Guest Column: The Key to Print-to-Digital Conversion: Simplicity
The publishing industry is in the midst of what will be a long and challenging transformation. As digital content, in all of its forms, has become the new medium, publishers are grappling with new business models, a multitude of content formats and devices, new delivery platforms and rising customer expectations.
While this transformation is far from complete, some standards and best practices have begun to take shape. We may at least be, as Churchill's famous phrase goes, at the "end of the beginning." Over the last decade, Springer Science+Business Media has made the transition to a blended strategy that fully embraces both print and digital content delivery. Here are some lessons from Springer's experience.
Journals: 96% Online by 2009
Journals were early adopters in transitioning to digital, and since have become almost ubiquitously available in electronic formats. By 2009, there were about 25,400 active scholarly peer-reviewed journals, and more than 96 percent were available electronically.
When Springer began offering e-books, the decision was made to follow the journal model. Libraries and patrons had become accustomed to this model, and a chapter in a scientific, technical or medical (STM) book often is viewed much like a journal article. Also, search engines have fundamentally changed the way that research is conducted and made print books largely obsolete for this purpose. Researchers now expect to be able to quickly sift through vast quantities of information at their fingertips. Because of this, Springer e-books and e-journals are searchable on a common platform, providing access to much more high-relevance information than was previously available.
Where e-books are readily available, researchers are increasingly accepting and utilizing them. While Springer saw overall digital downloads increase 33 percent in 2008, e-book chapter downloads rose 70 percent and e-book usage more than doubled between 2007 and 2009.
Keeping It Simple
The growth of Springer's digital offerings is at least partly attributable to its approach. Content consumers often have been confused and frustrated by the increased complexity in the publishing market. Springer responded by attempting to simplify digital delivery and reduce restrictions on digital content.
Fundamental to this strategy is that all Springer digital content is offered without any digital rights management (DRM) protection. DRM-free content allows users to access information without cumbersome protection technologies that often place restrictions on their ability to use it.
Another critical element in this strategy is that Springer delivers all of its content in universal formats, enabling users to easily access information from their PCs as well as mobile devices. These two elements have eliminated frustrating restrictions and provided the flexibility that users have come to expect from digital content.
With the advent of digital content, libraries also have had to adapt to dramatic changes in the way that patrons discover and interact with resources. Simultaneously, these same libraries have been pressured to work with smaller budgets because of cutbacks. As a result, they have increasingly turned to e-books. In response to these needs and with the journal experience in mind, Springer developed simple, flexible pricing combined with a robust "Collections" purchase model. This provides simplicity in licensing and greater access to information for a much lower per-unit cost.
More than ever, libraries must carefully select content and validate that their choices are meeting user needs, but measuring the value of content is no longer as simple as counting how many times a book is checked out. Digital articles and books are increasingly part of a network of connected texts, where the linking trends of a particular article may be as important a factor in gauging its value as the more traditional access and usage measurements. In a Collection, all content is available on a single platform and textually interlinked, with the ability to search large swathes of information, even from other disciplines. Because Springer content is accessible through a single, integrated platform, all e-books are cross-searchable with e-journals and other Springer resources, expanding the patron's reach and increasing the collection's value.
The changeover to digital delivery will be a long process, and there undoubtedly will be many more challenges and advances to come. But at this point, Springer's learning can be distilled into a single word: simplicity. By providing DRM-free content in universal formats across a single platform with flexible purchase models, Springer has reduced complexity and made digital delivery largely transparent, freeing libraries and patrons to focus their attention, not on the delivery platform, but on the information within. BB
George Scotti is channel marketing director at global publisher Springer Science+Business Media. In the STM sector, the group publishes around 2,000 journals and more than 6,500 new books a year, as well as the largest STM eBook Collection.