Here is a thought – as we remember that the Russian Revolution is 100 years old, the Frankfurt Book Fair has inaugurated its first innovation day. Well, since Gutenberg anyway. But since I am chairing the inaugural session of the innovative Innovation Day, I do not want to appear unwelcoming or dismissive – and indeed my mood is exactly the opposite. I want to use the day to celebrate the freedom of publishers to innovate. The technology which appears to allow their users to compete directly with them, the social mores which appear to allow their users to adopt a different attitude to intellectual property which undermines their business models, the distribution services in the network which undermine their market control – these are all, in a different context, immense processes of liberation which allow publishers to change roles and positions in respect of changing business models. Instead of trying to hold up the future, we have to take it on!

While not quite as momentous as the Russian Revolution, I have an anniversary of my own to celebrate. Fifty years ago today, I entered what was rightly known then as “publishing” and in my second week journeyed to Frankfurt in a van with the exhibition display stands to do exactly what a graduate trainee should do in the estimation of those days – help to put up the display stand, since his abilities in any other direction were not obvious. During the ensuing 50 years I have learnt that what I thought of and was trained to appreciate as a product – the book – is in fact a service. An intermediary service which conveys creativity form its source to an end-use, reader, purchaser. In seventeenth century England, in the first great age of books, when they cut off the head of a king to demonstrate that change could not be reversed, the pamphleteers described it as “a World Turned Upside Down”. In 1993, doing my very first internet strategy project I tried to describe what had happened in those very same terms, looking at a world where authors became their own publishers and where university reference publishers were re-inventions of University Presses. Now that we are reaching the point where the full inversion of the publishing model is taking place, it is incumbent upon us to think about “what next”, rather than how we  preserve old business models in aspic.

So, first thing, lets stop this romantic twaddle about “print is coming back”. Sit on any train or bus going anywhere and use your eyes. Print will never go away as long as we all love objects – the Snowden shelves in every room in my own house bear testimony – but as long as we do not measure effectively the circulation of self-published material we are only guessing, and the published figures of self-interested publishers associations are no real guide to anything, except maybe the ability of publishers to move to that dodo amongst poultry, the electronic book. Not that I do not read those as well, but I offer a simple maxim – Those who imitate Print in Digital Formats must expect a Short Shelf Life – and look at the demise of the newspaper industry if you doubt this!

So the point is not to imitate the printed book but to exceed it. EPub3 was long heralded as the vehicle to do this – and today it reaches rather arthritically  towards the same functionality that Peter Kindersley and Alan Buckingham achieved on fixed disk CD-ROMs in the mid 1990s. Meanwhile, still using this odd word “book” which we seemingly cannot do without, we are building in non-standard software all sorts of extensions of the book. Beautiful books which add AR and VR to extend our sense of reality , appearing alongside a whole generation of books this century which, since Inanimate Alice, have driven narrative through text, sound, video and graphics. And as we speak, a fresh wave of innovative books promises  you books which will interact with all the other books in your digital library, bringing you a “live” environment, cross-referenced and updated and allowing you to read one book while having the benefit of your collection. And, as an ex-school textbook publisher and writer, I get a real kick when I hear McGraw Hill’s David Levin describe books that learn to know the learner, diagnostically and socially  suggesting learning journies and demonstrating achievement. Books that speak to each other and books that speak to you.

Surely all this is innovation? Yes, it is, but there is one important caveat. In many of the old publishing sectors, which, incidentally, are moving ever further apart like ice floes in global warming. The role of the intermediary/publisher in the cycle is to move to support the end user requirement. As it changes, so must she. In areas like STM and HSS, the demand may be for navigation and discovery, for semantic web mark-up of pre-print materials, for data about usage and other altmetrics, or for the availability of evidential data from the original research – bright and lively companies are being built in these areas, but not by erstwhile publishers. Instead it is researchers who are coming to their own salvation – and publishers, still clinging to the journals milch cow, who buy them as a hedge against the future. Getting these people – with the honourable exception of Elsevier – to look at the horizon has always been a struggle.

