Yesterday on the Scholarly Kitchen, the bloggers were asked: What do you think is the most important trend affecting publishing today? Here's my unabridged answer. However, I strongly recommend reading all the "chefs" replies.
The empowerment of the user. Never before have users (readers, consumers, researchers, clinicians...) had the voice they have today. Never before have publishers had the tools they have today to hear and interpret that voice. The impact is broad, exciting, and challenging.
Publishing has historically been accustomed to dictating what the reader is able to consume. However, over the past decade several trends (technological, sociological, and behavioral) have come together to give the reader, the user, many content options. We can argue another time whether or not the user makes the right decisions with those options, but we must acknowledge that they are making decisions.
We also need to acknowledge that this is more than simply the abundance of published material. It's the abundance of the channels through which they discover it, the ways in which they can consume and share it, and their options to interact with it. They no longer have to be passive recipients. They can be (and are!) active participants, not just in content creation but also in directly and indirectly shaping modes of consumption.
Suddenly publishers have found themselves needing to attract and keep user attention. They can not only be purveyors of content. They must also be experts in user experience, experts in content discovery techniques, and adept and agile experimenters.
What have been some of the results so far?
- Publishers are still focused on content creation but they are getting far more creative in considering how their audience might consume that content. They are thinking about customization and personalization beyond the first notions of simply giving the user a few levers they can adjust (e.g., broad subject categories of interest, job title or level, etc.). They're realizing they cannot possibly anticipate the myriad of combinations of content that a user may deem as relevant and that it isn't cost-effective to even try. Instead, they need to enrich their content, dynamically create compilations, and give the user the keys so that they can adjust the compilation to fit their needs.
- Historically, publishers have created and distributed content in silos. They are now coming face-to-face with the power of interoperability and exploring how they can break down those silos, at least from the user perspective. Some are adding external sources of content, breaking down the silos between organizations.
- Everyone is talking about the importance of data, not just metadata to enrich content discoverability and interoperability, but data about users. Who are our users and what are they doing? When we experiment, what is the user reaction? How can we adjust based on that reaction? Data is becoming analytics.
- Even more exciting, as publishers understand the user better, they will have the opportunity to understand the content better. Does the life of content begin or end at publication? In the scholarly realm, does the "research article" exist in isolation or as part of the broader context of discovery? How does it fit into that broader context? What stories does it tell? How can publishers help tell that story?