Biological Science Publishing
Late 1980s - 2003

 


Biologist
After a few years hiatus, the first issue to be distributed on the month of schedule.

Biologist
The first issue (1990) of the larger A4 colour cover format.

Journal of Biological Education
In addition to returning JBE to schedule the 'Schools Affiliation Scheme' package needed supporting publications

careers with biology   careers with biology
Careers with Biology 1988 and 1992 editions.

 

Initially as Publications Manager (1988) and then as Head of Publications (1990) at the Institute of Biology there were considerable challenges. On arriving the IoB Council and Publications Policy Committee were extremely anxious that its principal journal Biologist, with a circulation of over 16,000, was produced on schedule. The journal's editorial standards as well as its biology content were of an extremely high standard, but there were clear production and distribution schedule problems. Arriving January 1988 meant that the February issue was too far into production for it to be delivered on time, but the next (the April) edition was. Biologist continued to adhere to schedule for many years, including with those subsequently responsible for its production, through to 2009.

Creating a larger format was another challenge The first A4 format edition with a larger cover came out in February 1990. Alas the IoB's financial wing insisted that with nearly double the page area that the page count be halved. This resulted in an absurdly thin journal that could only superficially be offset by increasing the weight of the paper (to which the IoB financial wing agreed). After a few issues, to let the dust settle, it was easy to argue to increase the page count and lighten the weight of the paper used so keeping the journal's overall weight the same (hence keep the distribution costs unaltered). While advertising would never (nor ever because of the plethora of competing specialist journals from the specialist societies*) provide a major advertising source it was possible to slightly increase the previous low-level of advertising to cover nearly all the additional cost of the extra pages. In-house advertising would also bring in more income to the Institute as well as signal to members the range of products of services they had access to (indeed at a members' discount) through their membership.

The quarterly specialist Journal of Biological Education, for teachers and undergraduate lecturers, also had schedule problems. Again its editorial standards and science content were of a high standard, but production slippage had been so bad that previously on occasion it had been necessary to merge two issues into one. As with Biologist this journal was brought to schedule, though it took over six months.

The IoB 'Schools Affiliation Scheme' was a publication package that also had a newsletter (Offshoots) written by the IoB's Education Officer as well as other publications and other material. Responsibility for contributing items was an on-going challenge. Doing the rounds of likely industry-produced educational material we could get into schools (provided the material met Institute standards) was one solution. The most exotic item secured were samples of femidoms (female condoms): remember this was only a few years into the international spread of HIV/AIDS. With the majority of the Institute staff being young and female it was almost inevitable that some samples went 'missing'. Though we had been given plenty, this did necessitate an all-staff memo pointing out that these samples were for classroom purposes and so were not lubricated, hence not to be used for their purpose of manufacture. Such are the perils of biology publication management.

Providing careers literature had long been one of the IoB's activities: as a professional body it is important to continually look to future generations. The IoB first published Biology as a Career back in 1953 (three years after the IoB's formation) and ran to five editions. It was completely revised as Careers with Biology in 1981. Updated editions came out in 1988 and 1992 (see the covers to the left).

Careers with Biology had a small but very steady four-figure unit sales a year that brought in a small four-figure profit. Profit was deliberately kept low as the publication was considered a service to the profession in-keeping with the Institute's charitable aims and status.

Biology for the Future Biology for the Future Biology for the Future Biology for the Future
Biology for the Future: Just some of the annual BSc degree course guides (1991-2003).

Biology for the Future was another careers initiative this time jointly with the specialist careers publisher Hobsons. It was not so much a what-is-the-range-of-biology-jobs but a guide to the range of UK university bioscience courses. The Institute supervised the content, provided additional material and use of logo for a four-figure fee in addition to receiving a thousand copies for its Schools Affiliation Scheme and distribution at its stands at careers fayres and teacher conferences. The Institute received additional benefit from the profile afforded by copies distributed by Hobsons itself, while Hobsons received content and endorsement. This was to prove so successful for all that annual editions continued through to 2003.

Postgraduate biology   Postgraduate biology

AIDS A Challenge in Education

Renewable energy environmental impacts   Biological nomenclature

Safety in Biological Fieldwork   Biological risks

Toxocara Canis   Living biology in the classroom

Studies in Biology

Edward Arnold Biotechnology   CUP SiB Biotechnoloy
The Biotechnology 'Studies in Biology' book 1988 'New Studies' edition and the subsequent IoB/Camb' U. Press edition.

Studies in Biology
The front and back outside of an
unfolded SiB flier.

Having covered school pupils needs, then those entering university, the next logical step was to cater for those choosing postgraduate degrees. In 1995 for a couple of years the Institute produced postgrad course guides with Westlake Publishing but the specialist market required greater scales of economy. So from the late 1990s to 2003 postgrad guides were published with Hobsons alongside their undergraduate counterparts.

