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Tony Alves

Senior Vice President, Product Management, HighWire Press, Inc.


Please tell us a bit about yourself (e.g. hometown, current locale, course of study).

I am a proud New Englander from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I was born in Milford, Mass, a town that is equidistant between Boston, Worcester, and Providence, but I grew up during the laidback 1970s in Orleans on Cape Cod. I received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Massachusetts, studying English and Classical Mythology. I also took some graduate-level business courses at Johnson and Whales but did not complete a degree. I moved back to the Milford area after college and currently reside in the small town of Hopedale, where multiple generations of my family have lived and worked since the early twentieth century.

Describe some of your current responsibilities and what type of organization you belong to.

I am currently Senior Vice President of Product Management at HighWire Press, a division of MPS Limited. I manage a team of product directors and product managers who design various software systems and platforms that are used throughout the entire scholarly publishing lifecycle, from preprint processing and hosting to peer review management, publishing workflow, content hosting, subscription and identity management, content usage, and impact analytics.

I also work closely with our sales and marketing teams, promoting the business, and meeting with clients and prospective clients to discuss strategic opportunities. I am a member of MPS’s Senior Management Team, helping with corporate strategy and cross-functional collaboration. I spend a lot of time working on industry-wide initiatives, especially technical standardization, system-to-system communications, ethical issues, and peer review.

What was your first scholarly publishing role? How did you get that job? What path led to your current position?

As an English major, I was very interested in getting a job in publishing. There were a number of opportunities in medical publishing in the Boston area, and so I figured I would start there and eventually see what I could find in trade publishing, or maybe legal. I found a job as an editorial assistant, working with an acquisitions editor who managed the Cardiology, Neurology, and Psychiatry lists for a major medical publisher, Mosby Publishing. I learned the basics of professional textbook publishing, but more importantly, I found the work of the acquisitions editor interesting. I initially assumed that publishing work was mostly reading, copyediting, and fact-checking. Acquisitions work is more about market analysis, meeting with experts and potential authors, working out concepts and ideas, and creating new publications. Acquisitions editors are basically the product managers of the publishing world.

If there was a pivotal moment or key person in your career development, please describe briefly.

After having spent just a few years learning the publishing process for both books and journals, I joined a small start-up organization called SilverPlatter Education. I originally applied for an IT position, having previously implemented some workflow processes using off-the-shelf software and being a Commodore Amiga enthusiast. I thought I might advance more quickly using my technical skills in what seemed to be a very tech-phobic industry. Instead, after describing my experience in acquisitions, I was offered a job as the (only) acquisitions editor, working with physicians to develop multimedia educational content to be delivered on CD-ROM; and, a few years later, on the brand-new World Wide Web.

I spent 8 years with SilverPlatter Education, doing everything from defining a publishing strategy (finding physician-authors and negotiating contracts), to helping with sales and marketing (writing copy and selling products on the exhibit hall floor), to helping develop the actual software by defining features and functions, explaining the nuances of the physician-learner to the designers, and of course, testing the learning systems.

SilverPlatter Education is where I fully realized the connection between the acquisitions editor and product manager. I approached the job from a publishing perspective, and the company was organized around the idea that we “published”, not “produced” educational and reference content. However, in just about any other software company, my position would have been labeled “product manager”. I used market analysis and competitive intelligence to determine which products to pursue, I worked with designers and analysts to create product specifications (that we called scripts and storyboards), and I launched each of those products by assisting the sales and marketing team with press releases, marketing copy, demonstrations, and hands-on selling – all tasks that are also routinely done by acquisitions editors!

What are some of the surprises/obstacles that you’ve encountered during your career?

