2:00pm – 3:10pm

What does the future hold for subscriptions? Does Plan S mean the death of your publishing business? Can quality publications survive in today’s information environment? Or only science ones? And what did the latest implementation guidelines of Plan S add to the conversation? Sam has ALL the answers (and a crystal ball).


Sam Burrell
Consultant, Renew Consultants
Sam is a consultant with Renew Publishing Consultants. She has been consulting for five years, working with societies, publishers, technology providers and intermediaries across a wide range of projects. Her core expertise is in strategic marketing, product development, and platforms. She started in the industry in 1999, and has worked in marketing, product management, project management and leadership positions.

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[00:11] SAM BURRELL – Right, so that’s me. I’ve given myself the task of doing a quick landscape review of publications, specifically journals publications, and how they sit within the society worldview. Right, so I’m going to preface what I’m going to say with a comment that I was passed by clients just recently who said to me, you know, you’re really a rip the Band-Aid off sort, aren’t you?
[00:43] SAM BURRELL – I take that as a compliment. But it might not have been meant that way. So yes, so I’m going to go very quickly through this. And I’m going to warn you straight off that I am going to be ripping the Band-Aid off, OK? So sit tight. We’re off. Right, so what does the future hold for subscriptions and open access and the journals that we publish as societies?
[01:06] SAM BURRELL – Now, if I could actually stand up here and give you an absolute answer for that, I think I’d be a lot wealthier than I am right now. My particular lens for this talk is through the view of what does this landscape that’s currently changing very fast mean for a society. Because ultimately, that’s why we’re all here, right? So a quick show of hands if I may, how many in this room have revenue from publications that support some of or all of the rest of their society activities?
[01:41] SAM BURRELL – A fair number. Is there anyone in the room who is self publishing as a society? A couple, all right. And I presume the rest of you that didn’t put your hand up just then have agreements with commercial publishers. Commercial publishers? Yeah, OK. So there’s a range of ways that societies undertake their publishing activities.
[02:01] SAM BURRELL – So I’m going to start with a really important perception about scholarly publishing. And as a society with a mission I presume to further your subject, whatever that is, I challenge you to engage with this, which I’m sure you already are, but at a really fundamental level. And I know some of the speakers we’ve heard earlier today have done exactly this, which is, if you start from the position that research outputs, especially those funded by public or charitable money, should be openly available to all and contributing to the common good.
[02:40] SAM BURRELL – That’s a nice statement, right? That sounds good. We like that. We can all sign on to that. The second part of that, though, is that I think there is an ideology– and I use that word advisedly sort of– that also sits alongside it that publishers, including societies, have been fleecing the system for years and years and that the money that they get from their publications does not rightly belong to them.
[03:10] SAM BURRELL – So I’m not going to read these slides, but you can look at them while I’m talking. I think it’s very clear that OA is happening, not just will happen, but is happening. And the question has always been how fast is it going to happen at least to us. We’ve been moving towards an increasingly OA world for, what, the last two decades at least.
[03:34] SAM BURRELL – More and more content is published open access every year, increasing numbers of funders are mandating open access. Subscription revenue is declining. And I think that would be happening regardless of what else is happening in the landscape. And authors are increasingly engaging with open access and the politics of where their content goes and the politics of how their research has disseminated.
[04:00] SAM BURRELL – Just to hammer home the point that as societies you don’t get off from the fat cat accusation, this was from a very exciting conference I went to in January. I’m sure many of you who are interested in Plan S will have followed some of the conversation that happened in Berlin. Robert-Jan Smits stood up and said, and I quote directly, “I don’t like that learned societies run with the public purse and publish extremely expensive journals.” Now, we all know that he said lots of things that possibly not all of the Coalition S funders would be prepared to stand by.
[04:31] SAM BURRELL – But nevertheless, this is an underlying feeling that has pervaded through a lot of the particularly Plan S stuff. So Plan S, I can’t stay away from it, can I? I’m actually, despite having a whole slide with it, I’m not going to say that much about Plan S. Plan S, I think has done its job already. Plan S’s job was to be inflammatory and provocative and to put a rocket up our backsides, to get us to engage with the fact that open access is not happening fast enough.
[05:05] SAM BURRELL – And I think it’s been very successful in that way. I do think that focusing on the detail of Plan S is missing the point. I’ve spent way too much time going down into the bowels of what exactly they mean by the green OA policy and whether something’s Plan S compliant or not. And I pull myself back ask again. And I go, that’s not the relevant point.
