Interview with John Sack of HighWire, Keynote Speaker for ACCUfest 2014

john sack

John Sack of HighWire was recently announced as one of our keynote speakers for ACCUfest and in light of this, Giovanni Raneri, Sales and Marketing Executive, interviewed him about the changing nature of the publishing industry and the proposed subject matter of his presentation at ACCUfest

Q: John, you are recognized amongst specialists and professionals in scholarly publishing for your grasp of the big picture in terms of the technical and business developments in the industry. Accordingly, you consider yourself a “futurist” and a “trend spotter” in consumer and scholarly services. Given these credentials, I was wondering what you would tell a room full of expert publishers that they haven’t heard before?

A:  Futurists don’t make stuff up (usually), so sometimes when listening to someone who is a futurist, you will often think, “I know all that!”.  What I’ll be doing as part of my presentation at ACCUfest is taking a number of things we all know and see – and a few that some see and others don’t – and packaging them so that they might be seen as aligned, or “in phase” in a way that a trend is more visible. Take for example the difference between coherent light (a laser) and scattered light.  Connecting the dots so they might turn into a trend line. I’ll also be bringing in observations about other industries than publishing, because I’ve often found it easier to see a trend in my neighbor’s business than in my own.  There would be two goals for doing this:

a) get people to comment on where they see things that align, or that don’t. Counter-forces to a trend can be pretty important, depending on their strength. 

b) see things far enough ahead that you can leverage or adapt, rather than react or “duck”.


Q: In your opinion, is scholarly publishing on the verge of any unforeseen changes following the so-called digital revolution, and if so, where do you see the most innovative and disruptive forces coming from?

A: I think many of the best people in our industry are really good at focusing. Sometimes focus means you don’t see the distracting small things that can turn out to be major if they grow. We define what we do as “publishing” and it may be that some important and disruptive things are happening and we might say “but that’s not publishing!” Yet those things might draw our authors’ and our readers’ time and attention.  So they compete with “publishing”.  I think “informal publishing” – the kind of things that researchers can do on their blogs and web pages and on preprint servers and in university data repositories – can potentially be disruptive if we don’t align them with and connect them to publishing.  I think the growth of OA and CC licenses give aggregators a lot of grist for the mill to create new products that might fit researchers’ workflows better than the siloed journal literature. 


Q: When it comes to publishing content in the digital environment and the current dynamics at play, what do you think will change in the ways libraries manage and acquire their resources?

A: Libraries – especially research libraries – are moving forward in managing data. I think libraries are starting to recognize that there are a lot of non-subscription resources that are important to students and researchers.  These need to be incorporated into discovery protocols.  Non-subscription resources could be OA articles and journals, but also data sets, blog posts, podcasts and all sorts of web pages from the “informal publishing” space. 

One researcher once told us “I use Google to clean around the edges of the carpet” – and when we finally understood what he meant, we understood that researchers recognize that “literature” databases don’t have everything they need to discover: they need the informally-presented resources that are indexed by Google.


John Sack’s Biography

John Sack is one of the founders of HighWire Press and focuses on market assessment, client relations, technology innovation, and the kind of thought leadership and industry-forward thinking that has defined HighWire’s mission since 1995. John’s role is to determine where the technology and publishing industries are going and how one of those might leverage the other. While this frequently involves working with new technology, as often it involves working with publishers on new ideas, opportunities, or problems they wish to address. John is a “futurist” or “trend-spotter” in that he tries to watch what is happening in consumer and scholarly services and identify patterns that are beginning to emerge. These patterns, once articulated, can give publishers and editors a chance to think about how they might prepare for changes, or take advantage of them. 

Publishers, don’t miss out on John Sack’s informative keynote session at ACCUfest. Read more about ACCUfest here and register now to secure your place. 

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