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African pride

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South African journal publisher NISC is proud of its strapline "Publishing Africa's Research", says managing director Mike Schramm

At NISC, we are proudly conscious of our African base and focus.

Publishing African research from Africa is significant, given the extractive nature of the continent’s history. NISC publishes high-quality research on behalf of institutions, societies, and associations from Africa and for Africa, and for the world.

Indeed, reaching international audiences as well as regional ones is key for our journal partners and authors. There have been challenges on this score, but also good solutions. Research outputs from the continent, and their metrics, are rising – but in a very competitive global market.

As a South African-based journal publisher, NISC has faced the challenge of effective international marketing of our titles to new institutional library subscribers.

Ten years ago such marketing involved costly, often print-based, marketing campaigns and included travel to the US, UK and Europe to exhibit at key society and subject conferences. Around this time, library purchasing behaviour changed rapidly as individual title subscriptions faded to be replaced by generally more cost- effective deals offering access to collections of related titles. We, as a small publisher, found it increasingly difficult to compete for a slice of the library budget with bigger publishers who were able to offer large and diverse bundles of titles.

Although we were able to keep pace with the big publishers with respect to the developments in production standards and online hosting, expanding the global reach for our titles became increasingly difficult.

In 2009 NISC entered into a co-publishing arrangement with Taylor & Francis (T&F), which had a local South African office, but also a strong global presence. It was important to us that both elements were in place.

Our titles have benefited from publication and discoverability on a leading online platform, received a range of marketing initiatives, and been incorporated into international T&F package deals. These factors have increased the exposure of our journals, along with other dividends such as an expansion in international authorship, improved article quality, and increases in citations.

Within South Africa and other African countries, purchasing power of institutional libraries has been heavily impacted during the last few years by the declining value of our – and other emerging market – currencies. While libraries are able to plan for modest annual inflation-linked price increases, they have reeled under the unpredictable escalation costs of dollar-based subscriptions.

As a South-African-based publisher, NISC has a cost-base that is largely in local currency. Consequently, we are able to offer South African and other institutions on the continent a subscription in local currency that is insulated from the ravages of fluctuation in value against the dollar, pound or euro. Our subscriptions therefore offer outstanding value to local institutions and have allowed us to compete in the local market against big international players.

NISC is also innovating in open access and we support the development of OA models that best serve African authors, in addition to the needs of international contributors. We have a highly welcomed, differentiated scheme in place for our co-published titles with Taylor & Francis, offering discounts and subsidies to bring the cost of publication within reach of local authors.

On a general note, OA in the African context has primarily been thought of in terms of access, not authorship. More work needs to be done to find sustainable and meaningful ways for African authors, and indeed African publishers, to publish high-quality, rigorously peer-reviewed, open access scholarship.

Mike Schramm is managing director, NISC (Pty) Ltd