Using Data Analytics to Drive Strategy in the Academic STM Library Space

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How Can Publishers Reach STM Librarians?

Librarians are the customer group end users depend upon for access to content, and they’re the customer group most publishers depend upon for most of their revenue. So, what does the librarian as customer care most about? They, of course, care about making their patrons happy; but since budgets are finite, they also need to ensure they’re getting the best possible return on investment for all of their expenditures. You probably don’t need this blog post to tell you how librarians measure ROI for expenditures on digital products. You know that usage data and cost per access are at the top of the list.

Yes, yes, your content is of the utmost quality and is truly must-have. Congratulations! Now please go ask some librarians how they measure ROI and how they make cancellation decisions. Most of what you’ll hear from academic librarians will focus on usage data. Occasionally librarians may say something about “quality.” Ask them how they measure quality, and be prepared to hear about usage. Librarians don’t care about quality metrics like Impact Factor in the same way researchers and authors do. Those articles are usually available via pay-per-view or interlibrary loan if it makes more economic sense.

We could, of course, have an entire blog series devoted to KPI’s, but since we know librarians are important, and since we know that usage is really important to librarians, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that your publishing organization needs some kind of KPI that gets everyone in the organization, even the finance guy, focused on the importance of driving usage.

Now that you’ve determined what matters to your customer, the librarian, you need to determine what matters to your publishing organization. What are your objectives in the academic library market segment, and what’s your strategy to achieve them? (Notice we haven’t even dived into analytics yet?) Then, as with any research, spend a lot of time trying to articulate as precisely as possible the decisions your organization will need to make in order to articulate that strategy. Most people jump right to the list of questions they want to answer, but you’re smarter than that, so you’ll invest a good amount of time talking to people in different parts of your organization about the decisions the analytics will inform. This will help to ensure that your analytical efforts result in something actionable, rather than just something interesting (or boring). The process you use to define the focus of your analysis is at least as important as the analysis itself.

Related Reading: Using Data Analytics to Drive Strategy for Corporate Customers

Here are some examples of the types of pending decisions a librarian-focused publishing organization may have:

  • Should you publish more journal articles to generate the usage you need to remain competitive? If so, how many additional articles?
  • Which of your many fine journals should receive additional investment?
  • Do you need to change your pricing model for digital books?
  • Do you need to focus on driving usage in a particular geographic region?
  • Do you need to change platform providers?
  • Do you need to call your friends at Google Scholar to understand how to improve your SEO?
  • Do you need to send out dozens of additional emails to your end users to drive usage artificially? (You don’t need analytics for this one…the answer is NO.)

Now that you’ve figured out what decision(s) you need to make, you can focus on articulating the questions that need to be answered via analytics to factor into those decisions. Don’t try to answer every conceivable question, otherwise you’ll spend all of your time analyzing and not enough time deciding and acting. To answer the question about which of your many fine journals should receive additional investment in order to drive usage and make your librarian customers deliriously happy, some questions you may need to answer are:

  • Which of your journals are in disciplines and subject areas that are growing, as indicated by funding data and article output data?
  • Which journals tend to drive more usage per article published according to your historical usage data?
  • Which journals are aligned with the disciplines of focus at high-priority institutions, as indicated by article output data and/or funding data and/or usage data?

After you’ve done all of the hard work of talking to people inside and outside of your organization and narrowed the focus of your analysis, you’re ready to do your number crunching, assured of the fact that you won’t be wasting time crunching numbers that won’t inform an action. At this stage, you may begin struggling over big, existential questions like, “Which advanced statistical methodology is appropriate for this analysis? And should I use R or Python?!” Just take a deep breath, and rest assured that for the vast majority of useful analytics, our good old friend Excel will do just fine. If a vendor or partner has been kind enough to set up a user-friendly visual analytics dashboard for you, even better. There are certainly situations that warrant the application of advanced statistical methodologies and tools, but see if you can make your decision by keeping it simple first. If you don’t have one in-house, you can always hire the services of an advanced statistician/data scientist-type later.

So you’ve crunched your numbers, your organization has made an important decision based upon the insights you’ve illuminated, and you’ve received a well-deserved promotion and raise. Now what? Your academic librarian customers still care about usage, so your organization had better keep caring, too, even after that big decision has been made. This is where your key performance indicators (KPI) come in. We could, of course, have an entire blog series devoted to KPI’s, but since we know librarians are important, and since we know that usage is really important to librarians, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that your publishing organization needs some kind of KPI that gets everyone in the organization, even the finance guy, focused on the importance of driving usage. Remember that KPI’s aren’t just for analysts and executives. For KPI’s to have their full impact, they need to be part of the day-to-day work lives of everyone who takes actions that influence the given KPI.

It’s very important to remain cognizant of the fact that analytics can’t possibly tell you everything you need to know. You’ll need to do some qualitative research, too, and you’ll need to spend time with your customers. My final recommendation is to regularly spend time with librarians. They’re not only very important, but they also tend to be very nice people.

About the Series

Analytics–everybody wants some, everybody agrees they’re incredibly important, but many STM publishing organizations just aren’t sure how to use them to positive effect. Looking backwards to see what happened in the past can be really interesting (or really boring!), but what does that tell us about what we should do right now, or what we should plan to do in a year? This is the first in a series of blog posts to attempt to provide STM publishers with some guidance on how best to use analytics–not simply to report on what happened, but to guide decision-making and drive impactful actions to achieve commercial and strategic advantage. To do that, we’ll put the focus exactly where it always should be: on our customers. Specifically, we’ll explore how to use analytics to better meet the needs of librarians, researchers, and corporate customers.

David Nygren

Author: David Nygren

David Nygren is the incoming Senior Director, Marketing & Branding at the American Psychological Association, where he will lead the marketing team responsible for marketing, branding, public relations and partnerships for APA’s Office of Publications & Databases. He was previously Vice President, Research Insights at Wiley, leading the global insights team that informed decision-making in every facet of the organization via analytics, market research and strategic analysis. He is a graduate of Fordham University in New York City.

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