[05:27] SAM BURRELL – The relevant point is that journal by journal it makes a difference. Because how each journal performs and what subject it’s in and who it’s funded by makes a difference. But if you’re looking at the landscape of a whole, getting a huge number of funders, governments, institutions to mandate in the same way to want to implement open access in the same way is a Herculean task that I’m glad that I don’t have to do.
[05:52] SAM BURRELL – So in that sense, Plan S is irrelevant. Because I think that it doesn’t– it’s never going to get everybody lined up in a single line. What is important and what we need to take away is that it has focused the minds and attentions of researchers, institutions, funders, and publishers to look at how we can move from where we are now to an all open access world. So where does that leave subscriptions?
[06:18] SAM BURRELL – Does it mean that the subscription model is dead? Does it mean that subscriptions are dead? And my short answer to that is no, not at all. Subscriptions, I think, probably are on the decline. I think there are going to be winners and losers in the subscription world. Some journals specifically, some disciplines specifically may find that subscriptions remain the best model to publish under, and that you will find people who are prepared to pay for those subscriptions, and that it works better for the author community, that it works better for your niche much better than open access for a variety of reasons.
[06:53] SAM BURRELL – I’m also going to touch very briefly on the publish and read and read and publish transformative agreements that lots of people have been talking about. They are a delaying tactic. And I’m not going to spend much time on them right now. I know there’s difficulties for societies in getting to the negotiating table with consortia, big consortia and country level and all the rest of it.
[07:19] SAM BURRELL – So I appreciate there are issues there that are very relevant to societies. And some of my colleagues might address that. And if not, we can talk about it in the discussion. The point I wanted to get across is that basically they’re a delaying tactic. OA is still coming. It’s still an issue. You can hold it off.
[07:33] SAM BURRELL – And that’s not to say that that’s a bad thing to do. Because clearly, that might buy you some time that is useful. But fundamentally, it doesn’t change the point that we’re moving towards a more OA world. So we are saying to our clients, look at your publications. Look at them journal by journal. And look at them through the lens mission of your society. What is it that your society is trying to do? And how does this particular thing fit within that?
[08:02] SAM BURRELL – And we’re also saying to our society clients, what should you be doing as a society? You should be making sure you’ve created a good home for high quality OA content. If you’ve done that, you’re in a good place. So some certainties about these changes, there’s no two ways about it. There is going to be less money in publications altogether for everyone.
[08:28] SAM BURRELL – Revenue from publications is decreasing and is going to continue to decrease. This will affect societies. And it will also affect commercial publishers. In some cases, and this is quite a scary one, so hold on tight, if you are published by commercial publisher, they may decide that they no longer wish to publish your content. Because it is not profitable enough for them.
[08:48] SAM BURRELL – Take away, you cannot expect to plow on and make the same amount of money out of your publications as you do now. So please, don’t wait to change until you are in dire financial crisis. So enough doom and gloom, because I’ve made you all miserable now. The upside of this is that in many ways societies hold the aces. And we often think that they don’t appreciate it that much.
[09:17] SAM BURRELL – There is an opportunity here for societies. But it still requires facing this difficult situation. Unlike commercial publishers, societies don’t need to make a profit, right? They can, potentially depending on how you are in a financial position and where you can get other revenue from, you may be able to endure. There’s no two ways about it. You need to reduce your reliance on publications income.
[09:39] SAM BURRELL – You need to be cutting costs, diversifying income streams, and rethinking what you do and how you do it. And here is the really scary takeaway. Not all societies are going to survive this, OK? Make no mistake. This is really hard. And it’s really going to challenge some societies. And not everyone is going to make it through. And that’s why this afternoon we’re talking about collaborations and mergers.
[10:04] SAM BURRELL – So yes, it is challenging. But here’s the thing is that if you can be proactive and think about it, you have the asset, which is the relationship with the authors and the researchers and the practitioners. And if you go back to your mission and work out what you’re supposed to be doing, I think there are lots of things that are exciting that you can be doing.
[10:23] SAM BURRELL – So takeaways, being risk averse is not going to get you where you need to be. This change that is coming, I don’t know how quickly, remarkably quickly, is an opportunity for innovation and creativity with risk. But the alternative is certain death. Network and community, we’ve talked about it a lot today. I think we’ll continue to talk about it. Because it’s everything.
[10:47] SAM BURRELL – And it is where you need to be investing. And that’s where you need to be investing time, effort, attention, and looking there to diversify revenue so that you’re not so reliant on publishing. And that’s it. I can sit down now. [APPLAUSE]

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