Beyond the “Cool” Factor: New Technology Products

by | Nov 6, 2014 |


This panel discussed innovation in library products, especially as related to new products.   There is strong feature competition from libraries interested in comparing commercial platforms. So what constitutes real innovation and what is just added on?

In his presentation, Rick Anderson from the University of Utah said that innovation is necessary but insufficient.  He noted that libraries are selling our services to users and are operating in a competitive market.

Critical challenges for research libraries include:

  • Meeting curriculum/research needs.
  • Budgets are flat (if we are lucky!), but the cost is rising steadily.
  • Staying relevant in an environment where needs are changing and there are new kinds of scholarly communication support. Libraries are turning from being aggregators to archives of locally created content.

Libraries are a pass-through for publishers to reach the users. Their biggest need is an affordable bottom line on invoices. They also need technology support to fix systems that break and institutional awareness of their value.

Users have the real needs:  the content necessary for them to exist, and access to it wherever they are.  Access must be provided in an intuitive way: if users need to be trained to use a product, the product is broken. The product must never fail, and users should not have to hack through lots of branding.

Neither librarians nor end users need publishers, vendors, or libraries to be innovative except to the extent that the innovation represents an increase in value. Innovation is not a goal; it is a tool. Users care only whether a new thing is better, but librarians care how much the change is costing, not whether a new pricing structure is innovative. Patrons do not care about innovation, only access. They care whether publisher has what they need, in the formats they want, and at a price that the library can pay.

Here are Anderson’s four recommendations.

Anderson's recommendations


David Burgoyne, Taylor & Francis Group (T&F) began with a brief history. T&F was founded in the late 1700s. T&F Online, started in 1997, focuses on discovery wherever users are. It is platform agnostic and renders well on small screens. Mobile access is no longer “cool” any more; users expect proper rendering when they go on a website optimized for a mobile phone.

People may see a publisher’s platform just long enough to download the PDF of an article; if it takes only 5 seconds and they get what they want, that’s not a problem. If you provide them with great service, they will keep coming back. How do we add value in 5 seconds? Many features are being added to platforms to enhance user experiences. For example, T&F added Google Translate in response to requests from users. It is important to involve platform strategy beyond stickiness.

Understand problems first, then work out what the solutions should be. The outcome of your efforts should be to make life easier for users, that’s going beyond the “cool” factor!

Michael Clarke discussed pricing as it applies to innovation and said that only about 1-3% of publisher revenues is spent on product platforms; the rest of the costs are spent on content acquisition, processing, IT, human resources, sales, marketing, etc. Platforms are not a significant driver of costs.

Cost is not equal to price. Price is based on relative value and what the market will bear.

Successful innovation is based on customer needs, but who are the “customers?” Publishers have many of them, as shown here.

Publisher's Customers

Publisher’s Customers

Authors are very important; there is a war on now for authors and publishers are very anxious to recruit them. Editors and reviewers are also very important.

Some innovations will be addressed to certain customers; others are more general.  Some needs of customers include workflow integration, discovery and recommendation, metrics and other evaluation tools, and integration with the scholarly ecosystem; for example, mobile optimization, content available on any device, and remote institutional access to content when students not on campus.


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