While it’s very common to hear trade publishers defend their business models on the basis that they play a key role in ‘curating’ content on behalf of audiences, it’s much less common to see a spirited defence of this idea from the academic and scholarly publishing community. So it’s great to hear an influential voice in scholarly publishing community advocating authorship and the value of the traditional publishing model.

This interesting essay published by The British Academy for the Humanities and Social Sciences by Ziyad Marar, Global Publishing Director of SAGE, argues that traditional scholarly publishers will continue to play an important role in helping academics to use authorship as a means of advancing their authorities in their chosen fields.

Ziyad’s argument is based around content types in scholarly communication and the different ways they are created. He argues that Open Access might be a good information disseminator for some subjects such as the natural sciences where facts are clear cut, but has much greater limitations when publishing research from more subjective, values-based disciplines like the social sciences.

He also discusses the difference between OA and traditional publishing by exploring Clay Shirky’s ideas from his title called “Here Comes Everybody”.  Ziyad characterises Shirkey’s idea of “publish, then filter” as the OA mantra. He goes on to explain that for some content this simply does not work and that we need to apply a traditional publishing model of “filter, then publish” in order to create useful, authoritative content for the reader. The “publish then filter” works because of the type of content and the fact that many scientific and technical knowledge pieces are being created by many hundred of collaborative scientist and via large organizations – the concept of authorship is here is lost and content becomes a commodity.

Other scholarly disciplines such as the Humanities and Social Sciences are created by their authors – they are “owned” works they are not commodities for all. Different types of content require different types of creation and dissemination.

Ziyad goes much more in depth on the concepts of different kinds of content and this essay is well worth a good read to find out why different content needs different ways of handling.

The crux is that authorship is still important and the role of the publisher is still vital in facilitating the path of the authorship to the readership. It strikes me that there is an unexpected similarity here to many of the arguments I hear from the trade when they argue about their value as publishers. They nurture, filter, create, produce, market and sell books from both known and unknown authors; they invest in the publishing process and still have a valid and vital role. The trade is being eroded by the likes of big name authors selling direct via Amazon and self publishing or via agents but what about effort and nurture – what about taking the long path to publishing to foster quality and not volume of noise? Content is still king, one size does not fit all and the product is fundamentally much more important than either the packaging or the route to market.