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Dan's Blog: There's More Than One Way to Skin ... Digital Content (Part II)

In my last post I talked about ways of going beyond or cutting across digital editions and even titles and allowing a user to access content by a certain author, or packaging content with other components such as membership dues, books, e-books, subscriptions, and the like.

The segment of publishing which is waaaaaay ahead of the others are the scholarly publishers, such as the STM and academic publishers. These publishers started digitizing their content back in the late 1990s. Initially, the digital "version" of the journal issue was available to print subscribers as part of a package. Eventually, however, they found that more and more of their readers were only interested in the digital content access and didn't really want print journals cluttering up their offices. Institutional libraries continued to ask for print along with the content access, but over time, all of the publishers in this category began selling access to content on its own merit.

Huge, powerful CMS platforms emerged and have evolved into complex search and repository technologies including semantic content enrichment and other magical things. Once these platforms had lots of content on them, it became all too obvious that the researcher wanted the ability to search across many journal titles to find the goods they were seeking. It is, therefore, not unusual to find institutional libraries with access to the entire corpus of content that a publisher creates each year, across all titles. With library budgets always shrinking, new and less expensive models for pricing such access continue to evolve. Many institutions join forces with others and form consortia to then go beat up on the publishers for even better pricing, the hammer being lots of exposure to new readers.

Most of these publishers really cater to the big institutional customers, as those provide the vast majority of their revenue. The individual researcher or reader is often associated with an institution or society which provides access to the desired content, so trying to promote to these readers is not the focus of these publisher's marketing departments. What does seem to be the focus is figuring out a way to increase revenue while the library budgets are shrinking.

Of course, the open access movement has contributed to the challenges publishers in this segment are facing. Governments are regulating the length of time a publisher can charge for public-money-funded research before that content must be open to the public at no charge. This is a challenge to academic publishers of public universities, but a serious threat to commercial publishers of this content. Flipping the business model on its side and charging authors to be published has been at least part of the answer so far. It will be fascinating to watch how this all evolves over the next several years.



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