'Publishers add value – now let’s communicate about it'

Value communication was a hot topic at the STM conference in Frankfurt.

Harald Boersma (<a href='https://twitter.com/hboersma' target='_blank'>@hboersma</a>) is Senior Manager of Corporate Relations at Elsevier. He is based in Amsterdam.

I wouldn’t want to trade places with the organizer of an annual conference. Imagine the challenge of surprising your delegates year after year with something significantly different than the previous edition. However sometimes external forces provide an unexpected helping hand. The 2012 STM Conference in Frankfurt provided a platform for a constructive way forward for an industry under scrutiny in a year full of turbulence.

Don’t get me wrong: if 2012 hadn’t been the year of online petitions and public scrutiny, the STM Conference would still be as good as ever. It would be kicked off with an inspiring keynote speech — the STM just seems to have a way of selecting the right speakers who combine the expert knowledge to tell us something new with the insights to provide us with a fresh new perspective on our business. It would also attract the right delegates, which makes the event the ultimate networking experience that it has been for many years. And yes, it would also provide room for open and honest debate that ultimately makes our industry stronger and more professional. Any room for improvement? Well, maybe. They could move to a bigger venue so more people can attend, because more people should.

But if it wasn’t for the criticism the industry has been facing since the start of the year, the conference may not have had Scholarly Kitchen’s editor-in-chief Kent Anderson on stage making a case for the value STM publishers add to the scientific community, gently reminding us of one of his most talked about and recently updated post, Proposed List of 60 Things Publishers Do. And it wouldn’t have tempted Free Ride author Robert Levine to summarize his vision on the value of publishers by saying, “What you do is vital.” Lastly, the organizing committee probably wouldn’t have been bothered to launch a video competition called “What do publisher do?”

At Elsevier, the online petition has resulted in, among other things, an increased focus on better communicating about the value we add to the communities we serve. Simply because these communities deserve clarity about what they can expect from us. As much of the criticism was directly focused on our company, we felt an immediate need to take action quickly. At the STM Conference, it became quite clear, however, that we’re not the only ones who have the words “value” and “communication” at the top of our priority list. Our competitors, industry organizations and everyone else who cares about or has an interest in publishing — also beyond STM — seem poised to do exactly the same thing.

When publishing is under severe scrutiny, the industry as a whole has an obligation to explain the value it provides. And I’m glad to see we’re moving in that direction. As in my perception  — though as a communicator I may be biased — the 2012 edition of the Frankfurt STM Conference was all about adding value, and so is the STM industry itself. Let’s continue to remind ourselves of that in the following editions.

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