Kent and Phil have done a superb job so far covering various sessions at the Society for Scholarly Publishing meeting today, and I wanted to pitch in as well with some notes from a session they missed, one which asked the question, “How can publishers maximize the value and reach of their content using new technologies?”
First up was Jim King, Director of Software Engineering for the American Chemical Society (ACS), who discussed their XML-based workflow. The goals were to eliminate all human interaction with the content beyond intellectually driven activities of the editors, to reduce time to publication, and most importantly to make the end product “media neutral,” meaning content that can be used and re-used in a wide variety of formats.
King suggested that this was more of a business initiative than a technology initiative and that the toughest part was getting buy-in from the operational staff, changing their mindset to start thinking online before print. He also discussed the ACS’ mobile platform, their iPhone app, which they developed internally in just a few months. The app sells for $2.99, and they’ve sold around 3200 copies. Because of their inexpensive internal development process, they don’t tend to think of the app as a profit-driver by itself, and just needed it to break even. The sales numbers though, may be daunting for publishers without the same internal capabilities as in a later session it was suggested that mobile apps cost $25-30K to develop.
Next up was Keith Wollman, VP of Web Development and Operations at Cell Press, who walked the audience through the latest iteration of their “article of the future” (discussed here as well). It was interesting to see their various prototypes, and how different groups, from scientists to interface design experts added their own expertise. Wollman did add a caveat that this sort of experimentation takes a large and talented staff. Given that so many readers of science journals just download the pdf and print it out to read it, it would have been interesting to hear whether their new design and presentation has impacted user behavior but Wollman said it was too early in their analysis to say much yet. Also of note, they have a commenting function built in but as seen in so many other journals, it’s only very rarely used, averaging around 8 comments per month across all Cell Press journals.
Ryan Jones of PubGet was the final speaker as he talked about their system, which he describes as “a workflow tool” for use with a library’s existing subscriptions. Their user surveys put fast delivery as the top requested quality for readers and their system brings those readers directly to the pdf version of articles, saving time and clicks. They feel this increased ease of access will lead to more usage of a publisher’s content, which should lead to more subscriptions. Again, it would have been nice to see some data here, as PubGet presents the pdfs framed on their own website, taking traffic away from the publisher’s website, potentially reducing any ad revenue a publisher generates themselves. PubGet sells their own ads next to your content and offers partners a share of the revenue, but it’s unclear how that balances with the potential lost ad revenue or if increased subscriptions will make up the difference. It was also surprising to hear that their search engine is based around the metadata the papers provide, and thus does not access the full text of the article. That may make it tough for them to woo users away from other search facilities that offer more detailed results.