Thursday 20 September 2012

ALPSP Conference Day 2: The scholarly article in 140 characters? Are you a denial-o-saur?

Leon Heward-Mills introduces the session
Digital technology, particularly mobile, is changing the way we access and read information - perhaps even in the way we use different parts of our brains - for problem solving rather than 'deep-reading'. The Scholarly Article in 140 Characters session explored implications of this for consumers, publishers and the research community.

Matt Rampone from HighWire Press kicked off with a summary of mobile trends, data and the impact on STM publishing from their own user data. The information comes from 12 months of data from a wide range of publishers they work with and provides a snapshot of an aggregate study.

Mobile usage as a percentage of total online usage in the US is 10.58% and in the UK is 13.16% at August 2012 and based on smart phones, tablets, eReaders, with iPad 85% of tablet market share. Site use by page views can be broken down as:
  • 82% content
  • 9% home page
  • 4% search
  • 3% current issue
  • 2% ahead of print.
The visits by operating system are split by 69% by iOS, 30% by Android, and 1% by BlackBerry. Mobile website usage trends are going up. People are finding the sites and coming back. Where smaller publishers - who publish once a month - have mobile apps, they found that users were coming back showing real engagement with a mobile platform. The median time for mobile website browsing is 90 seconds.

People spend more time reading with a tablet. With a smart phone they spend less time reading, perhaps because it is not as comfortable a reading environment? PDFs are more lately starting to trend downwards and - unsurprisingly - they are non-existent on the smart phone.

Matt's key recommendations:
  1. invest in mobile (mobile optimised websites first)
  2. invest in analytics
  3. focus on creating good experiences: more tools and better end experience.

Charlie Rapple from TBI Communications - who wins the prize for best slide of the conference - provided a wake-up call for those who won't rethink their content strategy in light of new digital technologies. Content still tends to be long form, text based and not very dynamic. As an industry we've got into the mindset of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

Slide of the conference: denial-o-saurs
But are users happy? What they want is changing, but we’re not really recognising and responding to this. One reason is that we haven’t evolved our product or service to the extent to which they have evolved. The risk is that we will lose market share to disruptor players. Does that mean that as an industry we are denial-o-saurs?

We need to consider how long we can win the battle of mind share. We need to win our users back and get better at meeting user needs by reconnecting, re-engaging, and rebuilding relationships with readers and stakeholders. The transition to online wasn't a revolution, but mobile and social may well be. So let's go back to basic principles - the audience and their need - to direct strategy and rethink core value proposition. We need to make better use of mobile technology.

Howard Rheingold in his book Smart Mobs claimed that mobile technology is “not just a way to do old things while moving... a way to do things that couldn’t be done before.”

We should think about what we can gain from deconstructing the article in terms of information and workflow. There is potential to meet reader/customer needs in the right place, at the right time with interactive, relevant and friction-free content. Charlie has a simple equation to work to:

right information + right place + right time = value

What she wants - and is starting - to see is user experience being less passive with a better sense of how it is contributing to their work and therefore the value. Mobile is really contributing to this. For publishers, the key is to get close enough to users to understand and get to know audiences. It doesn't have to be difficult or expensive: you can do desk research, analyse data - you don't need a huge budget. Having a crack in-house is better than not doing anything. An initial bit of work will help you really articulate the questions you need answers to.

You can combine general information from desk research with more focused research you do yourself. Take the general information (e.g. smart phone take-up) with own (user analysis of device type) and also ask really specific questions (e.g. problems that preclude smart phone use: security, confidentiality, connectivity?) Then compare the reality of what is happening with your site and your users to compare perception versus actual behaviour. Consider user observation and it is useful to probe and explore in more detail initial findings of your survey.

Citing an example from one of TBI's recent clients, one interesting finding from this approach was that as much use of professional information happens outside work while commuting or at home. This had implications for the structure and presentation of content with unexpected insights and inspiration. For example, expect the previously unexpected: medics can now use mobiles in the air in the US. This resulted in a medical app being used to save a life on a plane.

Nick Bilton in his latest book I Live in the Future & Here’s How it Works suggests we need to make time and space to make innovation happen. Another contemporary theorist, Steven Johnson talks about the “collision of slow hunches”. It's about focusing your efforts, setting and prioritising objectives, as well as embracing and planning for change. Move away from thinking about content to thinking about customers and it will have an impact on every department.

Rapple's vision comprises a roadmap:
  1. audience research and segmentation
  2. brainstorm problems and solutions
  3. prioritise audiences and objectives
  4. prepare staff and processes for change.
Despite having to follow the awesome denial-o-saurs, Tom Reding from BBC Worldwide charmed and informed the audience in equal measure with multi-media highlights from key BBC brands (Top Gear and Doctor Who anyone?) as well as some fabulous merchandise giveaways. His was a view from outside of the scholarly publishing industry, one that could provide fresh insight or some new ideas.

BBC Worldwide drives revenue to go back into creative sector and has over 50 million users a month. Digital is important because it’s about the money. New revenue streams are driven through new digital channels, new production and cost savings. Digital also opens up new markets. It gives them a closer relationship with audience and engages fans across platforms. But one of the biggest reasons they focus on digital is to stay relevant.

Their teenage audience watch their content exclusively online so they need to unlock that content and seek new value. Areas to consider are:
  • the business of free
  • getting closer to your users
  • new partnerships
  • gamification and serious games (new trend)
In one of the more interesting comparisons of the day Redin observed that the cross-platform chunked up and down content for Top Gear isn't too disimilar to what you can do with an article. He advised us to step away from our content. We’re in the business of insight NOT journals. Remember that mobile users are more willing to pay for services than desktop users as they value convenience and immediacy.

A move to digital means more than re-versioning. Sweat your assets, distribute as far as you can, but get to the core of your offer which is insight. Explore new media platforms. Think about the business of free: with marginal cost of production and market factors pushing to ‘free’ can you adopt the free + premium = freemium model? If you scrutinise your sales, you’ll likely find you make your money from 10-20% of your audience. For BBC Worldwide, the rest get it free. It's a classic Pareto Principle model. So consider if freemium will work for you.

He suggested that with a large adddressable audience (250k knowledge workers) and a free version with clear value (the abstract), a premium offer with added value using user analytics (build or partner) and an optimised conversion funnel (build or partner) can demonstrate your confidence in your product.

If 13% of paying users are providing 51% of revenue, create products that cater to this audience and allows them to spend their money. Closing insights included:

  • dig deep beneath the Google analytics as they are a free and powerful way to inform your marketing budget
  • measure results and iterate
  • try things out e.g. work with companies such as Semantico, Mendeley etc
  • content still remains king - make the best content and you will get the best users
  • look at gamification: take a gaming approach and apply it to none-game situations e.g. FoldIt - Solve Puzzles for Science.

Redin closed with a charming illustration of how gamification and playfulness can inspire mission-type behaviour. The Bottle Bank Arcade form The Fun Theory. It's pretty inspiring stuff.

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