In the week of the ALPSP Conference in London our latest What is a publisher now? interview is with Phil Hurst, Publisher at The Royal Society. In recent years The Royal Society, which is the world's oldest scientific publisher has made multiple innovations in the way it publishes and distributes scientific content and Phil has been at the heart of that process. Ahead of him heading to the ALPSP Conference to talk about what insight he's gained into the 'new' academic publishing by launching multiple open access journals, we caught up with him for an interview.

1. Imagine we’re stuck in a lift together. Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do.

I'm Publisher at the Royal Society. I have over twenty years of experience in the publishing industry with both commercial publishers and learned societies and have launched both subscription and open access journals. I'm a chemist by training and previously worked for Current Science Group.

2. The Royal Society is the world’s oldest scientific publisher. How has it been to transition from a subscription-based business model to one that accommodates open access publishing?

It has been a most interesting journey. Back in 2004 we were still launching subscription journals. Our first step into open access (in 2006) was to provide the optional open access on our subscription journals – our APC rate was on a per page basis (like page charges) which turned out to be too complicated. Our hybrid-OA programme has been a modest success and was certainly given a boost by the RCUK initiative. In 2011 we launched our first fully OA journal, Open Biology, in order to learn and prepare for future scenarios. This month we will launch Royal Society Open Science covering all of science, engineering and mathematics.

3. When you announced your latest journal, Royal Society Open Science, earlier this year you stated that it was one of your goals for it to publish research it would be difficult to find a home for elsewhere. Do you think this is going to be open access journals’ chief contributions to scholarship? 

I think it goes beyond this. Recent changes and debates within the academic community have focussed on issues with peer-review, reproducibility, impact factor and transparency. Royal Society Open Science sets out to address some of these issues. The journal will be the first in the Royal Society's portfolio to operate ‘objective’ peer-review. This means that the journal will publish all articles which are scientifically sound without making judgement of importance or potential impact. It will also provide transparency with open data and the option of open peer-review.

4. Another thing Royal Society Open Science offers is Article Level Metrics and post-publication comments. Is this something that researchers pursuing an open access route to publication are increasingly calling for? And how might access to those metrics and comments change the path of future research?

For many years now, scientific journals have been judged largely by their Impact Factors. Many researchers have signed up to DORA (the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment), which seeks to challenge this ethos and improve the ways in which the output of scientific research is evaluated.  The availability of a range of article level metrics will encourage a shift towards the scientific content of an article, rather than the impact factor of the journal in which it was published.

There is a growing view that impact and importance (which depend very much on the audience and field) are better judged by the community after publication.

5. At the ALPSP Conference this year you’re appearing in the panel Open Access: the daily challenge (new customers, processes and relationships), which will explore how publishers navigate a future where authors are their customers. Has this involved a change of approach for The Royal Society?

Authors have always been the major customer. In an open access world author service, value for money and how well we disseminate their work will be even more important. Our approach has evolved to embrace open access as an important part of the publishing mix.

6. We touched on the idea of publishers now being organisations who offer author services above, but in your experience so far what kind of services do authors really value?

Authors really value an efficient and fair process. They are also increasingly compelled by their institutions and funders to meet a range of requirements such as inclusion of funder information in a consistent form and deposit of articles in repositories such as PubMedCentral. This is where technology is making a vital contribution – initiatives such as FundRef and ORCID are fundamental in satisfying the needs of a range of stakeholders including authors.

7. And if they don’t (yet, at least) how are you educating them to use and learn from these services? 

Authors will only adopt these services if we can demonstrate a tangible benefit. Article submission and peer review needs to be much better now we are directly charging the author - less form filling and a quicker and more transparent process is essential.

8. Now that you have experience of open access publishing across multiple journals, have you learned anything from the experience that might inform the development of your subscription journals too?

There are opportunities to add value to our subscription journals. Article level metrics, open data and an appropriate text and data mining policy are all informing the development of our subscription journals too.

9. In 15 words or fewer, what is a publisher now?

A disseminator of high quality work using the latest technology.

The ALPSP Conference will take place from 10-12 September at the Park Inn Conference and Hotel Centre in Heathrow, London. To see discussions as they unfold on the day, follow the conference's official hashtag #alpsp14 on Twitter.