In recent weeks, academic publishers have been accused of everything from unfairly raising costs to presiding over a sector-wide monopoly of Genghis Khan proportions. But the greatest charge laid against us is that we are becoming, or have become, obsolete. One could argue that there might be a point here. We don’t write what we publish. Much production work is outsourced. Often it is not us who sell you what we produce. So what’s left?
Crucially, we nurture the professional editorial skills that select, craft, refine and organise the quality material that you want to read. We take authors to the market. We build the brands readers rely on to make choices in a world of information overload.
We are risk-takers, investors in the market potential of intellectual property, and creditors of last resort to the supply chain that delivers what you read. If a project fails, we take the loss. If it succeeds, authors earn royalties or enhance their reputations, retailers sell books, platform providers expand, we all pay taxes – society benefits.
We evolve scalable, sustainable enterprises that enable intellectual freedom and the flow of culture and scholarship. Beyond a copyright framework to protect our investments, we strive for the widest distribution and access to our publishing that we can achieve.
We work constantly to maintain standards. We represent the vehicle for integrity and objectivity so vital to scholarship. We produce learning material fitted to syllabus and assessment, which is vital for academic success. We provide information sources for the professions.
Some academic publishers are globally successful, and those in the UK collectively export more books than any country on earth. Some would argue that we need that experience in international markets to fuel growth.But hasn’t the internet left us wrong-footed? Certainly not. We have been using digital delivery for years – 95 per cent of academic journals are available electronically, and the UK is more advanced in using digital learning resources than any other country. Publishers are enablers of all that.
Of course, the paradigm is shifting. Searchable archives on the internet will make us redundant, so the argument goes. But without selection, investment in editorial skills, quality filters, marketing, supply-chain management and customer service, our absence would soon be felt and we’d most likely be reinvented.
Digiexplorer (not guru), Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing @ Manchester Metropolitan University. Interested in digital literacy and digital culture in the third sector (especially faith). Author of ‘Raising Children in a Digital Age’, regularly checks hashtag #DigitalParenting.