Magazine article Information Today

The AAP/PSP Annual Meeting

Magazine article Information Today

The AAP/PSP Annual Meeting

Article excerpt

Judy Luther, M.L.S., M.B.A., and principal of Informed Strategies, is an independent consultant in the area of market development. Based in Philadelphia, she has 25 years' experience in the information industry half on the library side and half on the publisher/vendor side, in various operational and management positions. She can be reached at

Conference speakers challenge publishers to transform their businesses

"Inventing Our Future" was the theme of the 1999 Annual Conference of the Association of American Publishers (AAP), Professional/Scholarly Publishing Division held at L'Enfant Plaza in Washington, DC, February 8-10. The conference was larger than last year's, with more than 300 publishers and 33 exhibitors contributing to discussions that centered on how to utilize technology to advance the process of scholarly communication in new ways.

Eight concurrent sessions offered opportunities to learn about the challenges and accomplishments of startups and of established corporations. Both the beginning and ending plenary speakers noted the growth of the world's population, the literacy rate, and the need to serve a larger portion of the people on the planet.

At the Plenary Sessions

Rita Rossi-Colwell, director of the National Science Foundation, delivered the opening address and defined the publishers' role as creating alliances of authors, editors, and technologists who work together to devise new ways to share knowledge. During her years of research, Rossi-Colwell discovered how to prevent cholera in Bangladesh by the simple process of filtering water through a sari cloth. She challenged publishers to consider simple solutions that can support world literature and avoid a pyramid with the information rich at the top and the illiterate at the bottom.

The final plenary session was a panel of three speakers who presented a high-level financial and technological view of the publishing industry. Roger Brinner, managing director of the Parthenon Group, noted that low interest rates had driven up price/earnings ratios and that this had supported an increase in shareholder value. Brinner suggested that future gains could not rely on price increases and that publishers need to add value by understanding the customer's economics and designing ways to reduce their costs and increase their profitability.

Panelist Mitchell Haber of Veronis, Suhler & Associates offered observations on trends and opportunities in the publishing world. Major equity funds have been investing in publishing, and this is supporting an increased level of mergers and acquisitions activity. Haber's second point was to focus on global markets, noting that the U.S. book market is only 30 percent of the world market and that 70 percent of the post-secondary education market is outside the U.S. and is growing twice as fast. He distinguished international companies that sell U.S. products overseas from global companies that serve foreign markets with products that include local content and are in the local language. With STM unit growth declining, he pointed out that there are opportunities for growth by translating publications into local languages and exploring the sale of rights or co-publishing, joint ventures, and self-publishing efforts in other countries.

Jesse Berst, editorial director of ZDNet Anchor Desk, returned again this year to present his humorous view of major trends in the industry. Among the new terms he coined related to surfing the Web is "vuja de," which is "the eerie experience of having seen something that we never want to see again."

Berst observed that the old world was about computing and the new world is about connecting. "We've arrived at the beginning of a journey rather than a destination--it's like getting on a roller coaster," he said. He noted five trends to track: 1) end-to-end commerce that will map the customer's entire experience, 2) computing appliances that are task-specific, 3) handheld devices with global positioning systems that enable us to always be connected, 4) embedded chips that are everywhere but will require standards for chips, protocols, operating systems, and connections, and 5) a broadband bonanza whose speed and impact we will likely underestimate. …

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