Qualified biologists needed publications too. Having the JBE journal and careers publications meant that publications for biology teachers was a market to which the Institute already had ready access. Starting as Publications Manager back in 1988 it was a little dispiriting to learn that there was no seed money for new titles. Yet on joining the Institute, and having addressed the immediate publishing challenges, the next big step forward was to produce some quality books. Being informed that anything was allowed provided that the seed budget was "a nice round figure of nought pounds, nought pence", co-publishing a title with another learned body seemed the obvious move. Having come from the British Medical Association the easy option would have been to embark on a venture with the BMA. As it happened the Institute's education and biomedical sciences wings were organising a symposium on AIDS in education (ironically co-chaired by a former colleague the then Assistant Head of Scientific Affairs at the BMA) and they were keen to have the proceedings published. And so an approach was made to the Royal Society of Medicine who agreed to cover the production costs provided that all the income (less distribution costs) went to them until the production cost was met: thereafter the surplus was split equally. The RSM would also handle the production edit leaving the IoB to take care of securing the papers and checking the science (and, of course, running the symposia).   It worked and a 2,000 print run of AIDS: A Challenge in Education (1990) sold out within 18 months (which is not bad as proceedings usually only sell a few hundred copies to those attending).

Producing books in-house was the next challenge. Here symposia proceedings were a logical step. Another logical step was to produce books based on updated and expanded versions of booklets the IoB had historically produced. Here one success was Safety in Biological Fieldwork. Another (that was to ultimately run to four revised editions) was Biological Nomenclature, two of which were produced in this early period. And so over the rest of the decade a couple of titles a year were produced in-house. Nearly all made a surplus (only a couple did not quite break even), so providing the Institute with a small but meaningful, as well as steady, income stream (above production and overheads) not to mention getting the Institute's name out on the covers of thousands of books. In addition the Institute symposia would contribute to Institute science policy through to 2003.

Science text books that could be bought in shops (remember this was before the internet) was one key goal. Here the Institute already had a market presence having previously the famous 'Studies in Biology' series in 1966: 'famous' because anyone studying biology in Britain at A-level school level through to university between the late 1960s through to the early 1980s would have been aware of this series of booklets. The IoB awarded the production contract with the publishers Edward Arnold. The booklets were only about 60 pages long but ultimately covered a range of 149 topics: so virtually all British biologists owned a number of the titles and quite a few collected the set. If you are a British biologist of a certain age you will easily recognise the books' distinctive covers with the same line drawing of a grebe waterfowl alongside freshwater reeds.

The 'Studies in Biology' series in the late 1980s was going through considerable changes. Book publishing economics was changing and also biology itself was changing. On the publishing front it was no longer economic to have the standard unit overhead charge associated with a small (hence low-priced) title. Meanwhile biology in the 1970s and 1980s was expanding from its whole-organism base of the early 20th century into micro and molecular biology, and so the market for the traditional topics were getting smaller as the number of specialist areas increased. So Edward Arnold created (1988) 'New Studies in Biology' which were larger format (120 – 150 pages) but fewer in number: a dozen or so titles covering the really core areas.   But there was worse to come. The early 1990s saw British publishing go through its night of the long knives with the cessation of the UK book trade's NET agreement and this resulted in a number of hostile publisher takeovers. And so the Institute's series moved first from Edward Arnold to Chapman & Hall and then ultimately to Cambridge University Press but back with its old 'Studies in Biology' title and with a nifty new look. Looking back, the amazing thing seems to have been that at each stage new titles were commissioned and published with the commissioning split between the publisher and Institute, though the Institute retained its controlling veto. (After 2003 responsibility for the series resided with the Institute's senior manager.)

There were other books produced along the way. There was short-lived miniseries with Unwin Hyman that ended when that independent was taken over, a biotechnology series with the Open University, and another specialist mid-university series with Cambridge University Press but momentum for this ended in 2003 with changes in staff at both the Institute and CUP.   The period 1988 – 2003 saw the Institute undertake some remarkable publishing ventures such as (early on) some proceedings produced on a BBC computer – this was before the Institute got Microsoft Windows in 1990: it was a different, electric typewriter-dominated world back then.   Then there were brochures and booklets such as one on biotechnology sponsored by the Government's Department for Trade and Industry, or a broadsheet encouraging biology graduates to become teachers that was even launched by a junior Minister from the Department for Education at the Institute.   Yet the perspective of the biological science landscape afforded by such work in the late 1980s and early 1990s facilitated the shift more towards science policy analysis and lobbying.

Along the way there was much fun and some spin-off. The IoB publishing work on AIDS fed into the activities of those of us on Concatenation's genre wing at the 1996 European SF and Arts Convention in Romania. There, encounters with policy makers up to Ministerial level enabled copyright for western AIDS education material to be granted for use in Eastern Europe and so shortly after we received copies of Romanian HIV awareness literature produced for teenagers and young adults based on the copy supplied.   Again, remember, this time (shortly after the fall of the Iron Curtain) still saw Eastern Europe devoid of much information (there was no internet or satellite TV back then), let alone health facts on HIV, but the virus spread regardless.   And so it is almost certainly no exaggeration that, whatever else all this activity did in addition, it saved lives!

 

* This lesson was one that in the future management would forget (and cost) but by then (late 1990s) I was not concerned with the journals but science policy and books.