Annette Thomas kicked off the keynote speeches at this year’s Futurebook conference, reflecting on the mega merger of Macmillan Science and Education and Springer Science and Business Media earlier this year, resulting in Springer Nature.
They support researchers at every stage of their career, driving them. In academic publishing, there’s an opportunity and challenge to become part of the workflow with customers. “It’s not just about the content, but being with them.”
So why publishing? She moved from a career working with scientists, being interested in research, to where she is now, the Chief Scientific Officer at Springer Nature. But the thing about publishing, which she feels many will agree with, is that “when it grabs hold of you, it doesn’t let you go.” The whole publishing thing kind of snuck up on her.
But now she’s here, she takes advantage of change. Restructuring a company doesn’t by default cause change, so what exactly was it Springer Nature did? They sought to transform learning and discovery, to be the centre of it.
First was scale: bring all the companies together rather than working disparately, then they would provide constant and incremental improvements. They put the flag in the ground for disruption – you must constantly move forward, knowing that many ideas won’t work but some will. “Disruption today is the future of tomorrow.”
The science business for them is growing at triple the rate of the industry, education is double digit; transformation is not easy or immediately obvious, but it’s good. For academia, this merger the equivalent of Penguin Random House. They now have the top position in open access publishing, and are the largest academic publisher.
“We have reinvented academic book publishing,” she explains. “It’s all about open. Open is a massive opportunity no matter what side of the fence you sit on.” It’s changing research – two thirds of their revenue comes from open access. So where next?
“Open data,” she notes, “sits behind all research published.” There’s reams and reams of it – make that accessible and discovery and research can happen so much faster. “The power is no longer in the proprietary, the power is in open.”
In drawing similarities between academic and consumer publishing, she says it’s consumer-centric, data-driven and services-lead. “It’s important to all of us,” says Annette. In academic publishing, these aren’t buzzwords, but a unique ecosystem that they work in. “The researcher is truly at the centre of everything we do. Putting the customer at the centre is not cliché – they drive everything in academic publishing.”
So, what is a publisher for? “It’s about pampering our customers,” she says, “but most importantly about connecting them to ideas.”