There is no question that Web searching has changed the business of publishing and marketing content. The old watchword among publishers that “Content is King” has been replaced by the web2.0 phrase “The User is King”. Just as iTunes allows music buyers to obtain a song unbundled from a record album or CD, so too does Google enable any Web searcher to very quickly identify and download articles on nearly any topic of interest from any of thousands of sources.
Google and iTunes weren’t the first to deconstruct publisher “packaging”. The unbundling of full text content first emerged in early online services like Dialog and LexisNexis. Initially, this was a great deal for publishers, since a single article from a newspaper that originally cost 25 cents on the street could be sold thousands of times online for as much as $3 dollars a pop. In effect, researchers in the early days of the online industry were willing to pay a premium to use technology that could help them find that “needle in a haystack” article they needed. However, the rapidly declining cost of technology, combined with publishers’ desires to use that technology to better serve their audiences, have driven the price of an individual article, in many cases, to zero or close to it. Publishers still sell “bundled” content –print journals and institutional subscriptions are still alive and well– but the increasing number of consumers have been trained by Google to think that many articles can be had for free.
This ability to obtain an individual article, song, or other piece of content has broad implications for both users and businesses. For users, while they are no longer required to buy more than they may actually want, they also lose the opportunity for discovery. How many times have you bought an album or CD because of a popular single, only to realize there are lots of other great songs now in your possession. iTunes and the like would argue that they create additional avenues for discovery through their ‘related artists’ and ‘recommended songs’ capability – and we agree, but more on that later. For content owners, this unbundling trend is of course very serious as it can cannibalize the sale of journals, books and CD’s. The strategic question therefore is whether to ride and somehow maximize this unbundling wave, or resist the wave and potentially cede the end-user relationship to the platform providers, in this case Apple and Google.
Publishers for the most part have already begun preparing as if this process is irreversible. They are implementing new ways to replace revenues that are lost when customers no longer buy the whole ‘package’. This new repackaging can take many forms. Subscriptions to popular online journals, such as the New England Journal of Medicine, increasingly offer unique features, including email alerts, user communities, access to unique data sets, and multimedia content designed to make the value proposition of buying the “whole package” greater than the sum of the parts. Obviously, this can be an expensive proposition and requires technical expertise for adding and managing new features on the Website – not necessarily a core competency of scholarly publishers. Likewise, iTunes, Rhapsody and other online music sites also want to encourage larger transactions. As mentioned above, they are leveraging ‘related songs’ technologies and recommendation engines to encourage more discovery and therefore more purchases while still allowing the user to maintain their sense of control in determining what they want to buy, i.e the soft sell.
DeepDyve is jumping into the fray by offering publishers other ways to “repackage” their content that are very easy and inexpensive to implement. Similar to the features at the music sites, DeepDyve’s More Like This technology enables a user to discover related articles. The technology takes the contents from a single article and uses it to reach deep into a publisher’s archives to find additional articles that represent a more complete offering of the publisher’s work on the topic. Publishers benefit when more of the right content is presented to a prospective customer. More Like This can also be used across whole collections of journals, and often enables users to discover otherwise hidden relationships between subjects in different disciplines.
Because DeepDyve is not dependent on any meta-data or taxonomy, the implementation of this tool is a snap. More Like This functionality is now available to any Website as an API – by simply copying and pasting a simple programming script a publisher can now, in a sense, rebundle an ad hoc “journal” from any set of content that is customized for the user’s needs at that moment. Rather than fight the momentum of unbundling, it’s possible that tools such as More Like This and ‘related artist’ will introduce a new means of bundling – one that is aligned with the evolving needs of the user.