One Book, Many Covers: Meeting the Challenges of Multiplatform Publishing

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Another publisher tackling the challenge of reaching a growing mobile audience with traditionally PC-bound content is Elsevier B.V. The company's Scopus and ScienceDirect services can be accessed through a variety of mobile apps on several different platforms, giving users access to abstracts, citation information, or the full text of articles through their mobile devices. The company began its foray into the mobile domain with an iOS app for the Scopus platform and has expanded steadily to cover other platforms and devices.

Michael Habib, Elsevier's product manager for Scopus, explains that it was obvious that there was a demand for Elsevier's services in a mobile environment. "We were just looking at the usage numbers of all these different [devices] and seeing that we needed to support them, plain and simple," he says.

"Of course, it's a user-driven need when it comes down to it," Habib continues. "iPhones, Android, BlackBerry-they are just used by a huge number of our users. And especially younger researchers, junior researchers, are doing more and more of their research on these platforms."

Habib says that the mobile platforms provided unique challenges and opportunities for Elsevier. "The next [step] was really thinking about, ‘What can a mobile platform offer that's a unique experience and that people would want of their core functionality on the go?' " he says.

For the Scopus platform, that meant taking advantage of the iPhone's ability to receive push notifications to alert users when one of their articles receives a new citation. For other platforms, it might mean task-specific apps; Habib gives the example of an author search app for users at conventions.

The company did experience some difficulty when it came to visualizing the added content of some articles as a result of the differing capabilities of iOS and Android. "With iPhone it actually worked quite well, because you can use the built-in web view functionality of the iPhone embedded in the app," says Habib. "And that web view is very powerful for things such as equations, tables, images ... all show up quite well in that, actually. For BlackBerry and Android, you kind of leave the app to go to the Web View." While the experience of accessing the web view isn't as seamless on Android devices or BlackBerries, Habib says that it still seems to be working out.

Like Springer, Elsevier turned to social media to promote its service, launching a Facebook campaign that allowed users to annotate a Google Map with information about how they were using Scopus and ScienceDirect outside of a typical setting. The company also used the promotion as a mechanism to gather feedback to guide further development and implementation of its apps. Elsevier is continuing to expand its apps to the three main mobile platforms, and it also plans to roll out an iPad-optimized version of its ScienceDirect app in the summer.

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For content jockeys, of course, it is the dream: a single information store and automated delivery to multiple platforms in numerous configurations, all at the push of a button. And it is not a new ambition--it predates the tablet and smartphone outbreak by decades. The need for smart content management and the ability to automatically generate customized outputs, then, is greater than ever. Luckily, getting there is easy. All you need is intelligent content and cross-platform code development. (Okay, maybe getting there sounds easy.)