After having spent more than three decades in this industry, I have found the world of scholarly publishing and scholarly communications shockingly misunderstood by the general public. It was eye-opening watching the lack of understanding of the scientific process and upsetting seeing political agendas spreading misinformation in the guise of science throughout the COVID-19 crisis. There are tens of thousands of people involved in the scholarly communications endeavor, serving researchers and society by bringing qualified research and knowledge to the world. The work we do evaluating, validating, curating, enhancing, and disseminating science and scholarship is a vital part of the knowledge value chain, yet very few people know or understand the complexity of this vitally important activity.

There is little appreciation for the nuances of the peer review process or of the amazing technical systems and processes in place to validate scientific discovery. People remain ignorant of the complex web of checks and balances that promote ethical behavior and research integrity. Most disturbingly, people expect science to be an indisputable fact, and they latch on to misinterpreted or purposefully misleading reports suiting their preconceptions. Science is actually a slow building of evidence that eventually points to likely truths, and those truths may or may not comport to what we thought were facts.

What do you wish you knew more about?

I have decades-long experience working with software developers and engineers, and an innate understanding of what is possible. It would have been useful over the years to have had a deeper knowledge of programming principles in order to more fully explain to the developers what I wanted to accomplish. I have found that technology is always evolving, and keeping up with the latest advances in software development requires constant reading and research. I am not technical; I’ve never written code, nor have I written technical specifications; but I do try to read as much as I can to keep up with advances in technology like artificial intelligence and software design processes.

Statistics and analytics are an important part of understanding the reach and impact of scholarly content. This is another area where I would have benefited from formalized training. I easily grasp the concepts behind what is being measured, why it is measured, and what strategic decisions need to be made based on the measurements. For me, the mystery lies in the processes and calculations required, and how the data points are derived.

What advice would you give to people interested in a career in scholarly communications?

I have never met anyone who said, “I want to get into scholarly communications”. The common story seems to be that people wander into a career in scholarly publishing en route to some other more common career. For those who do wander down this path, scholarly communication is multifaceted with varied opportunities. It attracts researchers, journalists, English majors, statisticians, software developers, educators, librarians, and business people. Many of the basic skills required for a career in publishing can be taught, like copyediting, statistics, programming, and business. The difficult part, and what takes years of experience, is understanding the marketplace and the subject matter being published.

Researchers who move into publishing have the advantage of hands-on experience in science and scholarship, often having served as authors, which means they are in high demand as subject matter experts who make decisions on what content is worth publishing. People who like to write are often disappointed because much of the content is written by researchers. People who like to work with others to shape ideas and refine messages can serve in numerous editing roles, from acquisitions editor to developmental editor to publisher. Unlike trade publishing, scholarly content is delivered electronically and contains all kinds of supplementary materials such as sound, video, interactive graphics, data visualizations, and software applications. Many of the highest-paying opportunities today require technical skills and training in software system design and in information science. Educational publishing, both written content and eLearning systems, have long been a major sector of scholarly communications, with full-time and part-time roles for teachers and those who understand educational concepts. Ultimately scholarly communications is a business, and even the large non-profit sector must conform to basic business principles, which means there are many roles for people with business acumen.

What tools, websites, and organizations do you find most valuable for your career development?

The scholarly publishing community is a small, tightly knit community with several professional organizations, like the Society of Scholarly Publishing (SSP), the Council of Science Editors (CSE), and the International Society of Medical and Technical Editors (ISMTE), providing professional support, training, and many opportunities to network. I found that serving on committees and participating in task forces have had the biggest impact on my career because they exposed me to new ideas, taught me new skills, and helped me build a network of contacts.

As my career has advanced and as my skills have matured, I have found professional satisfaction in working with organizations like the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) and the International Association of Scientific, Technical, and Medical Publishers (STM) on industry-wide initiatives that promote standardization for better system-to-system communications and applying technology to improve research ethics and integrity standards.

I also have a strong affinity for organizations like Crossref, ORCID, and other initiatives that create and manage persistent identifiers (PIDs). My interest in improving scholarly communications is closely tied to the proliferation of identifiers used to programmatically connect research and the individual components of a research article.