Matthew Ismail Interviews Arend Kuester, Senior Associate at Maverick Publishing Specialists – Part 2

Matthew Ismail: So, when you arrived as Managing Director at Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing you had I believe worked for three years at QScience?

Arend Kuester: Yes it was three years when I was solely doing QScience.

Matthew Ismail: So did you in that time–I mean, it is a press located in Doha, in the Middle East, but it is English-language and it is managed…

Arend Kuester: It has Arabic abstracts.

Matthew Ismail: With Arabic abstracts, yes. So what was the vision for QScience as an English-language press in the Middle East? What relationship would it have to the people of the region?

Arend Kuester: I always use this map, I can send it to you, which was done in 2011 (see http://olihb.com/2011/01/23/map-of-scientific-collaboration-between-researchers/), of relationships in academia across papers. It’s really connecting how a burgeoning research area like Doha connects into the international academic scene. (NB: and there is an updated version, which does show the intended impact in 2014 http://olihb.com/2014/08/11/map-of-scientific-collaboration-redux/)

Matthew Ismail: So as much as anything it was meant to connect research in Doha to the rest of the world?

Arend Kuester: Yes. And to build a positive brand and to show the rest of the world how serious Qatar Foundation is about research.

Matthew Ismail: Yes. So the location in the Middle East has not necessarily meant that you would be talking to the Middle East. It was meant to be speaking internationally from a Middle Eastern location?

Arend Kuester: Yes.

Matthew Ismail: Okay. What relationship–I recall we met in Cairo at one point and I wonder what relationship did QScience have with libraries in the Middle East?

Arend Kuester: Well, as open access publishers you don’t really have that much relationship with libraries initially. It’s the open access funds you want, of course, which libraries quite often have and I wanted to build relationships with librarians across the Middle East so they would maybe push some articles and help us to serve and support our mission. By sending articles over to, say, Wiley and everybody else, where it gets lost because there are so many articles in there, why not have the articles in something which has got a very specific Middle Eastern flavor? You know, always bearing in mind, we did start out in mostly English-language, with Arabic abstracts to also feed the metadata search. Today there are quite a lot of articles on law on QScience, for instance, where they are purely Arabic. But I remember it was a nightmare finding Arabic-only peer reviewers because they don’t exist! And having the same sort of publishing standards which you have for an English-language article for an Arabic language article is difficult to achieve.

Matthew Ismail: So even if a professor at the American University in Cairo would not necessarily be publishing in Arabic, he would be publishing in English.

Arend Kuester: Yes. He would be publishing in English.

Matthew Ismail: Yes. To get an international audience. So your relationship really in the Middle East was one of–actually you didn’t have a relationship with Hindawi or the others. It was more related to the Qatar national development than anything.

Arend Kuester: Yeah. In Hindawi I’m seeing more a competitor than a potential partner.

Matthew Ismail: Yeah. Okay. Interesting. So you’ve mentioned that you became an open access publisher basically because the infrastructure for sales and all this would’ve been a tremendous burden. To what extent then did you find challenges as an OA publisher? Was this something that you had to explain? Was this something that was easily accepted?

Arend Kuester: We had to explain it so much! And I never thought we would have to explain it quite as much as we even had to.  Only I think last October during Open Access Week, the Qatar National Library announced that they started open access fund. Which is a big thing which really took a while to get that through.

Matthew Ismail: This is 10 years later.

Arend Kuester: Nearly – yes.  Of course we were campaigning for it. I would think in a country which is relatively small and where people come to work on a grander national goal they would make it as modern as they can do. But it’s interesting that eventually (thanks also to the work of the Qatar National Library) there was an open access policy because the open access policy was always part of our business plan; the business plan was always centered on open access.  It was absolutely the right thing to do because anything else would not have the same impact and would not have enabled us to build an academic publishing infrastructure. You would have to farm things out immediately to an established publisher and then again it gets lost in translation and is one of many journals on a large platform with, say, Springer Nature or Wiley or whoever.  I’m not knocking them at all, but it was just to create something more homegrown.

Matthew Ismail: Yes.

Arend Kuester: We did have a relationship with Nature which is still ongoing as far as I know.

