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 readersand the advertisers that pursue readersinto 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
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
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 archivingespecially when it may not guarantee much new revenue
flowthey could still tap into the archives already created through aggregators
and search services. Most of these third-party services have programs that
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, theysomewhat
naivelyexpect 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 email@example.com.