Thinking globally

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Addressing the information needs of libraries and researchers around the world is no small task. Siân Harris asked three publishers about the benefits and challenges of being international

Scholarly research is becoming increasingly global and the publishing industry that serves it mirrors that trend. Major publishers have offices in many countries around the world to serve both the local and global needs of their authors and readers.

‘We believe the key to a successful global business is to work with local people in local markets, whether it’s in sales and marketing or on a more operational level. Being close to our customers, being able to listen to them and to truly understand what they need enables us to be a partner to the scientific communities across the world, not “just” a publisher,’ observed Michiel Kolman, senior vice president, global academic relations at Elsevier.

Blaise Simqu, president and CEO of SAGE, agreed: ‘As the rapid pace of change in publishing continues, the need to have people in territory and the need for staff to really understand the local issues is ever more important. In the past you could probably rely on a linen-clad sales manager to do an annual trip to the different markets; that doesn’t really work anymore. Contact and availability in the market is key. There is also an increased understanding that comes from interacting with communities locally. We are able to better prepare for economic shifts that hit at different times, and we are able to adapt more quickly to the changes that affect the business.’

There are, of course, challenges with being an international business. ‘One of the greatest challenges is being able to schedule time to speak with our colleagues around the world. With an eight-hour time difference for the USA and UK, and even greater for India and Singapore, we make sure those few overlapping hours each day are reserved for important video conferencing and telephone calls. Our senior managers also regularly call in to meetings late in the evening, or early in the morning,’ Simqu explained, adding that regular face-to-face meetings are also important.

Michiel Kolman, Elsevier

David Hoole, director of brand marketing and institutional relations at Nature Publishing Group (NPG), noted that, ‘time zone differences present challenges for internal communications as an organisation, and teamwork in global teams. Our global approach also means that for some staff, extensive travel (and jet lag) can be an issue. However, video conferencing and other technology is getting better and better and we make the most of that. In the future, we anticipate less physical travel but more face-to-face interactions through video conferencing and other technology.’

Different cultures

There are also cultural differences between countries, as Simqu of SAGE pointed out: ‘Every country has a different approach to negotiation and differing levels of etiquette. Understanding how our customers operate is essential for us. From our feedback we know there is no single solution for our customers globally. Having sales teams on the ground enables us to build strong relationships and business partnerships, and we aim to be as flexible as possible with a variety of package options. We also rely on market feedback on new innovations, and we are investing in areas such as our new journal platform to meet needs expressed by librarians and journal users globally.’

Regional differences also affect the details of contracts and sales negotiations. ‘It is helpful that many of the fundamentals of copyright have been developed internationally and are reasonably standard across the world. However there remain many distinctive aspects to local law, ranging from the differences between US fair use and UK fair dealing to particular legal restrictions on publishing, ranging from Indian registration laws to Chinese controls on the activities of international publishers,’ said Simqu.

Blaise Simqu, Sage

NPG’s Hoole gave an example of some of the licensing challenges: ‘The public domain status of research outputs by US government employees, like those employed by the National Institutes of Health contrasts with government employees in the UK who are bound by Crown Copyright.’

There are some broader business issues too, as Michiel Kolman of Elsevier explained: ‘In some countries the publishing industry is organised in such a way that, for example, acquiring local businesses is out of the question. For these countries, we are exploring alternative ways to meet our customers’ needs.’


Language is another area that poses challenges, but also where international publishing can help. ‘Customers in different countries have different expectations. A simple but very real example is that some customers in non-English-speaking countries expect our customer service staff to answer them in their native language. We take this very seriously and make continuous efforts to meet these expectations,’ said Kolman.

This issue extends to authors too. ‘We see an enormous increase in non-English language manuscripts that are produced by researchers in growing markets such as China and Brazil. As an international publisher we can help these researchers advance their careers by providing an international publishing platform with a presence in their own country. Our challenge is to provide the right tools and circumstances to facilitate this process. We accomplish this through small initiatives such as locally organising author workshops, but also by including foreign-language articles in Scopus, Elsevier’s abstracts and citations database. We also provide translation and language-editing services for authors,’ he continued.

David Hoole, Nature Publishing Group

‘The biggest change in recent years is the shift in research output from Western countries to upcoming markets such as China, India, and Brazil. Researchers in these countries know that in order to be successful, they need to publish internationally. Publishing in a journal from a local, nationally-oriented publisher will not give them the necessary exposure. This is an exciting trend that will continue in the years and decades to come.’

NPG has similar observations: ‘South America, the Middle East, China and other countries in the Asia-Pacific region will become increasing large players in research and in science publishing. International publishing will become more truly global and less focused on “the West”. NPG is increasingly developing bespoke regional services and portals – two examples would be: Nature Middle East, a portal site for information on scientific and medical research in the Arabic-speaking Middle East, the research community and its activities; and Nature China, which is dedicated to highlighting the best research being produced in Hong Kong and mainland China in science and clinical medicine,’ concluded Hoole.