This week, Springer Science+Business Media announced its acquisition of Papers, the desktop software program for managing research articles. The move into desktop software is an interesting approach for Springer and brings with it a much closer relationship with users, most of whom graze promiscuously across various publisher websites.
Researchers in the STM and scholarly space tend to rely on global search tools, such as PubMed, Scopus, Web of Knowlege, or Google Scholar to find articles, and then will dive into a given publisher’s website to retrieve the relevant articles before returning to the search appliance of choice. Obviously, there are exceptions, and there are users who read deeply from a few core journals with regularity, but this search and retrieval scenario is fairly common. The question is what users do with all the articles and e-books (of the PDF variety, as is common in STM and scholarly contexts) after they download them?
While some users simply dump them into folders on their computers, more and more users are increasingly turning to document management systems to maintain some semblance of order on their hard drives. There are a number of players in this space, including Mendeley, ReadCube, Colwiz, Papers and, to a lesser extent, Zotero (which
is not focused on the STM and scholarly market in particular and is more of a general-purpose document management system). Of the four applications focused on the STM and scholarly market (excepting Zotero) Papers has been around the longest, but for most of its history was limited to the Mac OS (a Windows version was released only earlier this year).
By acquiring Papers, Springer gains a sustained interaction with users – a touchpoint that occurs regardless of whether the user downloads an article from SpringerLink, ScienceDirect, Wiley Online Library, JSTOR, or whathaveyou.com. Springer moves from sporadic interactions with users to the center of the user workflow.
The acquisition of Papers also opens the door to various bi-directional connetions between SpringerLink and Papers. A user reading an article via SpringerLink might find a one-click “Download to Papers” button among the article tools. Conversely, a user bringing up an article via Papers might find related content recommendations that source content from SpringerLink.
This acquisition brings not only a strategic relationship but also additional resources to Papers. It will be interesting to watch and see where they focus these resources. For example, Papers could follow Mendeley’s lead and pursue a cloud-based development strategy, tightly integrating the desktop application with a synchronized website, thereby bringing even more opportunities for interaction with SpringerLink. They might also leverage Springer’s institutional sales force to move from their current individual-centric sales model to a more institutional approach, in the mode of both Mendeley and Colwiz.
Springer is the not the first publisher to acquire a document management system. ReadCube (mentioned above) is an acquisition of Digital Science, a division of Macmillan. Springer’s move raises the stakes in competition for the attention of researchers and a prime position in their day-to-day workflows.