Floating Terms: The “Publishing Business Model”
Posted on October 9, 2010 by Melita M. Pereira
When I first started researching publishing business models for my thesis a year and a half ago, definitive information on the subject was very scarce. Even a Google search of the phrase “publishing business model” would only pull up a few targeted hits – and even at that, only a generous (and, at times, creative) interpretation would enable one to extract the kind of information they actually sought. Today, many publishing companies seem to be declaring their intention to implement various “new publishing business models”. All seem to do so with the intention of circumventing the dilemmas that convergence technology and social media have been accused of inflicting on the so-called “traditional publishing” model.
For your consideration today, I present you with Elsevier’s recent launch of its Article-Based Publishing model, “a new publishing model that publishes articles as final and citable without needing to wait until a journal issue is complete”. I think that this is a very convenient and considerate approach to publishing, but does it constitute a new publishing model?
There’s something about the phrase “publishing business model” that could be to publishing today what the word “yuppie” was to the early 1980s. It seems to have entered the world of buzz phrases, is applied lavishly yet remains difficult to pin down and while everyone claims to have sighted it, no one as yet has managed to capture it. In the absence of a youtube video clip (which would have been far more effective), here are a few quotes from the The Last Days of Disco, a film about a group of Ivy Leaguers grappling with (night) life, love and “yuppies” in the Manhattan disco scene of the early 1980s:
Des McGrath: Yuppie stands for “young upwardly mobile professional”. Nightclub flunkie is not a professional category. I wish we were yuppies. Young, upwardly mobile, professional. Those are *good* things, not bad things.
And then later:
Des McGrath: ‘Yuppie scum’? In college, before dropping out, I took a course in the propaganda uses of language; one objective is to deny other people’s humanity, or even right to exist.
Jimmy: In the men’s lounge someone scrawled ‘kill yuppie scum’.
Des McGrath: Do yuppies even exist? No one says, “I am a yuppie,” it’s always the other guy who’s a yuppie. I think for a group to exist, somebody has to admit to be part of it.
Dan Powers: Of course yuppies exist. Most people would say you two are prime specimens.
Many publishing companies today are eager to declare their intention to launch ever new publishing models. But to what extent do these publishing models actually represent a new schemata for publishing? (Assuming we actually need one at all…?) And more importantly, what is actually required for a publishing model to wear the label of a “new publishing business model”?
Elsevier suggests that their move toward a new publishing model was motivated by “an increasing focus on online publishing” which results in “a growing need for innovative publication models geared towards individual articles instead of the print-based issue model”. This statement is apt to remind one of another business model which emerged as a result of technological advancements and convergence; namely, that employed by iTunes. Instead of purchasing an entire album of music even an EP, consumers were able to purchase single tracks. The purchasing opportunities iTunes established allowed consumers to hone onto the musical tracks that were of particular interest to them and disregard the rest, should they wish.
Elsevier Managing Director of Science and Technology Journals Martin Tanke commented that “Article-Based Publishing is a key part of Elsevier’s efforts to find new ways to speed up and enhance the publication process”. The Article-Based model will speed up publication rates by approximately seven weeks and will ensure that consumers are able to access fully citable articles before they are formally compiled and published as a tangible journal. Yet it seems that the primary advantage offered to consumers by this Article-Based model is the accelerated rate of publication it enables. Articles that have been published in journals have been available for access online via database subscriptions or individual purchases for some time now, and while the proposed model does have obvious advantages for authors, scholars and consumers, it is uncertain what else this new model offers following its purported departure from the traditional publishing model.
This of course brings one to the final question for consideration which arises from the discussion in this editorial: What exactly does a publishing business model have to do to be considered new and to be considered an improvement on the current paradigm?
While for Elsevier, a publisher of science, technical and medical material, it means expediency – and there is nothing wrong with this. But for me, a new publishing model must necessarily compel the integration of the published product with the technological innovations of the time and, importantly, an inherent knowledge of consumer behaviour, needs and preferences that may be translated for application in the publishing model. Elsevier is able to quite seamlessly make amendments to its publishing process by virtue of the type of publications it produces. However, while the form and particularities of publishing business models will differ according to the type of publication produced, sustained and substantial innovation should (ideally) be predicated on technological innovation and applied knowledge of consumer behaviour.
Elsevier’s media release (6 October 2010)