Publishing is a profession notorious for relying on gut – business and editorial decisions made on instinct and intuition. But it’s 2019, and it’s time for your gut to retire.
Data-driven solutions for publishing can lead to improvement in many areas, from manuscript workflow to peer review, audience development to market reach. Yet publishing has a data problem – a deficit of accurate, relevant data necessary to manage in a world of change.
Data-driven decision-making, DDDM, is considered a serious discipline today in academia and in organizations. DDDM may not guarantee for business success, but as use cases demonstrate, better data and better use of data can lead to better publishing.
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Better, Not Bigger
The goal for Hemenway is to shift the conversation from big data to better data.
“In most cases, when we talk about ‘data’ we’re talking about either the content that we all consume and need, or the metadata that describes it,” says Hemenway. “Those two terms have been lumped into one box and labeled ‘data,’ but they’re distinctively different.”
Metadata, the other buzzword, is the data about data: it’s the descriptions; it’s the signifiers for all of these various aspects of publishing. Metadata can be used in a variety of workflow activities, in scholarly publishing’s peer review process, in marketing… Hemenway views metadata as an almost inexhaustible area of data itself.
“There are categories of metadata which serve different purposes, whether that be for describing the content itself, tying it back to apparent work, or describing the contributors to the content – the authors, their institutions and affiliations are all manner of metadata, and they all have their purpose,” he says.
“I have seen executives in publishing who don’t understand the relationship between metadata and their profit and loss statements. When I talk with publishers, sometimes that there’s a disinterest – only sometimes, but I find it stunning – in talking about data or metadata. I think a lot of publishers may feel that it’s not for them. Maybe it’s something that only commercial publishers worry about. But data strategy is something that all publishers should be taking seriously. That means making it a core part of their process and their planning, and regularly reviewing their strategy status and auditing their data accuracy.”
Metadata Correlates to Results
In this context, Hemenway asserts that metadata has vital pre- and post-publication consequences. Use of metadata can make a difference in the go-to-market workflow for a product, as well as supporting the analysis how your customers use the product.
“First of all, customers have got to find your product, right?” asks Hemenway. “Too often, products that reach market with substandard descriptive metadata sell poorly. They’re not borrowed as much in interlibrary loan, if it’s books; they’re not discovered well if they’re journal products. The sales numbers prove that out and back that up.
“I think regardless of your stripes as a publisher, content products with better metadata go further. If your intentions are purely good and non-commercial, then discoverability and dissemination must be front of mind. Those all require the same care and rigor and effort as the commercial publishers apply.”
If non-commercial publishers can no longer rely on the rationalization that data is a commercial publishing issue, the fact remains that data strategy can be fairly overwhelming when you start to think about it.
Hemenway agrees. “As a topic, it’s pretty dizzying. It’s the kind of thing that can put people to sleep at a cocktail party. Trust me, it’s happened.”
So, where does one even start?
“My colleagues and I look at it in increments. We don’t need to build the Great Wall of China all in one week, right? Publishers can carve their goals up into segments and look at it over time. How are we managing our metadata for this purpose, or for that purpose? I think regardless of business models, folks want to get the discoverability questions answered early, because that’s key. To be found is vital.”
Discoverability as a Revenue Driver
“Beyond that initial need, publishers should set out clear goals over time. ‘What do we want to accomplish? What do we want to get from our metadata now? What do we want to get in 12 months,18 months, 36 months?’ Some of those goals and aspirations may require more effort than others, but we’ve seen publishers achieve incredible results by adding one or two metadata items to their product suites.”
Don’t underestimate the big impact of small improvements, advocates Hemenway: “Even if it’s just a book cover. Even if it’s just a simple affiliation for a journal article. Each example of metadata enrichment has incredible downstream impact.”
In conjunction with the Principal Consulting team at CCC, Hemenway has acquired unique insights based on experiences with publishers of all types. Sometimes, the reality ‘behind the curtain’ at a publisher can be surprising.
“I see a lot of misunderstanding about the role and value of metadata, whether it’s books or journals publishers,” he says. “Some distinct examples would be, for journal publishers in the midst of transforming business models or flipping to open access, the ability to collect quality metadata about the authors, their affiliations, their sponsors in publishing. Putting a small amount of effort into that part of the production process pays off in spades downstream with regards to funders, institutions and everybody else involved in the endeavor of publishing. Similarly, at book publishers we’ve seen a commitment to good care with two or three metadata elements resulting in a tremendous impact on discoverability and sales numbers.
“A small effort at the headwaters of the process has huge dividends in the tidewater. I work to help publishers see data integrity as a strategic imperative, and not just a damned mechanical part. When publishers have a plan of attack, I know it’s going to pay off for them handsomely over time.”
During Frankfurt Book Fair, catch CCC Principal Consultant Carl Robinson presenting on this topic during “Better Data is Better Publishing (and Better Science, Too)” on Thursday, October 17 at 9:30 AM DST, Hall 4.2 Stage N101, or visit him at the CCC booth, Hall 4.2 Stand E22.