E-publishing: The great leveller


One of the leading research, educational and professional publishers in the world, Springer Nature is also among the largest e-book publishers, with almost half of its business contributed by e-publishing of journals and books. We recently caught up with Sanjiv Goswami, managing director of Springer Nature India for an exclusive interview to understand how e-publishing is rapidly bridging the information gap between developing and developed nations. Excerpts.

Formed in 2015 as a result of the merging of Nature Publishing Group, Palgrave Macmillan, Macmillan Education and Springer Science+Business Media, Springer Nature is today the world’s largest academic book publisher, publisher of the world’s most influential journals and a pioneer in the field of open research. The genesis of the company, however, dates back to 175 years, when Julius Springer founded Springer Science+Business Media in Berlin on 10 May, 1842, his 25th birthday.

Today, the company has more than 3,000 English-language journals and over 200,000 books, including those published by highly reputed publishing houses such as Adis, Apress and BioMed Central. Librarians, researchers, students and faculty in prestigious institutions – academic, corporate and public – have come to trust and rely on Springer’s high quality content in five main fields: science, technology, medicine, business and transport.

The EUR 1.5 billion company was one of the early adopters of the opportunities in e-publishing and, has over the years, developed an array of respected and trusted brands providing quality content through a range of innovative products and services. Springer Nature is headquartered in Europe with substantial operations in the US, and has over 13,000 employees spread over 50 countries.

E-publishing: the core of research

“Electronic publishing today is not essentially a replica of a print book, although the starting point is the book itself,” said Goswami. “Researchers need to cross-refer from various sources and a digital platform that can host the content and make it searchable is needed. And once the content becomes digital, functionalities come into play pinpointing to the reader what he needs,” he said.

“Our content is not tailor-made for a course or a subject for a classroom environment; our content is normally not read cover to cover. It is read in sections because it is a reference. Similarly, journal articles are also read selectively according to a specific area of research. When the researcher is surfing for relevant content, he/she also connects with lot of other databases and sources. A scientist, for instance, reading our content will not ignore an equally good content from another source,” reasoned Goswami, who started his career with Tata McGraw Hill over three decades ago and who has also served as president, treasurer and secretary of the Association of Indian Publishers and is member of various trade associations like FICCI, CII and ASSOCHAM. He is also the founding director on the Board of Indian Reprographic Rights Organization.

“If you are connected to an electronic database via a licence, it does not matter which geographical area you are in. There’s no time lag and no information divide. This is one of the greatest things to have happened in India. This has significantly helped reduce the information divide between developed and developing nations,” Goswami said.

The government is now taking advantage of digitisation by funding and supporting library consortia to access high-end content from publishers across the world. In today’s digital age, libraries and researchers are constantly adapting to new and innovative ways to source information quickly and effectively for the academic and research communities. Springer Nature’s database and software solutions have been created with these factors in mind so that libraries can provide user-friendly solutions and researchers can get the information they need quickly and easily,” he said, lauding the country’s policy makers for the futuristic Digital India programme.

Commenting on the pricing model, Goswami says, “The digital content warrants an innovative pricing model for books. The research world is global. It is very important for scientists here to connect with scientists elsewhere so that nations benefit from global intellect. We have substantial open access content available on our platform. When we licence content to institutions, we have no restrictive digital rights management (DRM). We want people to read and use our content as widely as they can, provided they give us a small fee and use it legally.”

India operations

Goswami, who built the company’s operations in India from scratch, having joined as its first employee 20 years ago, has been hands-on in every aspect of the publishing business. He has nurtured the company over the years with sheer hard work, grit and vision to its present 600+ workforce across the country.

India is a key player in the company’s global business development. Springer Nature CEO Derk Haank, along with his management team, is also actively involved in the process, travelling frequently to the country. The company has partnered and published journals with close to 50 learned societies in India and co-published over 75 Indian journals for the global readership both in print and electronic media. Over the past seven years, these journals have acquired phenomenal readership and also found substantial commercial success to the delight of the partnering societies. Goswami says the company today enjoys a fantastic reach and has valuable professional relationships and trust with institutions across the country.

