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Knowledgespeak Exclusive -- An interview with Ms.Alison Mudditt, Executive Vice President of SAGE Publications, Inc. and Mr. Ziyad Marar, Deputy Managing Director and Publishing Director of SAGE Publications Ltd. - 22 Jun 2006

Q

SAGE publishes on behalf of 70 societies and professional bodies. As a publishing partner, what value proposition does SAGE offer to societies and professionals that hitherto were self-publishing/in-house publishing units?

A

We actually publish on behalf of, or in partnership with, 160 societies, and our society partners all speak very positively of their experiences of SAGE. We offer a full publishing service, but are flexible enough to adapt all parts of the process to meet the needs of an individual journal, or society.

We have recently invested around $4 million in our marketing systems, to place the customer at the centre of what we do, and we now have promotional capabilities which surpass anything that our competitors can currently offer. We also place great importance on working strategically with our publishing partners, advising them on how to make the most of their journals and their content, and suggesting ways of developing their title further in the future.

Our Production department is second to none, with dedicated Production Editors working to turn around high quality issues. We have also strategically partnered with HighWire, the leading medical platform, to provide online content via SAGE Journals Online. Whilst many self-publishing societies are hosted on HighWire, having a large, international publisher behind them can support their presence further.

We have taken the recent step of implementing a Society Relations Department, whose sole remit is to develop tools, services and benefits for our society partners. This group is headquartered in Washington DC, and works closely with staff in all our offices.

Speaking on a higher level, SAGE works intimately with our society partners. As an independent publishing house we believe that we understand the underlying motivation of our society partners better than many other publishers – we make a conscious effort to make their mission our mission and we believe that this makes us unique among our competitors.


Q

According to you, what would be the key differentiating factors in general that set SAGE Publications apart from its competitors? Specifically, can you please elaborate on your core competence in global marketing?

A

Whilst all academic publishers profess to being committed to advancing research across disciplines, SAGE took this a step further to express this commitment in concrete terms. We have made a huge investment into establishing the SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind, in partnership with UC Santa Barbara. The Center was set up to bring together UCSB scholars from a broad range of academic disciplines in the arts and humanities, social sciences, the sciences, and engineering to explore the multidimensional nature of the human mind. We believe that this is an embodiment of the SAGE philosophy, and clearly indicates that we are a different sort of publishing company compared to many of our competitors.

We also pride ourselves on our independent status. We are a company run by publishers, not by shareholders, and SAGE’s founder and owner, Sara Miller-McCune, has made provision for SAGE to remain independent in the long term. This means we are in a unique position to offer long-term stability and strategic planning to our publishing partners, confident in the knowledge that we are not about to go through a disruptive merger or have to make major infrastructural re-alignments.

Regarding our core competence in global marketing, as touched on earlier, our new marketing technologies set us apart from anything currently offered in the world of academic publishing – the group we are working with have designed products for Nike, Nissan and IBM, so we are entering a different league in terms of marketing capabilities.

SAGE is a truly global publisher, with offices in the US, UK and India. SAGE opened its first Asian office in New Delhi some 25 years ago. As higher education begins to boom in Asia, we have further expanded our presence on the ground with a new sales office in Malaysia and a full regional office, SAGE Asia-Pacific, set to open in 2006. Together, this network of offices will provide excellent support for our journals, Collections, consortia, and book operations in these rapidly growing markets.


Q

What are some of the unique marketing challenges within the fields in which you publish?

A

Specific to scholarly journals, one of the unique challenges is the complexity of the decision-making process at institutional libraries. While librarians place the final order, their subscription decisions are based on many different factors. Some of the key factors are the quality of the publication, price, and faculty and/or staff recommendations.

The tricky part is to understand not only the library purchasing cycle but also faculty behaviour - what marketing they respond to and why, when, and how they recommend journals to their libraries. It's becoming more and more difficult to get the patrons attention.

Each publisher is challenged to find a unique way to reach users of their content. To face this challenge, we have invested in the development of the new marketing systems (as mentioned earlier) which will allow us to create marketing communications that are based on individual customer needs, interests, behaviours and implemented at the most appropriate time.

When you are in tune with your customers in this way, they are more likely to respond.


Q

Can you please elaborate on PERI-INASP initiative for the developing countries?

A

INASP (International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications) is an organization set up to ensure that top quality content is accessible for researchers, scientists and practitioners in transitional and developing countries. The dissemination of knowledge on a global scale is central to our values at SAGE, which is why we were so keen to partner with this group.

