Making the most of a challenging year
Some personal reflections on a pretty big year for Elsevier
As VP of Global Corporate Relations at Elsevier, Tom Reller (@TomReller) is the primary media spokesman for Elsevier, responsible for the company’s relationships with media, analysts and other online communities.
Well, 2012 is almost over. Phew! The past 12 months have been newsworthy for Elsevier. And since I’ve been involved with a lot of that news, and it’s an annual time of reflection, I’m often asked what I think about the past year.
You might think this is a year I’d like to forget, but it’s quite the opposite. While circumstances have not always been pleasant, they have provided many opportunities for learning and communicating. We’ve also improved how the research community searches, discovers and digests content. In health care, we’ve introduced a new content platform that has improved how medical researchers, clinicians and other professionals get the answers they need to make better decisions.
2012 is probably most significant for the open-access policy debates that have emerged, including important discussions over the merits of green and gold roads to access in countries around the world. We’re actually quite encouraged by these debates and how the tone of them has evolved in nearly every market we have these discussions. Essentially, the debate has moved from “Open access NOW!” to “Open access – HOW?”
At Elsevier, we’re squarely in the HOW camp now. We’re committed to expanding open access to whatever degree and pace authors desire while being economically sustainable. We will continue to play a leadership role in these discussions to help construct sustainable policies and open-access funding mechanisms that work for everyone. After a long period of testing and learning, we’ve concluded that we are indeed in a position to do open access effectively while providing authors the options they have been asking for.
Not all success is based on numbers and policies, however. It is also based on relationships. And here is where 2012 has been particularly special – and admittedly painful. The confluence of a commercial entity working with governments and academics has created tension for more than a decade. That dynamic isn’t new. What has been new is experiencing the depth of that frustration, coupled with people’s ability to express those feelings more through social media. If we had understood those factors better, perhaps we wouldn’t have supported the Research Works Act, the proposed US legislation that stimulated the expression of a good deal of discontent this year. The lesson from RWA was clear. Even when you believe an action is the principled thing to do, and you have the best intentions of serving your community, it may not be the practical thing to do. It certainly wasn’t the popular thing to do, and many of us were pleased when the company decided to change course.
The silver lining from the boycott is that we now have a much better understanding of the way our community of scientists engage, search and find support and information than ever before. We’re more connected and engaged than ever. We have conversations with people we didn’t talk with before – even those with whom we disagree. And we launched this online community of Elsevier Connect to enable us to engage with readers and bring our business to life.
Another silver lining is that we’ve been responsive. We’ve reduced prices and opened archives in the math community, more than doubled our fully open-access journals to 30, increased the number of hybrid titles we publish to 1,500 and added crucial resources to other journal titles to improve service. And there’s more to come in 2013. Think in terms of text mining, OA pricing and license terms, selective gratis access programs and other creative ideas. If you have any ideas you would like us to consider, please share them.
We’re also thinking more in terms of technology and innovation. We believe that in some ways, none of what I’ve just outlined above will improve our relationships unless we continually enhance the researcher’s experience and make our users more productive. We work hard to become better partners with academic professionals and their institutions — for example, in helping them with analytics. And we support shared interests, like advocating for more research funding and expanding access in the developing world.
For our customers, and I’m speaking primarily about large academic institutions, 2012 has also been a watershed year. They continually work harder and better to ensure continued access in times of tight library budgets by creating more flexibility in their renewal contracts with us. As a result, they have more choices than ever in shaping their content collections.
Authors have more choices as well, and not just from us, of course. A variety of new and innovative publishing options have been introduced this year. The competition to attract high-quality research manuscripts is greater than ever, and we’re continually challenged to keep up and stay sharp.
So all in all, 2012 has been a year of learning and doing, one that we’re proud of. It was a great year for feedback – such a valuable asset whether it’s positive or negative. Now, it’s up to us to incorporate it into our culture. And just as important: to communicate about it.
I think 2013 is going to be a great year as well. As for what it looks like down the road, I tell people that if we don’t continually listen and make the moves we need to make to remain competitive, then shame on us and we’ll suffer accordingly. But my colleagues and I don’t see that future. We see a strong company with leaders committed to working closely with people throughout the research community with a mix of tried-and-true and innovative products and business models for many years to come.
There’s a tremendous amount of change taking place in scholarly publishing today. We’re working hard to lead the way to help advance science and improve health in this challenging environment by engaging and understanding the people we serve. This is an exciting place to be!
We’re continually grateful for the opportunity to serve this important community. Thank you.