CSE & SSP 2016: a Brief Comparison of Scholarly Publishing’s Big US Meetings

For many years I’ve attended both the CSE and SSP Annual Meetings – not both meetings every year, but very often I’ve attended each of them. And anyone who has done this duathlon knows that they are very close together on the calendar. That being said, they are, without question, very worth the time, energy and resources devoted to attendance. Given that these two meetings occurred only a couple of weeks ago, or in other words, we’ve just emerged from what a good friend of mine from within scholarly publishing refers to as “deb season”, I thought it would be nice to do a brief reflection and a bit of a compare and contrast.
One would think that the fact that these two industry meetings are largely attended by the same people, there would be significant risk the content might become repetitive or tired. But that’s not necessarily the case as each meeting covers the several dissimilar topics with limited crossover. By nature of its name, CSE, Council of Science Editors, focuses on the editorial side of our business with a few branches reaching out to the business aspects such as insights to launching a new OA journal. SSP’s programming is designed discuss a broader range of business topics and expand to include the librarians with titles such as “Managing a Library Budget”, or the technology side with “Riding the Technology Wave…”
Think of them as the editorial operations vs strategic meetings. Each organization posts their agenda several months in advance of the meeting to make it easier to determine which meeting might be the most suitable for your, or your staff’s attendance
Both meetings boast wonderful apps that make it easy to select the sessions you want to attend and even give/follow live feedback.
In terms of the actual attendees, this year CSE had its largest attendance in history with more than 450 registrants while SSP, which typically draws close to 1,000, saw fewer than 700. This, I suspect can largely be attributed to the difficulty and expense of reaching Vancouver, BC from the east coast US, where the large majority of SSP member organizations are located.
People who choose CSE tend to either be focused on the editorial side of the publishing business, or they have executive positions in which they are heavily involved in editorial decisions at a high level. Typical titles range from Executive Director to Editorial Services Manager. It’s important to note that many of those who attend CSE also go to SSP a few weeks later, so a lot of the goodbyes at the end of the meeting include, “See you in a couple of weeks!”
SSP draws a large percentage of higher-level executives who function in the “big picture” of their organization with titles such as Executive Director, Publisher, and Director of Publications. When the SSP meeting location is easily accessible, publishers and vendors will send large contingents of their staff to allow early-career individuals to attend and be exposed to the educational and networking available at the meeting. I personally believe this should be one of the main criteria when selecting a venue given the importance of including these younger members of our community.
The primary difference between the sessions at CSE and those during SSP are the sheer number of them. CSE ran four concurrent tracks over one and a half days, while SSP ran between five and seven over the same period of time. The method for determining the sessions and topics is also quite different in that CSE relies on its Program Committee to create a program and solicit speakers. SSP, on the other hand, has a “Call for Session Topics” to its members during the fall of the preceding year. Those submissions are reviewed by members of the Program Committee and a meeting program is assembled as a result of that review. There’s a lot more detail involved of course, but that’s the “short version” of the process as I understand it. Essentially though, the difference between the two processes is sort of an “open submission” vs “invited papers. Each is effective in its own way, neither method being better than the other – but this is one of the many things that differentiates the meetings and makes each work so well in its own way.
This year, one topic transcended both meetings – the ongoing conversation on gender disparity in scholarly publishing. At the 2015 SSP meeting in Crystal City, VA, there was a session called, “Mind the Gap: Gender Disparities in Leadership Positions in Scholarly Publishing”. It was literally standing room only and CSE decided to conduct a continuation of that session this year in Denver. Again, you had to get to the room early to get a seat and the conversation was lively, positive and encouraging. Then, of course, there was the widely acclaimed closing plenary on the topic of diversity in scholarly publishing at SSP by Margaret Ann Armour. Although I was unable to attend because I had to get back to the east coast from Vancouver, I’ve read many tweets, all of which raved about the presentation. I wish I had been there as Armour made her resounding statement , “I’m white-haired now, I’m running out of patience and it’s time to make things change!” . She went on to add, “I look forward to a day when companies show a much more democratic way of running their business.”
I suspect there will be much more conversation on the topic in the coming days, weeks and months – hopefully it won’t need to go on for years.
Now, back to comparing the meetings. Logistically speaking, CSE is hosted in a new city every year. I know that I have personally attended in Denver, Pittsburgh, Vancouver, Austin, Baltimore, Atlanta, San Antonio, and although I couldn’t make the year it was in Montreal, I heard it was fabulous! Rarely is it in the same city twice. Alternatively, SSP has traditionally rotated every three years between DC (Crystal City), San Francisco, and Boston. But hold onto your hats – that cycle is about to be broken. Next year is, as expected, in Boston, but then they start to shake things up a bit by taking it to Chicago! Then off to sunny San Diego, back to Boston, DC and Chicago again. I spent a spell of time on the SSP Board of Directors as a committee chair, so one nugget of information that I know as a result is that it won’t likely go to San Francisco again any time soon because the meeting attendance has outgrown all of the downtown hotel venues, thus the need to start moving around to new cities. Personally, I think it’s terrific that the meeting is finally being held in Chicago. This year’s venue in Vancouver, while an absolutely beautiful location, was incredibly difficult to get to from the east coast (quick show of hands, who had to take very long, indirect flights to get there? Boston to Phoenix to Vancouver??? And I know that many people ended up sleeping in the Dallas airport – I was lucky to only be delayed there for 5 hours!)
In terms of the exhibit areas, the  CSE exhibit hall is nicely-sized and outfitted with booths from vendors that range from editorial content production services, manuscript submission system vendors, and so forth. An easily navigable arrangement with plenty of time and space to conduct meaningful conversations. Fast forward two weeks and you’ll find a wide array of exhibits in the SSP hall – spanning the entire breadth of our business, quite far beyond editorial services as in the CSE exhibit hall. It should be known that the fees paid by vendors to exhibit pays for a large portion of the meeting cost. This is why the meeting organizers host breakfasts, breaks and cocktail receptions in the exhibit hall, to draw attendees in and encourage engagement – and those efforts are really quite effective. Of course, there is a lot of cross-over of vendor participation in these two meetings so inevitably there are many crossed fingers, hoping that the booth makes it from CSE to SSP in time – especially when there’s international travel and those pesky customs officials involved.
It’s impossible to post a retrospective on CSE and SSP without mentioning the networking. In fact it’s difficult to know what is the primary reason for attendance – networking or educational sessions. Both meetings are rich with opportunities to conduct meetings of all sorts, either pre-scheduled or ad hoc, which makes for a very productive means of conducting business.
In closing, both the CSE and SSP meetings in 2016 were fabulous in their own way. Each has a distinct atmosphere, and one of the things I like best is that neither tries to be like the other. At the conclusion of SSP, once both meetings are over and we all return to our respective offices to further the purpose of dissemination of scholarly research, it’s nice to reflect on what took place. Did we achieve our objectives? Should we have sent additional staff members? Should I have attended one meeting but not the other? We now have 11 months to collect our energy and prepare for “deb season” once again – see you all in San Diego (CSE) and Boston (SSP) in 2017!

One thought on “CSE & SSP 2016: a Brief Comparison of Scholarly Publishing’s Big US Meetings

  1. Great insights into these two meetings, Wendy! Both are valuable in their own unique ways, and both offer so many opportunities to learn new things and to look at our industry in fresh ways. These meetings are also a great way to meet new people. as well as to stay connected to people you see only once a year.


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