WASHINGTON D.C. – Susan Skomal, Ph.D., who has served the nonprofit publisher BioOne as President and Chief Executive Officer since 2005, will retire at the end of this year. During her 16-year tenure, Skomal stewarded the growth of BioOne as a leader in sustainable scholarly publishing and tirelessly engaged a community of independent society publishers, academic institutions, and libraries with a shared goal of maximizing access to critical scientific research in organismal biology.
BioOne’s Board of Directors convened a national search to find her successor and anticipates that an announcement will be made within a few weeks. Kent Holsinger, chair of the Board and committee, stated,
“Susi Skomal joined BioOne when it was barely a nestling hatched from the vision of its founding partners. She led and nurtured its growth into the fully fledged young adult it now is. We are deeply grateful for her passion and her wisdom.”
Skomal’s dedication to the founding ideal of sustainability for libraries and publishers is evidenced by the organization’s increased impact in both communities under her leadership. BioOne’s flagship database, BioOne Complete, has grown from 80 titles in 2005 to include 217 high-quality titles from 159 independent publishers in the biological, ecological, and environmental sciences. The audience for BioOne content has expanded to over 3,500 accessing institutions, much of this achieved via lasting collaboration with more than 40 library consortia worldwide. Readership has also vastly expanded with more than 5 million abstracts and full text articles viewed in 2020, a total that grows each year. This widespread community support of BioOne’s novel business model and multi-disciplinary content has enabled it to return more than $50 million to participating publishers, providing essential backing to the specialist scientific communities they represent. And it did so while keeping library subscription prices affordable at less than a tenth of the cost of subscriptions from commercial publishers.
“BioOne has played a crucial role in the development and professionalization of small European publishers since its creation. BioOne’s transformative business model allowed institutional publishers like MHNH to widely disseminate their content and remain independent. Susi was instrumental in bringing together more such publishers, and helping them to face the technological publishing revolution of the 2000s,” said Laurence Bénichou, Head and Publications Manager of the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris. “Thanks to BioOne and Susi Skomal, we are able to fulfill our mission and at the same time comply with the obligations and new economic rules in the European research landscape. We thank her for her support and friendship.”
Under Skomal’s direction BioOne’s staff has grown from a staff of two to a team of eight publishing professionals, all while navigating the evolving scholarly communications landscape and difficult financial climates. Skomal steered the organization through a series of changes designed to minimize internal costs and maximize the impact of collaboration. In 2009 and again in 2019, BioOne tackled ambitious platform migrations. These moves were fueled by feedback from BioOne’s publishers, librarians, and end users, to deliver on a growing list of standards, capabilities, and infrastructure requirements to enable the most effective sharing and discovery of research. The 2019 migration saw BioOne become the first client on SPIE’s new publications platform; by strategically aligning with another not-for-profit organization, BioOne demonstrated the viability of forging a pathway independent of large commercial interests. Also in 2019, BioOne began to internalize its sales operation, bringing more expertise in house and further positioning BioOne as a lean and efficient organization.
Holsinger recalled, “Susi showed exceptional judgement in early 2008, and encouraged a series of wise financial decisions which safeguarded our reserves through the ensuing global economic crisis to the enduring benefit of our publishers. Now, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, BioOne’s recent operational developments are helping us and our constituents to weather an unprecedented storm.”
Since taking the reins, Skomal has also spearheaded a variety of experiments in publishing and broader community support. In 2013, BioOne launched an open access journal, Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene. This wholly-owned publication demanded the development of an end-to-end publishing platform and hiring of an editorial board. After determining that true success would require more robust scalability and investment income, Skomal and the BioOne Board made the decision to transition Elementa to its new home at the University of California Press where it continues to thrive. Expanding BioOne’s services further, in 2017 the BioOne Career Center was developed, facilitating connections between individuals and organizations across the biosciences. And since the 2018 birth of the BioOne Ambassador Award, Skomal has proudly welcomed four cohorts of early career authors into the community. Hailing from BioOne Complete publications, these scientists are recognized for their creative approaches to communicating the impact of their research to the public.
Together, these initiatives in publishing and beyond demonstrate Skomal’s and BioOne’s enduring commitment to the exploration and innovation necessary to best serve the community she has spent 16 years cultivating.
Yuko Nagai, Director of Japan’s UniBio Press, said “UniBio Press joined BioOne in 2007. Susi had rich experience in society publishing, and she readily understood the challenges of disseminating our journals in a world suffering with soaring subscription fees. BioOne’s unique model was and is now an equitable way to fund society publishing. The biggest difference between BioOne and commercial publishers is the genuine support for and trust in academic societies, and it has been a great pleasure to work with Susi on this partnership of scholarly communication.”
With her retirement, Skomal will be “embarking on another chapter full of surprises.”