ALPSP Conference 2019

The scientific, academic and professional publishing landscape is rapidly changing, and the ALPSP conference last week was incredibly insightful in order to understand how key issues like Plan S, Brexit, Open Access, Diversity, Data, Internationalisation and even Artificial Intelligence are affecting and influencing our industry.

With the Plan S deadline rapidly approaching, there are some key initiatives that are driving the implementation of full open access – our first session of the conference and our keynote speaker was Professor Stephen Curry from Imperial College London who spoke passionately about the need for the scientific community to share more data. This is driven in particular by public health issues and he argued that the lack of sharing of information and scholarly research into health emergencies such as Zika has led to the consequences of infection. 

These initiatives driving full open access include DORA (a declaration committed to improving the ways in which the outputs of scholarly research are evaluated, and therefore giving us access to research and information more quickly); a report published by the UKRI and the Wellcome Trust in collaboration with ALPSP about accelerating Open Access shows 27 business models and an implementation toolkit for publishers and learned societies; cOAlition S who are supporting publishers, societies and libraries in the transition to full Open Access and a coalition set up by the scholarly publishers. There are now some fantastic resources in place for publishers but this is just the start – whilst support is beginning to be put into practice, realistically the word on the street is that transition to full OA is still 4-5 years away to completion.

The diversity message has become a hugely relevant topic across the entire publishing industry, and this was a focus for the session on ‘Breaking the Glass Ceiling’ where we heard from four representatives of female leadership in scholarly publishing. We heard about their career journeys, and the challenges they faced in order to achieve success – it was not always an easy path. What was clear is that it is not just about men vs. women – it is a known challenge in publishing, and in the scholarly community that we need to be doing more to drive diversity across gender, ethnicity, race, geography, sexual orientation etc. Practical messages from this session (for men and women) were encouragement to hire people who you think will be better than you, encourage training, development, find mentors and don’t ‘miss your slot’ – the opportunities are there, and we need to grab them with both hands when they come along.

Our industry is expanding at a rapid rate and we are seeing more and more industry internationalisation, Ed Gerstner from SpringerNature talked about the modernisation and growth of investment in China – he has led a project connecting with as many researchers as possible in China in order to help them get published in the best journals. The investment in China is huge with exponential growth; it is already outspending Europe and will soon outspend the USA. The next growth markets are expected to be in the Global South. 

We now have more data than we know what to do with, extraordinarily, but somewhat not surprisingly we have acquired more data in the last 10 years than the entirety of time before that.  In a session on the ‘Future of the Book’ the message was positive, demonstrating that studies have shown that 92% of scholars prefer print. We were also thrown a curveball – SpringerNature are pushing the boundaries and will be publishing the first machine generated book in April next year; there are challenges here and questions like who is the author? Who is the audience?  Are original authors of the research recognised, and how does the role of the author change in this?

The ALPSP awards demonstrated some amazing innovation in our industry – huge congratulations to Ann Michael who took home the Award for her Contribution to Scholarly Publishing and to scite_ (scite_ use AI alongside a network of experts to evaluate the veracity of scientific work) who won the extremely competitive Award for Innovation in Publishing. 

Overall - with all the challenges we are facing the general consensus is that Plan S is a positive thing, publishers and societies are actively making the move to full open access and this in turn will support the sharing and development of science. It will be particularly important in matters of public health, sharing research findings quickly and supporting why a vast number of people went into science in the first place - to make the world a better place. In the world of science and scholarly research – we want that content to be available and to be used for the greater good. Plan S is a catalyst to the goal to become fully Open Access. We know from publishers like PLOS that it is possible to be fully Open Access, but as Niamh O’Connor rightly said, this does not mean every question is answered. As long as there is a commitment to Open Access – anything is possible.