Butterfly effect spawns a capital books idea
Publication of classic text 100 years ago got ball rolling on publisher’s move of regional headquarters, Cheng Yingqi reports.
Nearly a century ago Cambridge University Press published H. Glauert’s masterpiece The Elements of Aerofoil and Airscrew Theory, a book that introduced the principles of aerodynamics to the world.
The publisher would have had no idea that the book’s “butterfly effect” — in which a minute, localized event can have a decisive impact at some other place in some other time — would reshape Cambridge University Press’ direction on the other side of the world nearly a century later.
That happened last month when the publisher moved its Asian headquarters from Singapore, where it had been for 15 years, to Beijing to get closer to what it regards as its core market.
“China is the most rapidly growing market for authors and customers, so we are reviewing our global footprint to ensure our resources are best located to be close to key markets and customers,” Mandy Hill, managing director of academic publishing at Cambridge University Press, told China Daily.
The company sees the butterfly effect of Glauert’s book in a couple of incidents 10 years ago that convinced the Chinese government to dedicate more resources to science and technology.
The first was the successful launch of China’s second manned space mission, Shenzhou-6, in 2005.
The second was a meeting between the then premier Wen Jiabao in the same year with the late Qian Xuesen, a top rocket scientist in China. At the meeting, Qian asked: “Why can’t the country’s universities produce innovative scientific and technical personnel?”
His question came up again and again during the past decade, focusing attention on the issue inside and outside scientific circles.
Unknown to most people, it was The Elements of Aerofoil and Airscrew Theory that led Qian to the field of aerodynamics, said Eric Na, head of academic sales for Asia with Cambridge University Press.
Qian had studied mechanical engineering at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in the 1930s. When the university sorted through his files many years later, it realized his fascination with aerodynamics came after he had read Glauert’s book. He eventually transferred his attention to aviation research.
“Of course, we could never have known Qian would read Glauert’s book when we published it,” Na said.
Further, he said, the publisher would not have foreseen that such a reader would make such a great contribution to Chinese science, that he would meet a Chinese leader and raise questions about the adequacy of scientific education, or that China would increase its budget on science and research to help solve the problem.
“Neither, of course, did we expect the Chinese market to become so large that we would move our headquarters from Singapore (to Beijing) one day.”
When you connect the dots together, Na said, you sometimes find that chances crop up when you least expect them to.
“So, here we are, to be at the closest position to our key market. It might be too early to estimate the immediate reward, but the result is worth anticipating.”
Cambridge University Press, of course, is neither the only international publishing organization nor the earliest one to seize such an opportunity. Almost all major publishers, including Springer, Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell and Oxford University Press, publish a total of more than 100 journals in conjunction with Chinese publishing companies.
However, among its peers, Cambridge University Press is the first to move its regional headquarters to Beijing.
“There are many similarities in that all major publishers recognize the importance of the Chinese academic community and want to work closely with it,” Hill said. “The closer we are to the market, the more we understand China, and the easier we can achieve success (in China).”
In recent years, an increase in funding in China has attracted many international science publishers to the country.
The National Bureau of Statistics said research and development grants in the country in 2013 amounted to 1.18 trillion yuan ($190 billion), exceeding 2 percent of the country’s GDP for the first time.
The China Academic Library & Information System estimated that China’s universities spend about 320 billion yuan each year on buying databases of foreign science publications.
“The sharp increase in China’s academic results and paper production is a direct result of the country’s science-education development strategy,” said Chu Jingli, managing deputy editor-in-chief of the Chinese Journal of Scientific and Technical Periodicals.
Before 2000, Chinese authors contributed no more than 3 percent to the total number of academic papers published worldwide. Between 2002 and 2005, China was ranked fifth in academic paper production. Soon both the number and quality of academic publications rose, with the number surging year-on-year until China exceeded Germany, Britain and Japan to become the world’s second-largest contributor.
The growth in China’s R&D funding has also kept pace with its academic achievement.
In 2005, China’s R&D funding ranked sixth in the world. The over-20 percent yearly increase in funding from 2005 to 2011, and the 15-18 percent growth later, drove the country’s R&D spending to second place globally by 2013.
This is good news for Cambridge University Press, and suggests its decision to move to China’s capital city is the right one.
As the publisher relocates the regional headquarters, it will dedicate more resources to Beijing, recruit more staff and build closer relations with Chinese academia.
Hill also talked of plans to launch a number of new open-access journals in science over the next few years. “I hope that many of these will be in collaboration with key institutes and academics from China,” she said.
“We also hope to attract Chinese scholars to publish their books with Cambridge, where we can offer them the benefits of high-quality peer review, an internationally recognized brand and global dissemination.”
In February 2013, the company jointly started an international journal with China Laser Press, a publisher that focuses on laser and optics in China. The joint journal, High Power Laser Science and Engineering, benefited greatly from cooperation in the aspects of editors’ recruitment and international recognition that would take a decade for a domestic press to achieve.
Lin Zunqi, domestic editor-inchief of the journal, a laser expert and a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, explains the importance of Cambridge University Press in the joint work: “Academic journals are quite important for Chinese researchers to express their thoughts and show their research achievements.”
There are thousands of academic journals in China, he said, but only a small proportion have worldwide influence and brands.
“So, it is important for a Chinese journal to find a foreign partner, because it needs a recognized international platform.” Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org
Cambridge University Press in the United Kingdom. It is the first international publishing house to move its regional headquarters to Beijing.
Mandy Hill, managing director of academic publishing at Cambridge University Press