.  And in September 2012 Freddie Quek, Director of Engineering for Wiley, was given four months to integrate the AGU content onto a single Wiley platform.  He shared his story of coping with this ‘mission impossible’ with delegates at the Association of Subscription Agents conference in London.


By 2nd January 2013

  • Start revenue earning
  • Ensure systems ready to support entire content chain
  • Ensure system works in a familiar way for all AGU customers
  • Give AGU customers access to all licensed content


  • 17 systems to check
  • Non-standard content formats (one publication had no page numbers; one journal had seven parts – three of which had sub-parts)
  • Over 700 special sections of content
  • What to do about unique identifiers; new ISSNs required
  • Unknown unknowns!
  • Ensuring discoverability
  • Development to start before all requirement were clear

What worked

  • Creation of a 60 day plan
  • Number one priority across the organisation – 52 people on the team
  • Sense of commitment, urgency and importance of the project
  • Rapid decision making at all levels
  • Team effort by everyone and a can-do attitude
  • Strong business lead and close cooperation

Lessons learned

  • Focus on people over process
  • Embrace the challenge
  • Break some rules
  • Be brave
  • Use your best people

Many of us will be asked to take on ‘impossible missions’ at work.  Freddie’s best advice?  Deal with it!

10,000 students have their say on textbooks

This summer the e-textbook publisher surveyed nearly 10,000 students in Europe and the US about their use of printed and e-textbooks.  (The results for the Netherlands, the UK and the US have just been released – further results for Denmark and Germany will follow).

The findings are of interest to publishers, librarians and academic staff – and highlight some differences between students in the US and the rest of the world.

The results show that students in the US are further down the line in accepting and using e-textbooks.  Price continues to be a barrier for students everywhere while another issue that drives purchasing decisions is whether only a portion of the textbook is required reading.

Key findings US

  • More than 75% of students do not buy required textbooks.
  • Over 90% of students feel textbooks are too expensive
  • 58% prefer digital textbooks
  • On average US students spend $655 per year on textbooks
  • The majority are buying second hand books

 Key findings Europe

  • In Germany, Netherlands and the UK only 30-40/% prefer digital textbooks
  • In the UK 83% do not buy required textbooks
  • 95% say textbooks are too expensive

You can read more about the survey, and see some interesting infographics, on the Bookboon blog.

Librarians’ views on five years of ebooks

To celebrate its first five years in ebook production, Springer has consulted with a number of stakeholders to produce the report STM eBooks: Librarian Perspectives on the First 5 years.  The report outlines the challenges and opportunities that ebooks present to key stakeholders.

Key findings – end users

  • Technology innovations including interactive video and the ability to make notes are highly valued by users
  • Lack of standardisation across platforms confuses users
  • Complex sign-on processes are a barrier to use
  • Some technical books are difficult to read on certain devices

Key findings – librarians

  • Concern about long term availability of ebooks
  • Need to develop ROI measures for ebooks
  • New roles may develop for librarians – as information literacy experts or as one participant outlined ‘as the interface between patron and the publisher’
  • Improved metadata from publishers will help improve discoverability


  • Ebooks will continue to develop more elements that the print work cannot feature, including supplementary materials and interactive content
  • Increased emphasis on usage statistics to help manage collections and anticipate user needs
  • Development of more flexible access and pricing models
  • Standardisation of metadata
  • Mobile devices will continue to inform the way ebooks are developed
  • Demands of users who will expect easy 24-hour access to high quality content will shape developments

The report is free to download from the Springer website.

The Cost of Knowledge versus Elsevier

There has been much coverage recently of the website petition launched by Cambridge mathematician Timothy Gowers, winner of the Fields medal, to encourage academics to publicly declare that they will not support any Elsevier journal. According to The Cost of Knowledge website, more than 6000 academics have currently signed up. Robin Peek takes an in-depth look at the issues in this ITI Newsbreak.

The issues facing STM publishers

In 2004, Richard Poynder interviewed Derk Haank, who had moved from Elsevier Science to head Springer, a company formed by the merger of BertelsmannSpringer and Kluwer Academic Press.   Now, in a wide-ranging interview for Information Today, Richard has again interviewed Derk.  Their conversation covered many of the key issues facing STM publishers and their institutional customers. 