“We expanded editorial activities in India in 2011 hiring subject specialist editors in each discipline. We are proud of our strength in the sciences and growing prowess in the human sciences. The mergers in 2015 to form Springer Nature have made the company stronger. Palgrave has aided our strength in social sciences,” he said, adding that with the ever-growing author base for Springer Nature from India, the company has already published 300 books from India, with many more in the pipeline.

Apart from the 600-strong workforce in the Delhi headquarters and other centres, the company has a high-end internal technology support company – Springer Nature Technology and Publishing Solutions – with employee strength of 1,000 people in Pune, and a pre-press and production set-up in Chennai with close to 4,000 people. Both the Pune and Chennai offices are independently managed with reporting lines directly to the European head office.

“Almost one-third of our global work force carries an Indian passport,” informed Goswami pointing out the massive Indian presence in the company. “Looking back 20 years, there’s been tremendous progress in India, progress that the world recognizes,” he said. CEO Derk Haank echoes this sentiment, “Every country has its own pace of progress. India has its own structure, challenges and pace. Anyone who visited India 10 years ago and comes back today can notice the progress.”

Challenges in research benchmarking

Rapid industrialisation and economic developments have increased the focus on research in India. The government’s budget allocation on research is slowly and steadily going up. The private sector too is playing an active role – Universities such as Manipal, Sastra, Amrita and many others are committed to investing in research and also in resources and information that build a knowledge environment. Information needs of the corporate sector are also growing as they engage more rapidly in robust and real-time research and that gives Goswami a lot of hope. “Innovation in science and technology are essential elements to drive sustainable economic growth. If we have to get noticed for our research activities, we have to publish articles in journals,” he said.

But there are challenges that veer around the nature of Springer Nature’s business. “There is a need to join hands with government research initiatives for strengthening research and innovation, and the company can contribute substantially by providing high-end expert knowledge and services in Publishing – both in creation of content and also in the processes. With inputs based on our citation index – The Nature Index – we can help centres of advance research and excellence to benchmark their research output with global science. The company also conducts author training workshops. We would like to collaborate with different departments in a more meaningful and structured way. Such initiatives can focus on developing the intellectual strength of our nation. Though we are not the drivers of the system, we are an important component of a larger ecosystem that help creates and disseminate knowledge. We currently do a lot of activities, but we can do it on an even larger scale as India is a huge nation,” Goswami said.

Nature India, Springer Nature’s portal for Indian science, is a respected go-to website for the scientific community in our country. Besides being the only platform for science news and research highlights in India, it also conducts science communication workshops for scientists and has recently been part of the international FameLab competitions for young scientists. Nature India’s various outreach programmes cover more than 1,000 scientists every year in India.

“We have recently instituted an award programme for school children through Macmillan Education, a Springer Nature group company. In the professional sector, we publish a few valuable magazines for the B2B sector, such as Auto Tech Review – a technology magazine for the automotive and related sectors, and Dentistry, which is aimed at the dental sector. “We also host annual awards for technology innovation in the automotive sector in India besides awarding students in technical institutions for their innovations. For both the magazines, we are working on strong digital models to expand their reach in the next five years. We are helping researchers, students, teachers and professionals to Discover, Learn and Achieve more,” said Goswami.

“Springer Nature has always believed that since we are a global brand we should bring global benefits to the Indian market rather than restrict it and, in that direction, I think we have greatly succeeded,” said Goswami as his closing statement.

India second among 10 countries in research contribution

Springer Nature recently presented the Nature Index 2016 Rising Stars report in India. It places India second among 10 countries with the highest absolute increase in their contribution to high-quality research publications between 2012 and 2015. The Nature Index 2016 Rising Stars supplement identifies those countries and institutions that showed the most significant growth in high-quality research publications and warrant a close watch. Rising Stars uses the power of the Nature Index that tracks more than 8,000 global institutions whose research is published in a group of 68 high-quality natural science journals, and have been independently selected by scientists.

Derk Haank, chief executive officer of Springer Nature said, “India’s emergence as one of the world’s largest economies is being reflected in its increasing contribution to the world’s high-quality research publications, as the Nature Index Rising Stars has shown. Springer Nature has enjoyed long historical ties with India and we are excited about the future of high-quality research here. We look forward to deeper engagement with the government and the science, research and education community.”

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