Publishing Has Much to Learn from the STM Sector

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

STM science technology medicine publishingI decided to work in publishing because I loved books themselves as a product, and I started my first publishing company because I wanted to see tables stacked on the high-street with books my company had published. And I went with fiction since it was my personal reading passion and what I read most of the time.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I had started a trade publishing company (‘trade’ being a terrible tag that doesn’t really say anything about what it describes–but that would be a subject for another post). I had begun a ten-year battle, continuing to this day, to publish fiction, and now also non-fiction, to fill the bookshelves and the memories of masses of readers.

If I were to have chosen examples to have gathered inspiration from at the time, I would have said what Penguin achieved through Allan Lane, the recent successes of independent publishers like Bloomsbury and Quercus or the artistic creativity McSweeney’s regularly produces through its book products. I was of course aware of the many huge publishers producing masses of scientific, technical and medical (STM) books but would have mentally sidelined them by thinking they were for people who works in those areas.

However, over the last two years my understanding has evolved and I realise I had been missing out on much to be learnt. The driver for this was launching IPR License, a global rights licensing platform, offering an open playing field to all publishers owning the rights to content that can be licensed. I knew we had to look beyond just trade publishers, but what we found was far more exciting than just more publishers.

Of major publishers to join the platform, Wolters Kluwer and Elsevier were two global names that immediately stood out. And as well as building great partnerships with both companies, the reception from across major science, technology and medicine (STM) publishers has been fantastic. Receptivity is the right word; we have found STM publishers immediately are receptive to new ideas and ways to evolve their businesses to meet today’s market and opportunities.

There are two main drivers for this. The first is licensing, which is already a huge part of most STM publishers’ business models. In fact, licensing alone is a huge, multi-billion pound industry in the sector. And the second is that STM publishing has faced massive challenges for several years, from digitalization to open access–a battle for existence, never mind maintaining sales.

In fact, a comparison to the music industry may be worth making. The music industry was hit first with the challenge of customers still paying for creative content and, not without stumbles, has evolved into a smarter, slicker and more dynamic industry as a result. If publishers want to learn how to face today’s market, seeing what the music industry has done over the last decade would be a smart place to start.

In addition to facing up to its challenges and innovating, publishers in the STM sector also work together where possible. It was a surprise to see how closely people in the same positions at rival companies collaborated, but over time it has made sense. The rivalries still persist and business is fiercely fought over, but there is an openness to working together and learning from each other, as well as pulling together when new challenges arise from outside of the sector.

There will never be the mainstream media and glamour of a hugely successful trade title–the resulting film, talk shows, awards nights and so on–for a very successful multi-authored medical textbook, for instance. But maybe this accounts for the lack of pretension in the STM world, where there’s less concern for what others think and for personal reputations, and a much clearer focus on simply completing business.

Of course, I am not saying everyone in trade publishing should pack up and head over to STM–it is itself an evolving sector rife with innovation and change. My point is that if you haven’t already, you should really take a look. Dig under the service of those often dry-sounding titles and you’ll find huge amounts of business, challenges and development, both online and off, occurring on a daily basis.

When I started my first publishing company I realized the immeasurable amount I would have to learn over the many years ahead. What I have realized over the last two years is how much there is to learn from the STM sector.


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