Dealing With Digital ADD
A couple months ago, I went to the Association of American Publishers (AAP) PSP event in Washington DC and it took a while for me to process everything I heard. I found it hard to believe that publishers have not moved further in the four years I have been outside of the business. After visiting PSP it became evident that publishers are still moving very slowly in the use of new technology and I fear it will be to their peril!
It seems as if the core focus of scholarly publishers has stayed the same even though the marketplace has shifted, with a key focus now on making money. When I left scholarly publishing making money was seen as something that came second to being a service to the industry, at least in my microcosm. The focus on making money, or simply staying solvent, was refreshing but the planning and core direction to make it happen is still worrisome. The old-think of taking a long-form article, or book for that matter, and putting it online is still very prevalent. That just won’t work with Digital ADD.
The population as a whole has become very used to finding and reading snippets of information and the time to focus on items is far less than it was even 15 years ago! I started calling this technology attention deficit “Digital ADD” about six years ago and publishers need to be able to not only deal with it, rather embrace it. Before you think “scholarly publishing is different,” consider this:
In 1995 I was testing a search engine for an online platform and asked one of our scientists to ensure the results were “scientifically correct.” He came back with a 5-page list of search terms and results. The search terms were no less than five terms per search and he was worrying about the relevance of the results and that #2 should have been #1. He was very specific.
Fast forward to 2005 and we were rolling in a new search engine — MarkLogic in this case, and I asked the very same person to do the very same test. He simply searched on one or two-word queries and told me that the “list of responses looked good to browse through.” I called this the “Google effect” and it only took 10 years. I realized he had made quick value judgments on the articles themselves based on the title and the 2-3 sentence snippet. He might have missed something that was very relevant to his research, but did not mind because there was “far too much content to look through.”
This is Digital ADD and as publishers, you need to know about it. The title, first 3-4 lines of the abstract and the authors you present are almost as important as the rest of the article! You can have a great article and have low readership without knowing how to tune the content for your users to find and be interested in it! There are ways of tuning for content and still getting valid results. Borrow a page from Amazon and create guided navigation for your readers.
Single Source of Truth
Add to this that users now expect to have relevant content presented to them dynamically and that content needs to come from across all the available data sources within your enterprise and be consolidated in one place for quick and easy retrieval. If your users do not have a clear, consistent view and need to go to 2 (or more) systems to find information they will be disinterested and go elsewhere. The ability to break these data silos down and provide a single source of truth for all your users is very important now and publishers still need to focus on this heavily.
In fact, publishers are seeing huge benefits from creating a single source not only for readers but for themselves to better understand their readers. Consider companies like Springer and ALM who are pulling user identities, usage information, marketing data and eCommerce data all into one (MarkLogic) repository. Once the data is in the system they are using MarkLogic’s unique capabilities to not only help serve published content to the end user but tailor that output based on the information and knowledge in the data itself including social data as to what action others have taken. Publishers can build “interest trees” from this data to provide what other users/authors may be interested in as in the APA Authors Portal to find Authors like me (hosted on MarkLogic).
After being in the publishing industry for 22 years and now spending 4 years at a software vendor working with companies from all industries with various problems to solve and I always seem to relate it back to the problems that publishers are facing. Why? Because everything I deal with is content and information and everyone, in one way or another, is an information provider, hence a publisher.
If publishers take anything away from this blog I hope they realize that they need to think differently. They need to look at all their data, and they need to look at how customers want to consume that data. Customers today are nothing like they were in 2010 and they will change greatly again by 2020. Their usage patterns and how they interface with information will change greatly as well. Publishing, if nothing else, is about information and content sharing with their customers. Indeed the contrast between scholarly and for-profit publishers is now far less, but all publishers of information, regardless of discipline, face the same issues and problems; getting the content to the correct audience first, faster and in a flexible way.