Matthew Ismail: But how would you describe the arc then of the development?

Arend Kuester: I think that actually QScience will survive because in all honesty it started running independent much quicker.  The Bloomsbury brand did give credibility and a way to attract authors and trust in upholding publishing ethics and procedures – which every new venture needs to prove to its audience.

Matthew Ismail: So Bloomsbury was providing a sort of cover to be able say “No, this is the way it’s done!” by this major publisher.

Arend Kuester: Yeah. And Bloomsbury was absolutely in charge of all the publishing procedures and workflows and upholding those standards as much as possible.

Matthew Ismail: So, when you became director of Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing what relationship did that have to the QScience project?

Arend Kuester

Arend Kuester: Initially not that much because it was two distinctive centers within the framework of QF. But I needed them to come together when I took over managing Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing after a big crisis. The way I needed to rebuild that business was to rehire, bring in new editors and new people and really rebuild the publishing program – and also make the book publishing program about Qatar and the Gulf – rather than importing authors from a particular country and viewpoint only.  I wanted to do it in the same way as I did it with QScience, by hiring a trustworthy editorial person who is close to the market who can set those strategies and share the backbone of marketing, share the backbone of finance marketing and in-house functions like technical production functions, IT functions, in-house. So that’s how we unified the whole thing into one unit.

Matthew Ismail: Was this unit still related to Bloomsbury Press?

Arend Kuester: Even more than QScience! QScience ramped up steadily and worked. We needed Bloomsbury’s production department, who had the necessary scale to have low production costs of printers, typesetters, use their e-book trade agreements. We’d never had the scale to get access to those terms and conditions. Bloomsbury was responsible for selling the books across the world and also for the publicity and the whole distribution part which means credit control, which means logistics and stuff like that. So when Bloomsbury went to the festivals, radio or TV to pitch titles for review, they also pitched Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing. It gave us access on a global scale. That was quite a big impact to actually get the books into the US, get the books into the UK. So it would create this bridge between English and Arabic in terms of intellectual discourse, by actually being in the US in English translation. But of course selling books in translation is something that is really, really hard and you’ve got to have some people around you who can actually sell those books and Bloomsbury provided that.

Matthew Ismail: So you went from being an open access journal publisher to being the director of a book publisher?

Arend Kuester: In English and Arabic!

Matthew Ismail:  What was the mission then of Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing?

Arend Kuester: It was really to bring a different narrative of the Middle East to an international audience, to enhance reading and writing skills. When you open up the newspaper it’s mostly about conflict. There is one book in particular which I loved, it’s The Bamboo Stalk by Saud Alsanousi which is about a half Filipino, half Kuwaiti person and that’s a narrative which you don’t necessarily get to hear from the Middle East.

Matthew Ismail: Is this fiction or this is nonfiction?

Arend Kuester: Fiction.

Matthew Ismail: It’s fiction. So, this press then was producing or taking Arabic works and marketing them to Western audiences in order to present other aspects of Middle Eastern life or thought or whatever?

Arend Kuester: And to really start a dialog about it.  We had poetry majlises where people talk about poetry–locally done as well—and I flew in a few authors. I worked with some really good authors in the field of books in translation and in the original as well, whether it is Arabs writing in English as their first language, like Mai al Nakib, or Saud Alsanoussi writing in Arabic, where we published the translation of the book. And at the same time having the same editorial standards which you would have in an English environment around it for the Arabic book. You know, Saud Alsanoussi–one of the Arabic book authors and winner of the IPAF, which is often called the “Arabic Booker Price” told us: “Okay, I’m writing my next book.” We said, “Okay, what is it about and when can we publish it?” He said, “I don’t quite know how to end it yet.” Two months later the book was already published by an Arabic publisher! There would not have been any editing, any marketing and prepublication marketing gone into it. You need at least 9 to 18 months to create a publication and to market it properly. These are the standards I meant – and which we wanted to bring to Qatar with the Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing: to create an international list which could stand up next to other publishers’ lists quite easily.

Matthew Ismail: How might an Arab author writing in Arabic–how might that person’s experience publishing for an Arabic publisher differ from the experience of publishing with the Bloomsbury Foundation?

