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Chief Executive’s overview

All of the Press’s major businesses enjoyed good growth in 2018–19 as we reaped the benefits of ever closer collaboration with other parts of our University, the high quality of our products and our firm focus on digital investment.

Cheif Executive Peter Phillips

The strong financial performance across the business came despite the political uncertainty surrounding Brexit – as damaging for us as for other businesses – and the structural challenges facing the publishing industry as it adapts to the digital revolution.

Digital technology is disruptive and demands heavy investment. But it offers us greater opportunities to fulfil our core purpose, as part of the University, to advance learning, knowledge and research worldwide. It allows us to extend our already large international footprint, reaching customers around the globe instantly, and to develop much richer, interactive relationships with them.

The importance we attach to digital investment was underlined when the Press and our colleagues at Cambridge Assessment agreed just after our year-end to acquire jointly from Durham University the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM), one of the largest and longest established research groups providing formative assessments for children. Underpinned by interactive technology, CEM will accelerate our focus on formative assessment and personalised learning. 

Our digital focus meant that by year-end some 43 per cent of our sales were of digital and blended products, compared to 15 per cent eight years ago. 

Fuelled in part by the long-term impact of digital, this year has seen momentum building among some major research funding bodies to move more decisively to a world where scholarly papers are made available freely at the point of use. As part of a great research university, our position is clear: we approach the issue from the perspective of researchers rather than purely as a publisher. Consistent with Cambridge’s mission, we aim to maximise the long-term impact and availability of scholarly insights.

To this end, we continue to pursue an open research strategy that aims to create the most supportive framework for our academic communities. We are a strong advocate of greater open access to scholarly journals, consistent with a sustainable publishing environment. 

In addition to continuing to move more journals in our portfolio from a subscription model to Gold Open Access, we have adopted a bold approach to ‘read and publish’ deals with universities, which we see as an important stepping stone in the transition to Open Access. Under this model, higher education institutions not only get wide access to a publisher’s collection of journals, but crucially the arrangements enable their researchers to make their work available in the relevant journal on an Open Access basis without additional payments over the life of the contract. 

An advantage of this model is that it offers a viable Open Access route for research in the humanities and social sciences, something which until this point has been very difficult for those scholars, given their very different funding flows from those in much of science.

We have signed five ‘read and publish’ deals with academic institutions in Europe and near the year-end we followed up with a landmark agreement in the US, which has to date been slower to embrace Open Access. Our deal with the University of California system – among the world’s research powerhouses – was the first by a publisher with that institution and the largest yet by any publisher in the US. It may spur wider acceptance of the model there.

There Is No Planet B, by Mike Berners-Lee, was one of the first science titles in a new publishing programme of wide appeal
There Is No Planet B, by Mike Berners-Lee, was one of the first science titles in a new publishing programme of wide appeal

The desire this side of the Atlantic for a further move to Open Access was underlined in September when a coalition of funders in Europe proposed that from 2020 scientific research publications supported by national and European research councils and funding bodies must be published through Open Access. We joined with Cambridge’s research and teaching departments to give a unified response to the proposal. This emphasised Cambridge’s commitment to an Open Access goal that works effectively for all academic disciplines, is financially sustainable for institutions and for high-quality peer review, and that leads to an orderly transition. 

This was one of many ways in which we worked creatively with other University departments during the year, developing together new ways to meet our customers’ needs and enhance Cambridge’s collective impact.

We have worked particularly closely with Cambridge Assessment, as demonstrated by the joint acquisition of CEM. Our ties have deepened appreciably since Cambridge Assessment moved in 2018 into its newly built headquarters on Shaftesbury Road, next door to our head office.

Cambridge Assessment is also involved in an important humanitarian venture we initiated some time ago and which was signed in 2018–19. We are partnering with Unicef, the UN children’s agency, and Microsoft to seek solutions to the educational problems facing displaced children, often as a result of conflict. Together we are working to research and develop a ‘learning passport’, which aims to provide quality learning pathways and recognised levels of attainment to help children progress in some of the world’s most challenging learning environments. Research from other University departments is another important part of Cambridge’s contribution to this project to help some of the world’s most vulnerable young people. 

We are also helping the academic University with the digital learning strategy for its students following the success of our online executive education project with the Judge Business School.

Our focus on digital innovation, and meeting the changing needs of our customers, was reflected in numerous product and platform launches during the year. We unveiled Cambridge Elements: a concise, original, and peer-reviewed research series, edited by leading scholars. Each one is intermediate in length between a journal article and a book, and hosted on Cambridge Core, our online research publishing platform. Elements can be regularly updated, making them a dynamic reference source. We are delighted with the initial response from libraries to this new proposition.

Another important innovation – supporting our drive for open, sustainable research publishing – was the launch of an open preprint platform for research to be available before it has been peer-reviewed, designed to boost the speed and impact of academic insights. Its first partner is the American Political Science Association (APSA), with which the Press has had a long and successful partnership.

