Attracting exhibitors and visitors from across the globe, the London Book Fair is a key event in the publishing industry calendar. I had been very much looking forward to making my first trip there this year – and am now looking forward to 2015 already, as 2014 so surpassed my expectations!
The pilgrimage to Earl’s Court on 8 April affirmed for me that publishing has the power to change lives – not only the lives of the authors whose scholarship can achieve a wider dissemination, but those of the readers, too, who are informed and enriched by the discovery of and access to this research. The Fair emphasised that, now more than ever before in the history of scholarly communication, the ways in which we share and curate academic research are changing.
Nowhere was this more clearly demonstrated than on the stage of the Great Debate, where ‘Is Bigger Always Better?’ was the proposition under discussion. Arguments put forward in favour of bulk being best in the publishing world included the ability of merged companies to command a larger marketing budget – but, naturally, I voted for the very persuasive arguments of the opposition.
The University of Wales Press stand, nestled cosily among the other publishers comprising the Independent Publishers Guild area, demonstrated that small presses can do everything that bigger presses do – but better! Smaller publishers can collaborate much more closely and on a one-to-one level with authors and editors; and after all, the eagerness of bigger publishing companies to absorb smaller presses into their business as imprints suggests that they, at heart, would like to be mini-but-mighty.
One of the speakers likened a large publishing company to a bloated ship, compelled to change course more slowly – whereas the nimble little boat of a leaner publisher is poised to innovate swiftly in reaction to the sea-changes currently refreshing the industry.
These paradigm-shifting changes were the subject of a seminar entitled ‘The Provision of Student Resources in 2014: Open Access, Copyright, eTextbooks and MOOCs’. This was a stimulating update on the landscape of higher-education study materials in the digital age, with an expert panel giving their views on future Open Access models for monographs; changing approaches to peer-review in ensuring the highest standard in academic publishing; protecting authors against e-piracy; and the opportunities for developing non-traditional Open Educational Resources now offered by the uptake of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses).
Finally, the ‘Trends in Scholarly Publishing’ talk investigated whether social media can contribute towards the dynamic impact of research, and how best to preserve scholarly discussion so that tomorrow’s technology will still be able to access it (a case in point might be the demise of floppy-disks).
My experiences at the Fair gave me a heightened sense of excitement about the developments underway in academic publishing. Far from being footnotes to the history of scholarly communication, today’s ideas look set to rewrite it – and I feel sure that smaller presses will have their part to play in this research renaissance.
Catherine Jenkins, Editorial and Commissioning Assistant