Thursday 12 February 2015

Books. Pah! It's all just stuff

Toby Green from OECD. And sheep.
Digital puts the user in the driving seat, and from a user's perspective, the content in books is no different from the content in journals, grey literature or even databases. It's all just stuff that answers a question the user has or gives them tuition or the tools to do their work. But why do publishers still insist on presenting their stuff online in containers that replicate those determined by analogue processes?

Toby Green, Head of Publishing at OECD explained how after user research, they created a new portal for datasets that allows users to discover all of OECD's data-driven content, and especially the content found in its books.

The OECD has lots of stuff that they produce. It might be a journal article, a dataset, a working paper, book or not-really-sure-what-it-is. Generally, the books they produce are written and produced in two weeks. The Secretary General of the OECD needs to turn things around very quickly to make available for national governments. People don't want a product, they just want the relevant stuff on a topic. So they went out to talk to users to see what their tasks were.

User profiles were generated with typical tasks. What they also said is that they don't want a data portal, they just want to find the answer to their query. They knew it was there, but didn't know how to find it. It was a big change to the project as they had to change the scope. They ended up with a data rebuttal engine. Within a few minutes you can get answers to so many questions or assertions.

The OECD iLibrary enables people to download, embed and share data. If they want premium content to print and download they can pay. Green calls it premium open access, which he believes is a much better model than other existing ones. They offer web, spreadsheet, book, chapter and document. By allowing embedding, they aren't giving away content, they are gaining usage statistics on traffic as well as promotion. The idea of letting go of content which is a vital part of their mission, but also of their business model so they can be sustainable and pay the bills.

They have a technical term for their programme: Russian Doll publishing. It has had an extraordinary impact on their readership. They have seen growth in chapter downloading, but they still see strong demand for books.

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