Arend Kuester: I think it’s not necessarily just Bloomsbury, I think it’s everybody else. In the Arab world publishing is very much seen as printing.  Books are–and I’ve read reports around that–available in a 5 km radius of the printing area. Of course there is censorship, there is piracy. Books tend to just getting pushed out into the market without any marketing plan, backup plan on those titles. They get toured around the Middle East on those Middle Eastern book fairs.  The book fairs happen once a year and are bit like a fish market: you buy your fish for a week at a market and you buy books for year at a book fair. It’s the same sort of thing. There are some fundamental things which are different. Another initiative which is working really hard to address that is Kalimat Press in the UAE. Sheikha Bodour from Sharjah is implementing different publishing standards there. I don’t want to call it a “Western” standard. It’s nothing about West or East. There’s no Kulturkampf in there at all–because you edit books the same way in Japan, too, which I would think is Eastern!

Matthew Ismail: So it’s publishing standards.

Arend Kuester: Exactly. General publishing standards in the Arab world are low, the production quality often terrible.  When I see some of these books my hair stands up. The printing is poor and the editing is poor.  In publishing the editor/author relationship shapes a book. We don’t want to publish the book just as it comes from the author without having the editor go over it and take out some side stories and clean up the lines, do a structure edit, make sure the language is consistent, all of that is something that should be standard.

Matthew Ismail: Who did the translations?

Arend Kuester: We used different translators. It could be Lebanese translators; we had an excellent English translator, Jonathan Wright who translated a lot form Arabic to English. So really depending on who we could afford and who would do a good job.

Matthew Ismail: So, it was meant to be like other presses.

Arend Kuester: Absolutely.

Matthew Ismail: How did that go for you?

Arend Kuester: It was a great experience. We built it. We had some great successes of getting books in in The Guardian, getting books reviewed in the New York Times and really made an impact on that list so that was a lot of fun.

Matthew Ismail: Is it accomplishing its goals?

Arend Kuester:  When are goals ever accomplished! I think we didn’t accomplish its goals completely but it was on a path to accomplish the goals.

Matthew Ismail: Yeah. So you think it is effectively doing what it meant to do?

Arend Kuester: It was absolutely doing what meant to do. Yes absolutely. How it will continue, we will see.  You can’t replace what Bloomsbury provided to the Foundation overnight, and will always need an internationally established publishing partner to achieve that goal as quickly as we did.

Matthew Ismail: Excellent. So now that you have set this project underway and you’ve left Qatar what are you planning to do? How will you draw on these experiences?

Arend Kuester: I stayed on as a consultant for Qatar Museums for a couple of months and really enjoyed working with the publications team. I learned so much over the past six years on managing diverse teams in multicultural settings across different publishing themes and formats, and applying this knowledge creatively.  Over 25 years I have worked in Digital and Print Publishing in both STM and trade.  My biggest regret is not having learned Arabic in those six years. To move to Berlin seems like a natural choice, an ideal home for any new job based in Europe – or beyond.

Matthew Ismail: You had a career in London that perhaps is jeopardized with the Brexit vote, is that right?

Arend Kuester: Well, we don’t know. My contract was always with Qatar Foundation during the time that I was in Qatar.  I think that is a very important point to make.  I wouldn’t be sitting here thinking of what am I going to do next if I had any backhand agreement with Bloomsbury in London. I didn’t.

As for Brexit – I’m a European. Of course I would’ve hoped the vote would’ve gone a different way because my life and the life of many academic publishers is dependent on moving very freely between European countries. It becomes very complicated when you look at pension agreements, health insurance and things like that which I don’t quite know how they’re going to work out. You have those publishing centers around Oxford, Cambridge, London, and around Amsterdam in Europe and I’ve got no idea how all of that talent is going to move around. I mean you got the new Springer Nature relationship. Does it bring more to Germany and could it bring more academic publishing to Germany? I don’t know. Honestly I don’t know. It’s unclear. We also know that science funding for the UK came from the EU so that has an impact—already has, according to The Guardian–an impact on who gets put onto European research projects. And you know I can’t blame a researcher.   If there is a researcher, say, from Delft and a researcher from maybe Oxford with the same pedigree. So funders might at this time decide it’s actually safer to work together with Delft than with Oxford. Even though the Brexit group says that the UK was a net contributor to the science or the budget of the EU. But how do the international ties work? How does free movement of people and goods across Europe work? We just don’t know.

