Creating Online Products with Bottom-Line Impact
For Roger Hall, determining how to extend a successful print publishing business online is no academic exercise. Hall, the senior vice president of scholarly book and journal publisher Haworth Press, has overseen the expansion of the company’s operations from a handful of publications to more than 100 books and 226 quarterly journals.
Hall says Haworth succeeds because the company identifies social, behavioral and library science niches, among others, and uses a flexible printing strategy to extract the maximum return from small print runs.
“You don’t need to have 20,000 subscribers to a journal to make a profitable business,” Hall says. “Four hundred to 600 subscribers can be a successful journal.”
Hall says Haworth is able to turn a profit on small print runs because the company has maintained its own printing facility in Kirkwood, N.Y. for more than 20 years.
“Having our own press really gives us an opportunity to experiment, since we are not tied to specific run lengths. The print jobs could be 100 or 10,000, it doesn’t matter,” Hall says.
Creating Digital Suites
After 20 years of mastering putting words onto paper, Haworth decided it was time to learn the art of electronic publishing, which changed the way the company thinks about deadlines.
“Publishers can no longer breathe easier after the printing starts,” Hall says. “Today when you put ink to paper, you are only half done.”
Haworth had a few years’ experience with digital files and producing Web-ready files such as PDFs when it decided to create electronic versions of its journals five years ago. Initially, its electronic strategy only included providing free online versions of its content to subscribers. Then, the company expanded to sell individual articles through an online document delivery service. However, the majority of its customers—85 percent—are academic libraries that more often subscribe to journals than make single-article purchases.
Haworth’s latest charge is to replicate the company’s print success by creating new online products that will contribute to the bottom line. Haworth is in the process of digitizing its journals dating back to 1973 to create a searchable archive that will increase the revenue from single-article sales.
Hall says the company decided not to make the full text of its archives available to multipublisher academic search engines, such as Google Scholar, in order to protect its revenue stream. He says other publishers have indicated to Haworth a loss in revenue by participating in these services, so Haworth decided to create and control its own archive.
Haworth sells the print versions of its journals as individual subscriptions, but the company smells opportunity in bundling content. It is aggregating the electronic versions of related journals into “suites” that will be sold at a discount, Hall says. For example, Haworth produces seven journals covering gay, lesbian and bisexual topics, and libraries that subscribe to the suite of digital versions will be able to pay an as-yet-to-be-determined reduced fee.
According to Hall, one of the major target markets for the online suites will be academic libraries, who are under increasing spatial limitations. He says that 4 percent of the library subscribers have asked that the printed documents not be shipped even though customers currently pay full price.
Publishers who are considering discounted digital-only subscriptions must factor the potential effect on current revenues before launching new products, Hall says.
“You have to calculate your anticipated ratio in the drop off in existing revenue versus what you can gain tomorrow,” he says.
Creating aggregations of content for online products also can inspire publishers to create additional print products, Hall says. Based on its evaluation of the potential for selling aggregated content, Haworth is now considering printing annual anthologies of the related journals that would be based on the company’s suites of content.
Put Time On Your Side
The Internet has slashed the time it takes to publish in-depth research, which has made it more challenging for publishers to produce print titles that readers will consider relevant. But likewise, it provides opportunity, according to Hall.
“Timeliness is an inherent problem of quarterly publications since the articles don’t appear until at least four to five months after the article was written,” Hall says.
Haworth mollifies readers’ demand for current content by previewing forthcoming articles on its Web site. After a quarterly journal goes to page layout, the company posts pre-publication galleys that only subscribers can access.
By adding a news brief section or column, niche publishers can address timely topics and also attract readers to their Web sites, Hall says. To remain topical with current research in library science, Haworth publishes a column by archivangelist Stevan Harnad of the University of Quebec at Montreal on its recently developed Web site on the topic.
The low cost of online publishing also provides an avenue for publishing content that merited inclusion in print, but was cut due to page restrictions.
“Some disciplines have an overabundance of quality papers,” Hall says.
Haworth is considering publishing peer-reviewed articles in the online versions of its quarterly publications, but the company has to resolve some technical challenges before deciding.
Academic search engines reference articles using a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) that includes the issue, date and page number of the print title in which they were published. Since an
online-only article would not have a page number to reference, publishers must develop a new mechanism for referencing, Hall says.
Major Changes in the Pipeline
Haworth has ventured into e-book publishing, through a partnership with NetLibrary, and has produced approximately 50 digital titles, Hall says, with plans to expand the number of e-books as part of a comprehensive electronic publishing overhaul.
By the end of the year, Haworth will internally produce e-book versions of all of its original titles and 125 monographic titles that are co-published as special journal issues, Hall says.
This summer the company will launch a redesigned Web site that makes it easier for consumers and libraries to learn about Haworth’s latest publications. The Web site is developing RSS (Real Simple Syndication) feeds that will automatically update libraries about Haworth’s latest publications. By subscribing to an RSS feed, a library will be kept current on publishing schedules and details of new titles as they become available.
Streamlining content-submission also is on the docket, as Haworth is developing an electronic manuscript program that will be available in the second half of this year.
By controlling its production resources and leveraging electronic publishing to create new products, Haworth continues to master niche topic areas and remain relevant to customers. BB
John Gartner is a Portland, Ore.-based freelance writer and consultant. He is a regular contributor to Wired News and Technology Review.