The recent "Ask the Chefs" feature on SSP's Scholarly Kitchen asked the question "What do you think is the most important trend in publishing today?" The answers ranged from the fallout from budget cuts in research libraries to the dominance of technology companies like Google, Amazon, and Apple to the end of the Big Deal as the business model that facilitated STM's shift to an online business model.
I was particularly pleased to see the solutions-oriented answers around putting content closer to the end-user and the growth of new workflow tools that enhance productivity. Empowering the user and focusing on the customer are never bad business strategies.
And yet I wonder if all publishers appreciate what it means to truly empower the user. Publishers who are overly focused on driving users to their websites often ignore the downstream tools and services where users prefer to discover, curate and socialize content, or access an article inside a workflow that recognizes their particular environment. That environment can recognize whether or not a user has subscription-based access. It can invoice the user's company so the user doesn't have to pull out his credit card to complete a royalty-generating transaction. It can help the user discover content that she might have missed in a Pubmed search.
Users may not start on a publisher's platform, but they can get there if that publisher works with the user's preferred productivity tools. All roads can lead to Rome only if a publisher takes down the roadblocks, which require the user to start and end on their platform.
Granted not all productivity tools are sensitive to publisher concerns like copyright compliance and linking subscribers over, so a publishers looking to empower their readers at their preferred point of engagement need to do their homework. Does the vendor provide regular usage reports to publisher partners? Do they generate revenue for the publisher or just use publisher content as a springboard for their own revenue producing purposes? Do they acknowledge the publisher's IP or attempt to skirt copyright issues? Do they add value to the publisher as well as the end user?
I hope that the chefs' answers to the question will point more publishers toward recognizing the role reputable outside tools (eg document delivery, article collaboration, etc.) have in providing services to end users that individual publishers on their own cannot supply on their own.