'Fast publication can save lives!'

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Maryam Bazargan

River Valley Technologies director Maryam Bazargan describes her early career, 10 years of working with her brother Kaveh, and her love of languages and cultures

Tell us a little about your background and qualifications…

I spent my early days in the family home in Notting Hill Gate, London but was born in Bethnal Green hospital – so I suppose I could be considered a genuine Cockney!

Shortly after, my parents decided to move back to Iran and for a few years lived between the two countries. I was there for the revolution in 1979, when schools were closed for six months, and then the Iran/Iraq war. I moved back to London in 1983 – It was tough as I hardly spoke any English but thankfully there was another Persian girl in my class who translated things for me in the first six months.

I completed my GCSEs and A-Levels at Putney High School. I loved business and learning languages; I guess having been thrown in the deep end with no English helped. I studied Marketing with French and German in Newcastle, which I loved. 

After my degree I moved back to London and while working in marketing for an international technology company, I got involved with an internet-based project in 1997; the project entailed setting up an internet TV Guide.

I realised the internet was the future and in 1998 moved to the world of media agencies (joining one of the largest media agencies, Carat/Aegis Media and was later headhunted to set up the digital media arm for Publicis in 2000), devising digital strategies for clients including Diageo, Hewlett Packard, Yahoo!, Apple and L’Oreal. I helped launch The new VW Beetle and Apple Mac in the late 90s.

The digital media industry was tiny in the 1990s and it felt like there was a new dotcom company launching every day – there was never a shortage of social events. It was an exciting time!

In around 2003, I became aware of the video-game industry's market size and the untapped ‘media’ within the games. So I set up possibly the first marketing company specialising in in-game advertising – essentially setting up partnerships between video games and brands that wanted to engage with that audience.

We delivered some of the largest campaigns, including Reebok partnership with ProEvolutionSoccer (one of the largest football games). We realised the concept applied to many other sectors, and so extended to brand and TV, music and sports partnership. One of the most extraordinary experiences was working directly with Don King delivering partnership and sponsorship strategy for fights at Madison Square Garden – quite a character!

I love anything and everything about business – I joke about having set up my first business with my neighbour when I was six years old, selling paper fans in our street in Iran! What I enjoy is coming up with new ways of doing things and new business ideas – being an outsider to an industry helps with that – challenging the norm, and creating new opportunities. 

You’ve been working with your brother Kaveh at River Valley Technologies for nearly 10 years now. What does the company do, and what is your role?

River Valley, now in its 34th year, has specialised in composition services for the STM market, in particular complex maths and LaTeX, and today delivers full end-to-end publishing platforms. 

Around 10 years ago we started moving from a pure outsourcing company to a technology provider. Before joining, I didn’t have much knowledge of the STM marketing, but when Kaveh and I started talking about the industry and its stakeholders, we realised in fact there were a lot of similarities with other sectors that had been early digital adopters.

Over the last eight years I have been putting systems in place to deliver technology products to publishers. Our vision was to deliver an end-to-end publishing system in the cloud, so we began by dividing the workflow and developing cloud-based platforms for each stage of the workflow. 

Today we have a full suite of publishing solutions for clients who can use one or all: from submission and peer review to production, tracking, proofing, publishing, discoverability and reporting.

Today I oversee all business operations at River Valley from business strategy to product delivery to clients. Our mission is to accelerate the communication of research and my job is to ensure we deliver this through thoroughly understanding industry requirements. 

What have been the biggest developments in scholarly communications since then?

From a market point of view, the move from subscription to open access (OA) has been the most notable change in the last 10 years. Related to OA are the commendable moves to openness in other areas, such as open data and open peer review. Publishing systems and platforms have had to adapt accordingly, to ensure that new business models are catered for.

In the last two and a half years, during the Covid era, faster publication of research has become paramount – so the days of research being published months or even years after submission of an article might be over!

Consumers of research publications no longer want to be limited to downloading PDFs of papers. The TikTok generation wants to be able to have instant access on any device including mobile phones. This means publishers need to produce multiple formats and, crucially, must guarantee that all formats match.

Are there any areas of scholarly communications that you are particularly passionate about?

Speed of publication is probably what I am most passionate about. We have managed to perfect a system that allows full publication of all formats within 24 hours of completion of peer review. We are working on making the publication process even more streamlined. Fast publication can save lives!

Accessibility is another passion of ours. We want everyone to be able to access research with the minimum impediments. An example of a small enhancement that we have made to our sites is to allow readers to view the content as well as the interface in a dyslexic-friendly typeface. We have also given our clients the tools to translate the interface on their publication pages into any language they desire.

Removing barriers at both ends of the scholarly communication process is another passion of mine. In the most general sense, we want to allow anyone to publish anything as easily as possible, and for anyone to consume that publication easily and painlessly.

What are your wider hopes for the industry for the next 10 years?

We want to help increase automation in all stages of publishing, in order to bring down the cost of publishing, thus removing further the barriers to scholarly communication. A dream of ours is to allow ‘citizen scientists’, not only established scientists and researchers, to contribute to research communication. We have this in the back of our minds when building our platforms.

It would be good to see the cost of textbooks go down, thus alleviating the pressure on students. In addition, we want to see ‘live’ textbooks that are continually updated, ensuring that researchers always have the latest research at their fingertips.

Lastly, do you have any fascinating hobbies or pastimes you want to tell us about?

I love entertaining friends, whether it's a dinner party at home or putting on a party. I have been known for my parties and have thrown a few with 400+ guests in the past – I just love meeting new people and connecting people with others.

I love to dabble in art and interior design, and have designed and renovated a few homes over the years, but sadly none of my paintings have made it to Sotheby’s yet!

Languages have remained really important to me – they say you live as many lives as the languages you speak and that is so true. I feel so frustrated when I go to a country and I don’t speak their language; over the years I’ve continued to study languages including Japanese and Spanish. I love travelling and exploring new places, understanding cultures; my favourite has to be Marrakech, a riot of colour, fragrance, design and of course souk treasure!

I am always fascinated to hear about other people’s businesses and their strategies – I don’t mind sticking my oar in! On a more serious level, I like listening to people’s business issues and love to help come up with solutions. I also mentor a few people; it gives me great joy seeing them and their businesses flourish.