Meanwhile, Cambridge Dictionary Online, helped by updates to improve users’ experience, saw a large jump in traffic. By year-end it ranked among the 1,000 most visited websites in the world, reaching more than 64 million sessions a month.

During the year we launched a new digital platform for English language learners and teachers, Cambridge One, which was developed in just six months. This new, data-rich system can give students more personalised and granular information about their performance and recommendations for study. The first product on Cambridge One, a blended adult learning course called Evolve, won many plaudits, most importantly from our customers. 

Digital expansion lies behind the remarkable growth of our operation in Manila, which celebrated its fifteenth anniversary during the year and moved to a new office, currently housing some 500 colleagues. It has become our largest office outside Cambridge and supports our operations in many ways, including digital development work and customer service.

The past year has seen our relations with teachers deepen through the expansion of initiatives to support their development. We have involved them in the creation of new products, and given them a platform to share their experiences, via our online research community, the Cambridge Panel. The initiative has proven popular with educators around the world, with the community growing to 600 active participants by the end of the year. 

This is part of our closer engagement with our customers and authors, be they scholars, educators, teachers or students, to learn from them, focus on their needs, and produce effective solutions to their problems.

Increasingly teachers and educators are looking for the kind of guidance and learning experience that the Press, and the wider Cambridge community, is well equipped to provide. As one example, there is a growing expectation among educators that students should learn core ‘life skills’, such as critical thinking and effective communication, in the classroom alongside subject knowledge. During the year we devised a systematic approach to the issue – the Cambridge Framework for Life Competencies – to help embed these skills as part of their English language learning.

It is vital that Cambridge remain synonymous with publishing of the very highest quality, so we were delighted that 2018–19 was a particularly strong year for external awards for our publishing. Our seven category winners and 21 finalists topped all other publishing houses in the prestigious Professional and Scholarly Excellence Awards (PROSE), presented by the Association of American Publishers (AAP).

Increasingly teachers and educators are looking for the kind of guidance and learning experience that the Press, and the wider Cambridge community, is well equipped to provide."

Our mission demands academic excellence goes hand in glove with impact with researchers, teachers and students. During the year we achieved this in all our publishing areas.

In our Academic group, the four-volume The Cambridge History of Ireland was launched to general acclaim in Ireland, the UK and the US, with the Irish President and the Irish Deputy Prime Minister in attendance. There Is No Planet B, by Mike Berners-Lee, was one of the first science titles in a new publishing programme of wide appeal. Its critical reception and sales have given an auspicious start to the programme. In Education, I was delighted by Coding Sandpit, a series for young learners to learn computational thinking and programming. Cambridge English’s Think – a course for teenagers with thought-provoking topics inspired by the Framework for Life Competencies – drove significant growth in secondary education.

None of this would have been achievable without the expertise and dedication of our colleagues in Cambridge and around the globe. At a time of great competition for talent, we need to attract and retain individuals of the highest quality. They in turn expect a working environment with strong ethics and social conscience, a commitment to the equal treatment of staff, and opportunities to develop new skills.

Our investment in skills has included a major leadership development programme over the past few years which drew to a successful conclusion in 2018–19, having involved 280 managers from 18 countries. It has produced very positive feedback from participants and will be followed in the year ahead by further programmes for more managers to experience.

I have been particularly pleased by the success of our UK apprenticeship programme, which over the past few years has introduced a significant number of colleagues from a different range of backgrounds to the Press. They have brought valuable new perspectives to the business and enriched our culture, and we are broadening the range of areas where we are employing apprentices to include new areas, such as data science and core publishing skills.

Awareness of the importance of mental health in the workplace has been growing in many countries. During 2018–19 we worked with the charity MIND to raise colleagues’ awareness of mental ill-health, and to help remove the stigma that sometimes surrounds it, through a series of lectures and training workshops.

Colleagues in all our major offices around the globe have long supported local communities, particularly in education-related projects. During the year charitable activities by colleagues, together with donations from the Press, raised more than £61,000 for good causes, while 958 hours of volunteering activities were undertaken around the world by nearly 200 colleagues.

The Press’s activities this year translated into the financial success we need both to sustain our mission and add value for the University of which we are a part. Our ability to develop the new products and services that our customers require, and to invest in the technology to support that, depends on generating enough cash through steadily improved returns. We were, therefore, especially pleased that in this financial year, the Press grew operating profits by over 40 per cent to £24 million. This was driven by growth in sales and a continued focus on controlling costs well. Our sales of £327 million were some five per cent up on the previous year at constant currency, with each of our three publishing groups in line with, or ahead of, their respective markets. The continuing shift from print to digital sales was a common theme. There was strong performance in some of the largest of both our traditional and developing English language-teaching markets and in our education markets for products to support international exams.

All of this would not have been possible without the continuing passion, commitment and skill of Press people around the world. I am hugely grateful to all of them.

That strong base will enable us to continue to innovate in the way we support teaching, learning and research at this time of huge change for publishers, schools and universities, and to maintain Cambridge’s reputation for excellence while pushing the boundaries of learning and scholarly communication worldwide.

Peter Phillips

Peter Phillips
Chief Executive

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