We have been signed up to since September 2005, and believe in fostering very close relations with this group - for example the Senior Programme Manager at INASP will be meeting with our London office this month to discuss ways in which we can become even more involved.

We also participate in HINARI (Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative) and are currently pursuing an involvement with their sister programme, AGORA (Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture), and our founder, Sara Miller-McCune, is committed to charitable donations to women's education in the third world.


Q

What are your new product development or content development ideas, especially for online products? Do you have any projects that will use/ re-package the legacy research text collections, databases and backfiles that you may have accumulated as a specialist publisher?

A

One of the major innovations at SAGE in recent years has been the launch of the SAGE Full-Text Collections. These unique online offerings were developed in response to feedback from our customer community, and provide specialised groups of SAGE content and a deep backfile on a fully searchable and customisable database.

There are 10 Full-Text Collections across the range of disciplines in which SAGE publishes. The SAGE Full-Text Materials Science Collection was launched in 2004, with a Health Sciences Collection following in 2005, and they provide access to content from over 40 SAGE titles with up to 24 years’ of historical content currently available between them. The Collections have been hugely successful across a wide range of disciplines, and we are now in the process of exploring a Clinical Medicine Collection.

With more and more demand for deeper backfiles and flexible purchasing options, the obvious next stage was to set about digitising the entire backfile across our portfolio. We announced our commitment to this initiative in March 2006, but we have of course been working on sourcing content and developing business models for some time now.

This content will be available through subscription and purchase options from 2007 onwards, and we will be releasing a detailed announcement about pricing this month. In an environment where the options and deals are increasingly complex, it is important that we can offer our clients simple and transparent options to purchase out content. Therefore, we have established our straightforward offerings after consultation with our customer community.

We want to ensure that we are creating a legacy for the future, and have the appropriate agreements in place to allow our customers to have access to this content in perpetuity. As well as flexibility, this level of stability of content provision was something that we recognised as being key to our overall digitisation plan.

Digitisation of our backfiles has represented a significant investment, and again shows that we are providing the content that the market wants. Making this material available has also enhanced usage to more recent content, which has meant using the backfiles to leverage individual journal brands and raise awareness for our society partners.

This project of backfile digitisation has been universally well received by our customers and existing publishing partners, and is of course something that we would be keen to explore doing for any titles that move to SAGE in the future.

We are deeply committed to meeting the needs of our STM audience, which is why we have chosen to strategically partner with companies that can help us achieve this aim. Our electronic platform, SAGE Journals Online, is provided in partnership with HighWire Press, which is widely regarded as setting the standards for online content provision within the medical community. We have also partnered with OVID to ensure the widest possible distribution of our medical and health related content.


Q

Please comment on SAGE’s performance for the year 2005. What will be the key opportunities and challenges for your company for 2006/07?

A

SAGE is close to a $200 million company globally, having doubled in size over the past five years. As touched upon previously, we are investing heavily in growing our STM publishing arm, and have brought in a team with a wealth of experience from other publishers to contribute to growth at SAGE. Our most recent addition was Tessa Picknett, who joined us in our London office after leaving Elsevier with over 15 years’ experience within STM publishing.

Having established a strong presence within the social sciences, this continued investment and growth of our STM division represents a major area of opportunity for the coming years, but is of course not without challenges.

Our very successful global health science publishing programme was established in 1996. We collaborate with key international societies to publish a strong group of leading titles, such as The American Journal of Sports Medicine, The Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, The Diabetes Educator, and Journal of Biomolecular Screening. In addition, we have an established relationship with the British Association for Psychopharmacology and publish their title, Journal of Psychopharmacology¸ which has recently had considerable media exposure in the light of two special issues on the drug ecstasy. In addition to partnering with societies to publish their titles, we have also launched several titles, and have two others starting in January 2007.

As well as continuing to grow our existing portfolio, we are investing in new funding models, including launching some top quality titles whose commercial sales potential will offset the need for full rate subscriptions. As well as our support of institutional repository archiving and free access trials, this is one of the ways we are addressing the issue of open access to scholarly content.

One of the challenges that we face is to build on our considerable successes and to continue to raise awareness of SAGE as a potential publishing partner, particularly for major medical and life science societies. We are doing this by encouraging our current publishing partners to speak to our potential new alliances, and these efforts are supported by the proactive work of our STM Editorial team.

SAGE is a natural home for society publishing, and we very much look forward to establishing new partnerships in this growing and exciting area.


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