When Derk joined Springer, he made the decision to launch Open Choice – a hybrid open access (OA) model that led the way for other subscription-based publishers.  With the purchase of open access publisher BioMed Central (BMC) in 2008, Springer became the world’s largest open access  publisher.  With the launch of SpringerOpen in 2010, Springer created a range of ‘pure’ OA (sometimes known as Gold) journals in the STM field.

Derk considers OA to simply be one of several business models pursued by Springer. The ‘traditional’ subscription model is just as sustainable as OA now and into the foreseeable future.   However, Springer will be looking to the potential of ‘nontraditional’ markets too – smaller institutions, individuals and businesses for example might find Springer content of interest if the right pricing/access model can be found – via the iPad or other mobile devices perhaps.

The full interview can be found here, and provides an illuminating overview of the issues facing STM publishers – from OA and pricing to the ever-increasing growth in research.

Spotlight on Scitable – a Social Network for Science

ITI NewsLink’s Paula Hane takes a closer look at Scitable, a social network for science research and education from Nature Publishing Group (NPG), publishers of Nature and Scientific American.

Scitable is an educational website designed for biology and genetics faculty and undergraduate students and provides a free library of high quality vetted content and tools. A mobile version has just been launched.

Interview with Stevan Harnad – 2010 the Tipping Point for Universal Open Access?

Open access advocate Stevan Harnad looks back over the progress made by the OA movement to date, in a detailed and far-reaching interview with Richard Poynder for Information Today. Harnad speculates as to whether 2010 will see the tipping point needed to usher in universal open access, with the aim of getting the 2.5 million articles a year that are published in 25,000 peer-reviewed journals all freely available online.

Harnad is realistic in his assessment of the progress made to date: “…the history of OA so far has been one of gratuitous over-reaching that has not only netted little, but it has failed even to grasp what has already been well within reach for some time: free online access to refereed reseach.” But he is cautiously optimisitic about the initiatives underway in 2010.

Springer Sold to Private Equity Firms EQT and GIC

Springer Science and Business Media is to be sold to EQT, a Swedish private equity (PE) firm, and GIC, a PE fund backed by the government of Singapore. The deal is expected to close by late January or early February 2010. The German company is the world’s second largest scientific, technical and medical publisher after Reed Elsevier and was formed in 2003 by the merger of Kluwer Academic Publishers and Bertelsmann Springer.

The announcement of the purchase comes only days after British media group Informa, under pressure from shareholders, pulled out of discussions to buy the company, saying it could not close the deal within the timescale required by previous PE owners Candoven Investments and Cinven.

The details have not been disclosed, but it has been estimated that the deal is worth €2.3billion ($3.4 billion). The deal is priced to take into account the fact that the purchasers will take on Springer’s debt pile which is in excess of €2 billion ($2.9 billion). EQT is to buy 82% of the company and GIC the remainder.

Derk Haank, Springer’s CEO, described “constructive and collegial discussions” with EQT and added that the deal “will allow us to move our ambitious and ongoing ‘e’ strategy forward”.

What are the implications for the publishing industry? Compared with the deal values which were being touted when Candover and Cinven were originally trying to offload the business, EQT have got themselves a bargain. According to the Financial Times, the purchase values Springer at around 8 times earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation, which is similar to rival Reed Elsevier.  Springer’s business is sound, turning over €880 million ($1290 million) in 2008. The looming squeeze on public sector budgets introduces a very real note of uncertainly into the equation, but in general Springer is operating in markets with reliable cash flow and low reliance on advertising.

For those inclined to look for green shoots of economic recovery, the deal says most about the state of the leveraged buyout sector. The deal is Europe’s biggest private equity transaction for more than a year, and an indication that the PE industry is pulling out of the credit crunch. Whether or not this is a good thing for the publishing sector will no doubt be open to debate. Possible buyers from within the publishing industry who, in less turbulent times, might have been interested in an acquisition of Springer, do not appear to have been in a position to do so, probably either because of regulatory concerns or because they have their hands full with their own business challenges. 

Intriguingly, there is still speculation that a merger between Springer and Informa could lie in the future, but for the time being this draws a line under a particularly convoluted and long-drawn out courtship ritual.