Back in Germany after a weekend, I find that everything has changed. I am in Gendarmenmarkt and not in Ku’damm, and we are celebrating an end to war on all sides. And I am at the wonderful Fiesole Retreat, out in full strength to once more bring STM publishers, librarians and academics together in a conference small enough for meaningful dialogue, and sufficiently heterodox to throw up thinking that skews the accepted beliefs. In its fifteenth year, it remains a huge credit to its founders, Casalini Libri, to whose bosom it returns next year in Fiesole, and the Charleston conference. This year, in Berlin with the support of the Humboldt University, Walter de Gruyter and Springer, was well up to the high standards of the series.
The speaker of the event, for me, was Anya Smit, the challenging university librarian from Utrecht. Designing a library which will soon be an entirely digital concept, she and her colleagues set aside the format limitations of “book”, or rather reconstruct them so that a blog becomes a “book”. I loved the openness of her approach and her disdain for limitations as to what a library might contain and how it’s knowledge exploration might be bounded. We had, after all, started the meeting quite conventionally with Michael Mabe, in non-confrontational mode, giving a fascinating account of the history of the journal and the article from Henry Oldenburg onwards to celebrate the foundation of the Royal Society Transactions in 1665. In many ways this made an admirable book-end to Anya Smit’s talk, illustrating how completely we have removed ourselves from the age of format and how completely the chain of scholarly communication in a digitally networked world values contributions by impact and timing, and not by process and format.
In many ways Deni Auclair of Outsell hammered this home when she gave a complete analysis of how the STM marketplace is behaving. I am still slightly alarmed by the fact that there is a $10 billion gap between Outsell’s estimated market sizing and the $25 billion revenue base claimed by the STM association of publishers. There is of course bound to be a difference between a measurement of publishing revenues and the information actually bought by customers, given that data sales are so important to research and will arguably become more important. Will we see the journal market continue to grow but diminish in overall terms as a proportion of what it’s market actually buys? And will this be exacerbated by the impact of Open Access? Deni pointed to the relative lack of impact of OA on publisher revenues, less than 1% of which were derived from author publication fees. Given that publishers were the recipients of prophecies of doom and extinction from OA fundamentalists like Professor Stevan Harnad some years back , I had the temerity to tweet this at #fiesoleretreat15, wondering if that great warrior was prepared to acknowledge predictions unmet. I had the reply immediately: “umm, where did I predict OA by (any date)?-Did say it could be provided overnight, was greatly overdue, optimal, and inevitable”. Which demonstrates both the glories of the global conferencing of Twitter and my need to apologise to the Professor. I clearly misunderstood him to mean that it was coming before it was overtaken by other inevitabilities like the death of the journal, the end of the article and the decay of peer review!
The polar opposite of the feisty Professor might well be Derk Haank, now CEO of Springer, who gave the evening session at the conference. Bursting with energy and confidence after launching the new name of the merged company earlier in the day (apparently it could not have been Nature-Springer since the resulting initials would have been unacceptable in Germany!), he roundly declared that the tasks ahead were nothing for a team which had made Elsevier likeable to the academic community. And even more gratifying was his promise, addressed directly to this blogger over the heads of his audience, that he was not going to retire any time soon, and certainly not when the IPO of Springer-Nature takes place.
Now did I ever say that? Or is it subject to the retrospective Harnad rules of recall? For all I know I wrote a blog on the Bush-Blair initiative in Iraq as a humanitarian gesture, or one on How Labour really won the 2015 UK election. Historians in the archives of the Utrecht university library will have to sort it out. My hope is that neither Professor Harnad or Derk Haank retire. They are far too entertaining in a grey world to be spared but if they could be persuaded to do an Open Access start-up together….