In this edition of our returning series of interviews with the leaders of digital publishing, What is a Publisher Now? we talk to Mandy Hill, the new Managing Director of Academic publishing at Cambridge University Press. Earlier this month, Mandy appeared on our Beyond Open Access panel at the Frankfurt Book Fair, where she talked engagingly about the challenges facing academic publishers in the post-open access era. Following on from this appearance we caught up with Mandy to ask her about her vision for CUP's academic publishing and the industry in general.
PT - Imagine we’re stuck in a lift together. Tell us more about about you and what you do at Cambridge University Press (CUP).
MH - I am relatively new to Cambridge, having started at the beginning of Sept. My role is Managing Director of our Academic publishing, which spans academic books, journals, and digital publishing globally.
PT - You’ve recently joined CUP from Oxford University Press, where you were Publishing Director of its Global Academic Publishing Group. What were the key challenges you faced in this role and how did they ready you for becoming Managing Director of Academic Publishing at CUP?
All academic publishers are facing many of the same challenges: digitisation, globalisation, changing business models and reducing library budgets. OUP and Cambridge are also similar as two truly global university presses, driven by our missions and those of our parent universities.
OUP has worked to balance the need for commercial astuteness with its commitment to quality. Cambridge has traditionally focused more heavily on mission than on surplus, but this has limited the amount of investment that has been available for the digital transformation and one aspect I will be focusing on is how we can re-set this balance, but in a way that is right for Cambridge and enables us to remain true to our core values.
PT - One of the areas you led in your previous role was Open Access, which is the theme of the What is a publisher now? panel you’re appearing on at Frankfurt Book Fair. Now that we all accept that open access is a large part of the academic publishing landscape, what do you think the next big challenge is?
In some ways I don’t think it is as clear cut as that. The position varies so much by subject (life sciences versus history) and by format (journals compared to textbooks).
In some ways, therefore, the challenge is mobilising the right business model for each community to ensure we can continue to provide the services and support we have always been known for.
Building on that means looking more closely at the relationships we have with each of the key stakeholder holder groups (authors, readers, funders, libraries etc) and developing new ways to support their needs in the ever-changing environment that we all work in. Cambridge has been active in Open Access for a number of years, with a range of full and hybrid OA journals and a growing list of OA books. We have recently appointed a new Head of Open and Data Publishing and will be building a small team to build on our activities to date drive further open and data publishing intiatives.
PT - Another interesting part of your experience is in China. What has this involved, and how does it inform how and what you decide to publish?
MH - Without stating the obvious China is a complex, but materially important, market. I learnt a great deal from working with teams in China and will use this to inform decisions we make for developing Cambridge’s publishing in China.
PT - Academic publishing in China is a huge market that is often poorly understood by outsiders. As someone in the know, what do you think are the most interesting things happening within scholarly publishing in China?
MH - I think what is really interesting are the changes being driven by the government and embraced within academic institutions. Chinese publishers, like their international equivalents have been producing wonderful books and journals for their markets, but have often not worked in a really global environment to know how to support these initiatives. So whilst they understand the Chinese market, authors and cultural expectations, they can’t always provide all of the support required.
PT - Do you think there are opportunities for Western and Chinese academic publishers to work together more closely, and what would collaborations like this look like?
MH - In principle yes I do think there are opportunities, but it is not just with the Chinese publishers as together we can provide all aspects of the support that Chinese academics need. But there may also be opportunities and benefits to collaborating directly with the academic institutes themselves.
Cambridge University Press launched the Cambridge China Library in 2012 and this is just one example of the opportunities that there could be.
PT - As leader of part of one of the world’s oldest academic publishers, you have a responsibility to drive new product creation as well as to maintain the brands and publications on which CUP’s reputation and business currently rests. Do you think innovation is more or less difficult for a business that already has a very clear idea of where it sits in the market?
MH - It can be seen as more challenging, but we can also view our closeness to our markets as making innovation easier for us. Our brand and reputation are built on providing high-quality products and services for our markets and if we are to continue to meet market needs we have to evolve. As we are not driven by shareholder prices or other short term demands, but instead can focus on serving and supporting researchers, innovation should be part of the way we view our role and position in the market.
What does make it challenging is our breadth and that we are not serving one market, but a multitude of markets with diverse needs.
Another challenge is not how we see ourselves in the market, but how others see us: something that might be totally acceptable and even desirable from another publisher, might be seen by the outside world as very ‘un-Cambridge’.
PT - Other publishers, such as Pearson or Macmillan, have attempted to solve the problem of fostering innovation within mature businesses by creating their own mini-accelerators and acting like Venture Capitalists as much as publishers. Might we see CUP starting to adopt this kind of model at some time in the future?
MH - You could say that we are already part of a hotbed of innovation already – it's called the University.
PT - In fifteen words or fewer, what is a publisher now?
MH - Global, engaged, digital, changing, products and services, ethical.