16 Oct 2012

Academic and Professional Publishing - R. Campbell, E. Pentz & I. Borthwick (eds.) (Review)

Whilst Academic and Professional Publishing has emerged from today's context of changing technologies, increasing journal costs and the move towards open access, Robert Campbell’s opening historical overview demonstrates that such unrest has been a feature of publishing for some time now. Even as far back as 1927, it was noted that “librarians are suffering because of the increasing volume of publications and rapidly rising prices”. Evolution in scholarly publishing is clearly not new; so why is it only now that it has managed to pierce the mainstream so pervasively? Perhaps because the sector has recently entered a new phase - what Campbell terms “re-invention” - precipitated by an unprecedented swathe of new technologies, platforms and business models, and this idea serves as a recurrent motif throughout the rest of the book.

In any book about academic publishing, the reader should expect some strong opinions concerning the routes to, and sustainability of, open access, but this is definitely not an Us vs Them (that is, Publishers vs Academics/Librarians) treatise. Indeed such discussions only represent a very small fraction of the book; instead the text deals with the full range of aspects involved in the scholarly publishing chain - from authorship and editorial processes through to research impact and the user experience, passing through the technical, legal and financial complexities along the way. Whilst a proportion of the chapters are contributed by commercial publishers such as Wiley and Elsevier, there are also other perspectives presented including freelance consultants and those working across the wider academic and research community.

Every chapter offers value to the reader, but there are some highlights in particular. Irene Hames delivers a fascinating insight into the peer review process: how it works; what constitutes best practice; emerging models; and the key role played by the editor. Hames’ intelligent arguments weigh up both sides of the debate, ultimately concluding that many of the problems or criticisms directed at peer review can be traced back to the variable qualities and lack of standardisation across journals, as well as common misconceptions (for instance, many assume high impact journals offer a better quality of peer review which is not necessarily the case).

Michael Jubb’s discussion of the scholarly ecosystem reveals some interesting lessons for those in the information profession, citing evidence that many researchers have a limited awareness of the range of information resources available to them, and instead tend to remain loyal to a few key sources that they trust or find easy to use, largely supplemented by advice from colleagues. John S. Haynes’ contribution manages to provide a concise overview of the various journal publishing business models and the implications of each – the traditional reader pays model, pay-per-view rentals, author charges and hybrid open access options. Keith Webster’s chapter highlights the evolving role of libraries in particular, including the shift towards digital collections and fourth-generation libraries centred on the ‘learning experience’, open access issues and the emergence of changing access points for users. Michael Mabe attempts to answer the obvious, if unspoken, question “Does journal publishing have a future?”. Unsurprisingly, the answer is not very clear-cut, concluding with “Yes, probably…” (there is also a “but” in there somewhere!) – reflective of both the future uncertainties, as well as complex relationships and intricacies inherent in the publishing industry.

At around 500 pages, the editors have skillfully succeeded in curating a comprehensive assessment of the academic publishing sector today, and one that is both respectful of its past traditions as well as cognisant of future threats and opportunities. By managing to incorporate valuable industry insight into technical aspects such as publishing standards, licensing and workflows, as well as more policy-oriented discussions germane to the broader research sector, the book should garner a wide readership. Such strengths will no doubt allow Academic and Professional Publishing to position itself as an essential text for anyone interested in the scholarly publishing environment.

Academic and Professional Publishing is published by Chandos, September 2012, 510 p., £60.


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