November 22, 2017

SAGE and Simqu Hit the Mark: An LJ Q&A | PubCrawl

Francine Fialkoff

Francine Fialkoff

As SAGE Publications’ CEO and president Blaise Simqu celebrated his tenth year in the job this August, he was also gearing up for SAGE’s anniversary: the company, founded in 1965 by Sara Miller McCune, turns 50 in 2015. It retains its deep connections to the library and higher education world, both through its journals, which comprise 50 percent of the business, and its textbooks, reference works, and databases, which make up the rest.

Under the McCune family and Simqu’s leadership, the company has stayed close to its humanities and social and behavioral science roots, while further expanding into the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) arena both through acquisitions and launches and growing internationally. Also, in a conglomerate world, SAGE remained—and will remain—independent, as guaranteed by Sara McCune’s estate plan.

LJ spoke to Simqu within days of the anniversary of what he termed a “fantastic decade for me personally in this role—and a period of tremendous growth for SAGE.” Not too many publishing CEOs have the latitude to invest for the long term, as SAGE’s independence allows. “All our investments…are to grow [companies], give [them] greater reach or greater impact, not to sell or dismantle them for short-term profit,” said Simqu, pointing to CQ Press, acquired in 2008, whose “brand still exists in the SAGE family.”

When Simqu took over as CEO, the company’s journal publications were 80 percent humanities and social sciences; now they’re 70 percent humanities and social sciences and 30 percent STEM. The reference program (established by Rolf Janke in 2001) has moved increasingly online. “Reference is about tools for libraries that serve students and professors,” like CQ Press’s interactive State Stats, said Simqu, which enables “access to new material that can be easily manipulated.”

Simqu discussed SAGE’s acquisition strategy further, its education and research advocacy, open access publishing models, and more.

Blaise Simqu

Blaise Simqu

SAGE never acquires a company that doesn’t exist for the purpose of education. Adam Matthew was one of our more unique acquisitions. It was a significant step for us because it was the company’s first investment in a primary sources product. Adam Matthew takes primary sources owned by libraries, material that is not digitized and not available to a wide range of scholars, researchers, and students—unless they travel to the library—and creates digital collections for the library market designed around themes or periods in history. We work with the library; we digitize, index, etc., and libraries get royalties. They share in the success.

What other areas are you looking to grow?

We’re making a significant push in a number of different directions that didn’t exist ten years ago. We acquired the 28 journals of the Royal Society of Medicine in the UK [in 2012]. In February 2014 we acquired MD Conference Express (MD CE), a very small company founded by Jennifer Schunemann [still president]. MD CE delivers peer-reviewed reports written by medical journalists, based on research presented at medical conferences. Take a conference like the European Society of Cardiology [Congress]. Think of the number of sessions, the amount of research [presented]. It can be overwhelming. One problem Jennifer was trying to solve is that in many regions of the world, there are very few cardiologists. She knew the exact number in the Caribbean islands: eight. It’s not possible for every cardiologist to leave—people will die…. Jennifer is providing access to innovation in medicine to a wider audience in those regions of the world less served. And she gets the materials out to society members in five weeks—even with peer review—in contrast to the two- to three-year time frame of traditional journal publishing. We’re adding staff and hoping to grow.

One librarian said SAGE has “been able to remain fairly library friendly while managing to swim with sharks,” referring in part to SAGE’s active support of open access (OA).

We’ve been investing in open access heavily and supportive of the movement. Anything that disseminates scholarly research is a good thing. Those who publish research [especially in STM] have had a tradition of funding and grants by which they can publish. It’s not quite as clear in the social sciences and humanities. The average new young assistant professor of political science, criminology, sociology does not have a grant to use for publishing. So from SAGE’s perspective we hope we can create a model for the social sciences. We support collaborative initiatives to promote these sciences, and when some members of Congress began an aggressive attack on federal funding of social and behavioral science research, we worked with the research community to advocate for policies that protect their funding. Over the past year, we sponsored a lobbyist to advocate for our joint cause.

This July you invested in PeerJ, a member-supported open access model with a “pay once, publish for life” plan. How did that come about?

Pete Binfield [cofounder of PeerJ and former PLoS One publisher] was an executive at SAGE. [David McCune and I] met with him a year ago. We told him if there was an opportunity to invest we would. We are a minority investor. McCune began his career as a coder and was CEO of an academic publisher. He brings enormous perspective to us. He’s a great admirer of Tim O’Reilly [PeerJ’s initial funder]. David will sit on the PeerJ Board of Directors.

How would PeerJ impact your business?

I don’t know whether any one model will succeed at the expense of all others, or if there is room for many different models. We hope it’s successful. It’s still very much early days in terms of open access. Most of [our 25 OA journals] are author pay. Open access contributes to the advancement of science, but we have to be respectful of the work from society and commercial journals. Every academic article makes a contribution to a discipline. I would caution academics not to limit themselves [only to OA journals].

What can we expect for the 50th ­anniversary?

We’re using the 50th anniversary to prepare for the next 50 years. We’ll have a wide variety of events around the globe and a number of academic conferences to set the pathway. We’ll be hosting an event in Washington, DC, to advocate for government support of academic research and for publishing academic research. We’ll celebrate our authors here and in the UK and India. This December we’ll launch SAGE Swifts, a series of digital-first, speedy, short publications focused on cutting-edge social science theory and research. Some of SAGE’s very first publications were in the form of short university papers that ultimately led to the publication of the series of “little green books” in the social sciences. So the strategy remains the same. None of us will be here, but SAGE will be celebrating its 100th anniversary in another 50 years.

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This article was published in Library Journal's September 15, 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Francine Fialkoff About Francine Fialkoff

Francine Fialkoff (ffialkoff@gmail.com) spent 35 years with LJ, and 15 years at its helm as Editor and Editor-in-Chief. For more, see her Farewell Editorial.

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Comments

  1. Congrats, Blaise . . . and here’s to another 50 years @ SAGE.