All these issues and more will be debated in Innovation Day, starting in Hall 4.0 Hot Spot on Friday 13 October (!) at Frankfurt Book Fair. My opening panel has some classic innovators – Annette Thomas of Clarivate , Matt Turner of MarkLogic and Michael Clarke. See you there!


The great days of Open Access are past, but the age of the Open Book is just about to begin. Witness the trajectory of the Elsevier acquisition strategy, ever the most reliable guide to trends in academic and research markets. No major journal publishing investments there. Beyond the slackening of demand for more paid for journals, the thrust went first into social media and data via Mendeley, and then towards pre-print servers like SSRN, followed by repositories like BePress. What does this tell us? That the historical demand for enhancing reputation by virtue of coupling your renown to that of the journal that accepted you is giving way to  the necessity, in a networked society, of getting quickly into the workflow of your discipline, regardless of where you may subsequently be published. Here Open Access proved a game changer that influenced, in most disciplines, less than 25% of the game. The mere fact, however that a game which was played according to many of the same rules since the 1660s could be changed, means that the next generations are fully entitled to make their own rules.

But while all this has been going on, what of the related worlds not subject to the imperatives of Green and Gold and mandates? By this I mean the world of book publishing in all disciplines, but particularly in HSS with its dependence on getting the full research answer out into monograph form, in a market that has an ever greater problem with buying books in research institutions, a growing problem over at least 50 years. What it is about HSS and books that makes its problems less attractive to public campaigns and political pressure we should leave until another time, but it really is fascinating for those interested in the history of scholarship to reflect that we have had to come through years of publishers saying that monograph publishing was untenable to what is now a concentrated attention on the facts of digital publishing as it impacts monograph production – that it is quicker, easier, cheaper and more effective than ever before, but the real problems remaining lie in circulation, discoverability and finding an appropriate business model.

The first person to demonstrate a practical business development that could march alongside the aspirations of academics and the constraints of librarians  was Dr Frances Pinter with her Knowledge Unlatched ( solution. By allowing librarians to “subscribe” to the opening of books in a proposal list to universal access. Now run from Berlin by Dr Sven Fund, this demonstrated her virtuosity as a publisher coupled with a real insight into the lives of researchers and the stresses within the scholarly communication system. In the past three years, in this infant marketplace neglected by publishers, it has grown appreciably, in a context where small commercial players (Cambridge Scholars) have begun to work on scholarly self-publishing, and a range of new University Presses, both in the US and in the UK, have created “pop-up” publishing for those who can afford it. And here lies a real threat to publishers with important book programmes in STM or HSS: the tools and processes get cheaper, the staff commitment becomes less significant (ex-librarians can do it brilliantly!), and the speed requirement, for reputational purposes, gets greater, so the need to get material into the scholarly workflow becomes more urgent.

All of which ignores a real problem on the road to open access self publishing, and it is fascinating to see how the team at Knowledge Unlatched have their teeth into this. The problem of self-publishing is discoverability. Adding metadata to ensure discovery and then placing that information in the critical junction boxes of a wired society to ensure that what is available is what is found becomes fundamental when simply “outing” content to the web results in loss of discoverability. Publishers have always known this, so the logic for Knowledge Unlatched in opening up its services as Open Services is inescapable, and will predictably lead to KU becoming a hub for this rapidly growing sector as well as a service to sector players. The data accumulation here becomes one of the important assets across the board in HSS and STM.

Predictably, now this market has kick-started, developments will move rapidly. The ability to use semantic enquiry across these texts, to cross search groups of them and to discover and explore them at sub-chapter and paragraph levels will help. Index compilation and the generation of custom-machine generated indices will follow, with automatic updating and cross-referencing , as well as linkage to related evidential data, clearly part of the trajectory. But this only happens if the sector has a hub and some standards, so the move of KU to create Open Services is really the first movement in the direction of a hub that we have seen, and one which, for that reason, is hugely welcome.

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