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Magazines > Information Today > March 2004
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Information Today
Vol. 21 No. 3 — March 2004
Up Front with Barbara Quint
The Horse's Mouth
By Barbara Quint

In this age of disintermediation, vendor survival depends more and more on visibility. The hardest thing to attain and maintain is mindshare: the user's awareness that you exist and that your existence affects their existence in a positive manner. If you want to be the one left in the lifeboat when the rescue helicopters show up, you'd better learn to row and let everyone else in the boat see you pulling your oars.

In this hostile market environment, publishers shouldn't miss any opportunity to press the flesh, so to speak, with their user communities. In an attempt to lure readers—and the advertisers that pursue readers—into their digital shops, most publishers give away valuable content from their print publications in selected or even cover-to-cover offerings. Newspapers let the Google News service cache their material for quick reading, which often turns into adequate coverage for retrospective searches as well. Material that you can no longer get from the newspaper's own Web site becomes available from Google.

Digital Archives

Publishers may not see masses of revenue from every archiving effort, but they could prevent a negative consequence that stems from a lack of archiving: giving the impression that they can't manage their own intellectual property. Or worse, looking like someone who may talk about the wonderfulness of their publications but obviously doesn't hold them in enough esteem to keep copies handy.

Most naive users probably expect that a publication's Web site (i.e., one supplied by the publisher) should put you in touch with the most complete digital collection for that title. In other words, if you can't find it here, it must be offline. As we all know, that's often not the case. The most complete digital collections usually come from database aggregators like ProQuest or Thomson Gale and/or search services like LexisNexis, Factiva, Dialog, etc. However, almost none of these large archives presents data in a manner that emphasizes publishers as it's focused around subjects or format compilations. Besides that, the aggregators tend to sell to/through enterprises and libraries.

Even when publishers make archives available, they often provide very limited collections, especially back issues. Look at the ProQuest Historical Newspaper collection. It offers century-old runs of The New York Times, The Washington Post, etc. ProQuest has an active program for encouraging publishers to tap into all their archives using the ProQuest Archiver option. But only two, I believe, tap into the ancient full-image historical editions: the aforementioned Times and Post. Even so, the archived access doesn't exactly leap out at you. I've been going to The New York Times Web site daily for years now and only found out about the link to the ProQuest Historical Newspaper archive when I called a friend at ProQuest on another matter.

Although some publishers may not want the expense or headache of massive digital archiving—especially when it may not guarantee much new revenue flow—they could still tap into the archives already created through aggregators and search services. Most of these third-party services have programs that simplify linking.


And speaking of linking up, here's an idea. For the material and/or years of coverage that you don't have digitally archived, what about using a library that holds the material on its shelf? OCLC's OpenWorldCat is scheduled to list high-use material through Google. The project already links to online bookstores. There, folks who can't find what they need in an online inventory can just insert their ZIP Code into a window link to get a reading from OCLC on the nearest library that holds those titles. Right now, that applies to books, but I'm sure it could be adapted to serials.

But wait a minute. Don't most of you periodical publishers have lists of your own current and past subscribers? Well, all you would need is a little ZIP Code database connection. Then, using data you already have in hand, you could probably push people to the Web site of the nearest library that holds your titles. Or you could deal with aggregators and search services for some way to notify folks of the nearest library that holds the aggregation including your title. By the way, make sure to tie the notification to an FAQ on how to search for an article within a specific periodical title.

Bottom line: When users go to a publisher's Web site, they—somewhat naively—expect to have reached the horse's mouth, the most authoritative source for a publication. And when it comes to users, you don't want them thinking of other ends.


Barbara Quint is editor of Searcher magazine. Her e-mail address is
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