This week the great and the good of international scholarly publishing descended on the ALPSP Conference outside Birmingham to discuss the state of the industry. Ingenta was there to host the panel event What is a publisher now? which brought four speakers together to muse on the successes, failures and general prognosis for scholarly and society publishing. You can learn more about what our panellists Ziyad Marar (SAGE), Victor Henning (Mendeley/Elsevier), Timo Hannay (Digital Science) by reading the interviews we’ve already published on the blog, and our voice of independent publishers Louise Russell’s interview will be published very soon.

During the course of a 90 minute discussion, the panellists touched on subjects as various as copyright law, the level to which services like Google and Dropbox are a threat to the industry and where the relative power of authors, readers and publishers in the changing landscape. For a fuller picture of the ALPSP conference at large check out the #alpsp13 Twitter stream, which provides a minute by minute recap of what was discussed.

But what are the key points we took away from What is a publisher now? Here are five of the best.

1. The elision of content and services

SAGE’s Ziyad Marar, himself a hybrid of publisher and published author, pointed out that the rise of businesses like Macmillan’s Digital Science and Mendeley was breaking down the barriers between content and services.

Whereas publishers used to look on controlling access to content as the primary means of extracting revenue from the publishing process, there is now a greater diversity of business models on offer that use content, access to content and/or publication as a means of selling services to customers. Mendeley’s Victor Henning expanded on this point later in the discussion where he emphasised the scale of the challenge facing established academic publishers when it came to changing their business models. 

Henning's own view was that by erecting barriers between users and content, publishers were impeding the flow of information vital to the research process. This was a strategy that would protect their revenues in the short-term, but leave them poorly suited for a future in which the usefulness of information is defined by its shareability.

2. Will Dropbox kill scholarly publishing ‘by accident’?

According to Henning, the unintended consequence of publishers' attempts to lock down research content was the creation a 'grey' market for materials shared among students and researchers via services such as Google Drive and Dropbox. These tools, he said, made up the vast amount of document sharing among students, researchers and academics, with Mendeley, the service he founded, accounting for only around 2% of research shared globally. As such they represented a significant disruption to scholarly and academic publishers, even though as consumer-facing businesses Dropbox and Google were not directly targeting this market. Here, Henning used the example of the music industry, which lost two thirds of its business in the course of a decade after persisting with an online strategy that saw record companies focus on restricting access to content.

Digital Science's Timo Hannay resisted this interpretation, however, emphasising that the highly specialised nature of scholarly publishing, and the equally specialised needs of its consumers left room for the experts.

3. Less Copyright, more patents and trademarks, please

Where both Hannay and Henning agreed was that the publishing industry's continued reliance on copyright was misguided. Henning took the view that copyright as it was currently constituted a barrier to innovation and sharing, saying:

He then went on to use the example of email, adding that had copyright lawyers invented email the service would lack vital functions like the ability to add attachments (on the grounds that how can you be sure the sender has the right to send the file?) or threaded conversations (because the sender of the previous email would own the copyright to their original text). Hannay suggested an alternative approach, calling for publishers to learn more lessons from the software and technology businesses, particularly as they move away from presenting research as flat PDFs only, towards more dynamic models where rich media and data sets are published alongside traditional articles. We live in a world of increased complexity, but greater opportunity says @timohannay #alpsp13 — Publishing Tech (@publishingtech) September 12, 2013

4. Gaming: the fascinating industry that scholarly publishers know nothing about

Throughout the discussions, video gaming was cited as an example of an industry with analagous challenges to publishing (right down to the fact that both kinds of businesses call themselves publishers) but was widely acknowledged to have thrived as opposed to stagnated in the digital world. Despite this, most if not all ALPSP attendees professed near or total ignorance of how the industry worked, and thus not ideally placed to learn lessons from its successes and avoid its failures.

Were it up to us, we'd definitely be setting 'research the gaming industry for insight you can take into your company' as the homework excercise for ALPSP 2013 delegates.

5. What do you call a Social Media citation? A ‘Tweetation’ of course

And finally, Louise Russell gave us a great new word to describe the dissemination of research through social media. During a presentation in which she explored whether researchers' use of tools such as blogging summarise and share research was making the language of citation less formal, she described the phenomenon of a piece of research shared via Twitter as a 'Tweetation'.

This is definitely a word whose own citations we'll be looking at with interest in the coming months.

So that was our event at ALPSP 2013. Were any of our readers there? We'd love to hear your thoughts too.