Making the Right Decision
Each vendor offers certain core functions and each publisher must carefully consider these and evaluate how well they coincide with specific requirements.
One factor would be a publisher's plans for Web site development. Do you have a Web site and only need to plug in content, or do you want the vendor to host the content on their site with or without your branded page? Is a simple template generated page adequate, or do you need to develop a full-featured, customized Web site?
With content in digital form, users don't want to repeat searches across databases, so it can be advantageous to have your content grouped with other titles in that discipline. This is both a factor in the selection of a hosting service and in the decision to host the content yourself. The larger the society publishers, the more likely they are to be able to support hosting on their own.
Content and document format types will also figure prominently in the decision-making process. Do you presently support formats other than journals, such as ebooks, conference proceedings or searchable databases? Will you need support for dynamic, frequently updated content, like reference books? Do you need to distribute daily news? Will you need to support continuing education course content or article bundles? Do you want to support article-at-a-time publication? All providers can accept Postscript, SGML, HTML, XML, and PDF. Not all can accept LaTeX and would need to work with your typesetter to generate output in their DTD from Quark/Pagemaker. Many support the de facto DTD standard developed for the National Library of Medicine.
Any publisher selecting an ejournal hosting provider should also take a good look at the back end control features like access, administrative, and authentication control. Do you want a control module that allows you to support customer service and fulfillment, or other functions? How robust is the vendor's access control? Will they be responsible for user support or will you? How does the vendor monitor use and respond to possible license violations? How quickly can adjustments be made to add new subscribers, or cut off violators?
And, without a doubt, one of the most compelling reasons for publishers to go digital is the insight that usage reporting provides. What reports do you need that you create now? Will comparable reports be included in the basic service, or will they require customized development? Can you generate reports on demand or will the vendor have to create them for you?
Growing Your Business
Some of the most striking changes in the last year make it clear ejournal hosting is a service, not a product. These relatively new features—which include linking, marketing, member/individual services, Google support, ecommerce functionality, compliance, and improved usage statistics—can help grow your business and increase usage. Most will become standard features, while marketing and ecommerce will likely continue to require additional fees. The broader message is to select a vendor that will monitor new developments and continue to enhance the services you receive.
The new OpenURL standard and associating linking technologies such as the DOI enable the user to connect seamlessly from a citation of references within articles, end notes, and abstracting and indexing databases to the full text of the article. Increasingly, the actual location of full-text will not matter, but maintaining the linking mechanism, paired with authentication, will be ever more important. Make certain that your ejournal host provides full support of the OpenURL framework, reference linking, and metasearch; when negotiating, include language that requires support of yet-to-be-developed standards.
Most vendors include marketing support features in their services, such as granular usage statistics. Ingenta, AIP Scitation (formerly the American Institute of Physics Online Journal Publishing Service), and Project MUSE market their products as aggregations. Four vendors have an affiliated marketing service, which can be employed regardless of host selection: Allen Marketing and Management, Publishers Consulting Group (Ingenta), Publisher Promotion and Fulfillment (EBSCO, MetaPress), and Extenza Marketing Solutions. Atypon is introducing a marketing module. Many of the services also employ marketing services and agents on their own behalf and to promote their hosted content.
Ejournal host services that have catered to societies have more experience in the development of personalized services for individual subscribers like stored searches that can be executed on a schedule, table-of-contents alerts, the ability to export citations to a software package such as ProCite, and member-only discussion forums. With the decline of print and individual subscriptions, social science and humanities publishers may retain their individual subscribers by offering enhanced functionality.
Six months ago, only a few vendors allowed Google to spider their content, but all now offer this publisher option. This increases the discovery and use of content for both subscribers and non-subscribers. (STM publishers that are working with Google have noticed dramatic increases in levels of use and documents sold.)
There's been a remarkable increase in providing ecommerce support, especially in allowing real-time subscription orders, pay per view, sales of article bundles, free sample issues, and other types of sales and promotions. These options represent a significant opportunity but may incur additional fees.
Again, understanding the way readers use ejournals provides a significant competitive advantage. Project COUNTER is the recognized international initiative authorizing publishers' usage statistics and compliance. Libraries will increasingly consider usage in making renewal/cancellation decisions; publishers can prepare use-based pricing models.
Look to the Future
The major trends referenced in this article will continue in the foreseeable future: the decline of print subscriptions, the growth of databases, and increasing reliance by readers on access to the information they need in electronic form.
In the print world, usage by readers was unknown and publishers could only gauge usage by authors from citation rankings. In the electronic world, usage will drive renewals and accessibility will determine usage. Publishers will want to closely monitor the usage statistics for their journals, assure that their hosting service adheres to the most recent standards, and obtain feedback from both librarians and end users on the availability of their content to ensure both the widest possible access and continued support.
Finding content will continue to grow in importance as more ejournal hosting providers recognize that users find content in one of two ways—brand recognition or discovery. Readers either know about the database that holds your titles or discover them through a growing array of technological advancements. The paths that lead users to content will include: users searching a diverse or subject specific full text database, searching an index and linking from a citation to the full text of the article, searching across multiple databases using metasearch software acquired by the library; and searching Google, which is spidering the content of scholarly publishers.
Accustomed to the ease of Google, user expectations are driving the development of new technologies (DOI) and new standards (OpenURL) for linking that will make connecting to full text across multiple systems a seamless experience.
Keep in mind, as you make the move to digital, that branding is only effective with your core users who know your journals by name or can find the database that contains them among the 200+ databases typically licensed by large academic institutions. As the volume of online content continues to increase, technological tools take on new importance in the discovery and delivery process. Use will become the driver in library's decisions about content that is cost-justifiable. You can't afford to be passive and merely make electronic content available; you need to drive traffic to it by partnering with the ejournal host service that best meets your goals.
Sidebar: Ejournal Hosting Providers
* A comparable number was not available from Ingenta