Matthew Ismail: Right.

Arend Kuester: My hope is that somehow it is not going to happen. I never give up hope.  There is a worrying sense of nationalistic awakening around us at the moment, whether in the US or in Europe. It’s something which is bizarre to me because I don’t feel more at home in Germany or in England. Berlin is as exotic to me as Doha was six years ago.

Matthew Ismail: What do you think will change most in the world of scholarly communication in the next five years?

Arend Kuester: Journal information will be available for free somewhere.  Publishers will be more the aggregators of the information and will offer access because the biggest commodity really is time.  If you save time in your research to get to the papers you really want to read right away–and you get them packaged like that, whether it is through your library or through a clever service.  Researchers don’t want to have to trawl through an ever increasing number of articles or indices to find the right thing.  Publishers will have a role as a service provider for that industry. And also there will be an increased interest in primary resources, in material which makes cultural heritage digitally available. This is another interesting aspect of where things are going. I think open access will be the norm. It will be part of the normal business like anything else.

Matthew Ismail: And you’re not saying that the commercial concerns will go out of business. Simply that open access will be the model for distribution.

Arend Kuester: Yes. The commercial aspect will be everywhere.  Editors, platforms, peer review systems, everything needs to be paid for. Ultimately people will do the work.  Yes, the peer review process is done for free, but somebody is managing that process, somebody is behind the scenes sending off trying to invite peer reviewers in and sometimes need to write 50 to 100 letters to get an article peer-reviewed. That is all manual labor which needs to be managed the same.   Whenever there is a new technical standard coming up a publisher is being asked:  can you provide for that standard as well? Can it be part of this initiative as well? They have to invest people and money to be part of new initiative is totally fine.  But there will always be commercial parts which are part of publishing which make it interesting. Publishing without commercial confines is terribly boring. It isn’t publishing! You sometimes hate it but there are always commercial aspects of publishing – you just have to accept it.

Matthew Ismail: Insofar as you see it as a more open environment where articles are available free to read, what do you see happening to discovery in an open access environment in which a local tool that searches only things that have been subscribed to by the institution-you don’t have that limitation any longer. Content is freely available. What would you say about discovery at that point?

Arend Kuester: Discovery is where the battle is. It’s about having tools to discover the freely available content quicker than the competition. None of the competition are publishers. The real competition is researchers trying to have the information first. That is another level of competition. So, I think the material will be available for free; the discoverability tools will have to cater to the researcher so he’s got the information as quickly and with as little noise around it as they can do.

Matthew Ismail: How would we have curated information in that environment so that you would be able to be confident that you’re not just discovering but you’re discovering things that are good?

Arend Kuester: It’s almost rediscovering the journal. Rediscovering the journal but the journal being made out of all of the freely available resources and providing additional information possibly around it and providing that service and that sort of credibility to give. I mean you could have a network where you say this YouTube video is the most important thing which happened last week around this topic. It’s still a YouTube video but because you are the provider of that sort of network which tells me,”This is the important one”–whether it’s post-peer review or not–that’s going to make that YouTube video really important and provide the necessary authority to that piece of information. Those tools will be very important.

Matthew Ismail: What do you think in five years? Do you think that the discovery process will be transformed beyond the competition between something like Google and the more proprietary search engines from EBSCO and others?

Arend Kuester: Or ProQuest or others. I think, yes that will be an interesting part. Google has a lot of noise in it as we all know and cutting all the fluff and the noise, well that’s going to take five years or 10 years. That is the question. It’s more likely to take 10 years than five years. Because researchers change habits slowly.

Matthew Ismail: Yes. Absolutely. Well, is there anything that you would like to say that I haven’t covered?

Arend Kuester: I learned so much about a different culture, generosity and hospitality over there in Qatar – for which my family and I will always be grateful.  Going into a foreign culture with an open mind and heart is extremely gratifying.  I want to wish QScience all the best for its future journey and hope Qatar Foundation will continue to be able to capitalize on that great opportunity.

 

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