The digital agenda for scholarly publishing

Marydee Ojala joins other 'battle scarred veterans' of scholarly publishing at the 2016 Academic Publishing Europe (APE) conference in Germany.

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For the past 11 years, those interested in the future of European scholarly publishing have gathered in Berlin for the Academic Publishing Europe (APE) conference ( This year was no exception. The organiser, Arnoud de Kemp, limits the number of delegates to about 200, preserving an intimate atmosphere where younger people just embarking on their careers feel comfortable talking with those possessing vastly more experience.

The conference venue, the historic Berlin Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, still shows damage from shelling during World War II, which de Kemp is fond of alluding to in his welcoming remarks. Looking around, I wondered if this is also a metaphor for APE. In the room were battle-scarred veterans of past publishing skirmishes but also the newer generation determined to create a different path forward for scholarly communication. That path, as reflected by the conference theme, The Digital Agenda, concentrates on electronic resources, mostly journal articles.

Michael Mabe, chair of the conference and CEO of the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers, opened the conference by describing the current environment as a "perfect storm." After 350 years of academic journal publishing, the structural components remain essentially the same. Digitisation, however, changes business models, revises copyright requirements, and creates a new internet zeitgeist. Today the notions that what’s yours is mine and that e equals free profoundly affect scholarly publishers. He challenged the audience to consider three important questions:

• What more can publishers do to innovate science?

• Do new approaches mean jettisoning the journal article? Even if not, how can publishers improve it?

• How does, or should, the perfect storm and digitisation affect business models?

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