Monday 24 February 2014

The e-volution of publishing: what's new, what's changing and what's staying the same

Youngsuk 'YS' Chi, Chairman, Elsevier
The keynote opening talk at the Association of Subscription Agents annual conference was from Youngsuk 'YS' Chi, Chairman of Elsevier. he reflected on what has changed, what continues to evolve and what stays the same in the publishing industry.

The role of academics in research and teaching is evolving. There are parallels with publishers who face increasing criticism about the value they provide. Many people perceive publishers as relics from the past.

With the pace, breadth and complexity of change, the community of publishers is becoming more inclusive, more flexible and yet more nebulous. Tech companies are increasingly called publishers.

Readers habits and expectations are changing. They read an ebook and expect it to be available on any tablet format anywhere in the world at the same price.

So what does this mean for publishers' new roles? They need to provide:

  • experiential content
  • social media and social networks
  • digital tools and solutions
  • big data
  • text and data mining.

Content-based experiences
The value of raw content will continue to decline with abundance. People will pay for 'content based experiences' (as compared to a football match where you pay more for a pitch-side seat for an immersive experience rather than in the 'nose bleed seats'.) With content this is happening in ways such as integrating note taking, multi-media, annotated links. All this turns content from static or dead into live and interactive.

Importance of social media and social networks
There are a number of social networks for our communities and not just Twitter (e.g. growing community of researchers on Scientific network, Mendeley, etc). These site users can connect and come together to share papers. There is a role for publishers to facilitiate this sort of interaction for their audiences.

Digital tools and solutions
Content will always be king. However, publishers will increasingly develop tools, solutions and experiences around content. Many publishers are now technology providers, particularly in STM where they are developing digital tools to help researchers research (e.g. Digital Science exploring workflow efficiencies in science research).

Big data
Publishers must use power of big data to their advantage - to understand consumer and viewer preferences then use this insight to help improve use of content in fresh ways and understand more about the communities they serve.

Text and data mining
Increasingly more publishers are opening up content to text and data mining. Examples include CrossRef's Prospect linking text to license service, PLS Clear, a digital clearing house to allow researchers to request rights from multiple publishers from one easy to use form, and CCC has service linking to repository of XML content. This will ensure a role for publishers moving forward.

Publishers are experimenting with agile publishing, subscription models, technology, business models. Experimentation is key. We need to fail, do it often, but do it early. Innovation always moves faster than adoption. Consider where will technology exist and pave the way for the future. Chi reflected on slower take up of ebook readers than expected - according to Digital Book World statistics, 20% of US adults have downloaded an ebook; 21% in UK - where there is still lots of print use.

Chi quoted Michael Mabe about scholarly publisher functions in a digital environment:

The value of publishing: is it mind the gap or fill the gap? There's a balancing act between innovation and improvement.

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