Putting the customer first

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Judy Verses is executive vice president for research at John Wiley and Sons

Tell us about your background and previous career...

I started my career in sales for Xerox, which formed a strong early bias that the customer is the centre of the universe and the life bread of any company.

After three years in sales, I entered a marketing management development program with GTE (before it became Verizon) and spent more than 20 years in telecommunications, where I was fortunate to gain experience in all aspects of sales, marketing and general management.

At Verizon, I benefited from outstanding management development and had the opportunity to run multiple very large organisations. Significant accomplishments include running the $650 million broadband business and growing it to almost $1 billion in a year, and launching FiOS as SVP of marketing for Verizon. In 2008, I made a significant career change from telecommunications to education technology when I joined Blackboard, first as COO and after multiple acquisitions, chief client officer. 

My time at Blackboard – and, subsequently, Rosetta Stone – fuelled my passion for education and learning and being part of a mission driven business. There is no better feeling to know that the job you do has an impact on people and their lives. Coming to Wiley to head up Research and the Scholarly Journals business is a natural extension of that passion, and provides an opportunity to take a very successful but mature business to the next level of growth.

You have wide experience in consumer and government organisations. How will this inform your career in scholarly communications?

I have been fortunate to have experience in consumer, as well as all aspects of B2B that includes K-12, higher education, corporations and government sectors. This experience across multiple segments is an asset in the scholarly journal business, where you work with a very large ecosystem of customers that includes researchers and authors, that are more analogous with consumer segments, to higher education libraries, corporations and governments, which are B2B segments.

My approach to any business is to always start with the needs and requirements of the customers you serve, and ensure you are bringing products and services to market that add value. Having a lot of experience in bringing technology products to market is also very helpful, as technology is going to continue to be an important enabler and differentiator in the Scholarly Journal market.

Wiley has stated that it is to make new investments in the industry. What can you tell us about that?

Wiley’s new investments in the industry fall under two headings: 1) publishing more scientifically sound articles that widen the range of scientific literature and provide additional value to librarians; and 2) providing, via Atypon, a world-class service for societies and other publishers. 

Publishing more of what is submitted to us means targeting ways to improve the author’s journey from submission to publication.

We are also developing our title portfolio – developing the publishing strategies of our existing titles as well as creating new titles to capture research in key developing areas. A very important part of this is ensuring that quality standards are maintained by providing training and support for editors and editorial boards.

Our acquisition of Atypon gives us a great opportunity to build on Atypon’s expertise in providing industry-leading services to publishers, as well as Wiley’s expertise in developing publishing programmes for scholarly societies. This is a major investment for us in ensuring publishers, society or otherwise, can access state-of-the-art services while maintaining independence.

Can you identify one key event or trend that has shaped this industry in recent years?

Open access jumps out here as well as the more recent developments around open science and reproducibility. It’s meant that publishers have had to adapt to new ways of doing things, but it has shown the wider world that scholarly and scientific research is valuable to society. The emergence of open science continues the theme of research information as a key driver of progress, and it poses a lot of interesting challenges – technical and ethical – around data sharing and curation.

A recent development of this trend can be seen in the growing role of scholarly sharing networks, and the demand from researchers to collaborate and share content more easily.

The challenge for publishers is to provide ease of use and openness, while at the same time protecting the basic principles that ensure content is used legitimately and that the scientific record is preserved.

What do you see as the key challenges facing researchers at the moment?

Researchers are under increasing pressure from two directions. On the one hand, they are expected to keep abreast of a growing corpus of scientific material in their own disciplines, as well as related fields. This can pose a huge challenge in information discovery across a range of sources, using a multiplicity of tools and platforms. And researchers have to do this on top of many other day-to-day activities.

At the same time, researchers are also under pressure to publish more, both in terms of absolute volume and frequency. This stems from increased competition for jobs and funding, even in relatively well-funded disciplines, as well as a general cultural shift towards having to prove return on investment. 

There is also a growing demand for researchers to develop new skills: for example, communicating the impact of their research to a wider audience, including the general public, and funding proposals.

Not only is this a considerable burden of work, it also requires researchers to act in a wider number of roles. Publishers can help by taking as much of the pain out of the publishing process as possible, supporting researchers from before they even submit, right through to helping them get their research to the right audience after it has been published. Researchers are central to the industry and we need to see them as customers as well as authors.

Given a crystal ball, what changes would you predict for academic publishing over the next 10 years?

Technologies impacting on other industries, such as AI, will play an increasing role in the dissemination and discovery of research information. We’re already seeing that with tools like Meta. The trend of novel technology solutions to support authors across the publishing process will certainly continue. This will increase the burden on smaller publishers to provide similar services.

The need for metrics to measure research impact will intensify across the industry, from librarians to researchers to funders, and publishers will need to support this actively and ensure that the metrics accurately reflect the value of research.

There will also be more research published than ever before, and we will need new ways to curate and navigate an increasingly large corpus of scholarly and scientific literature. Research will become more balanced geographically, as developing economies accelerate their output to match that of mature economies.

More broadly, we will also see shift in expectations from a generation of people brought up native to the internet – we will have to ensure that publishing services match the high expectations new and upcoming researchers will be setting for us.

Interview by Tim Gillett