A 2018 study highlighted a few tidbits about academic research. Only 55% of all traffic arriving to a journal website is non-search traffic. Between 2015 and 2018, there was a fall in usage of publisher website for search while use of specialized bibliographic databases and web search engines showed a marked rise. Popularity of journal alerts for discovery of journals also declined. Whereas in Asia, South America, and Africa publisher websites are considered as important as search engines, researchers in NA and Europe have consistently shown lower preference for publisher websites than search engines. But falling search traffic on publisher websites is not the only source of concern. Many publishers, especially small-scale publishers, are forced to publish their content through a large publisher. They exercise control only over editorial content; pricing, sales, and marketing are handled by large publisher. As a result, these small publishers require an economical, independent distribution platform that allows them control over pricing, marketing, and sales.
User Experience – The Bane of Platforms
A prevailing misgiving about the declining traffic on publisher platforms is the issue of authentication; in recent years, initiatives like RA21 have emerged to simplify access to content across scientific platforms. Poor user experience in these platforms has led to the proliferation of websites like Sci-Hub. Due to several copyright infringements, Sci-hub has been declared illegal in many courts and its sites are banned. But there are several researchers with legitimate access to content who use Sci-hub for a better user experience. User experience is indeed key to discovery. So, it is incumbent for publishers, large and small, to enhance the user experience for academic researchers.
This era has seen the emergence of platforms that works as the industry’s answer to these protracted platform problems. With a convenient and single content management system, these platforms allow publishers to host different types of content – journals, video, blogs, news, among others – on the platform. Sections, articles, chapters, and other content types can contain a diversity of content such as images, videos, interactive figures, sound files, graphs, tables, charts, and PowerPoint. These new-age platforms are also having a powerful in-built semantic capability that makes the content more search-friendly and discoverable. These highly advanced platforms allow users to navigate through subject or other taxonomies, look for terms or topics of interest to the user, and search by specific attributes of the content such as author. They also provide provision for access control whereby the publisher determines who can see the content without a paywall. Specific content can be restricted; teachers have access to certain content that students do not.
The other advantages of these platforms are their sophisticated tools and services – whether for commercial purposes such as advertising and UI optimization, or research-communication purposes such as code execution – are increasingly available from third parties and do not need to be reinvented by the platform partner. Integration offers the advantage of speed and standardization.
Many other embedded tools allow publishers or their partners to upload and publish a large volume of varied content. These platforms have a dynamic user interface with constant updates in features. Publishers can have the option to update pages on their own using different modules.
These platforms provide a complete range of tools to support the publishing life cycle. From content ingestion, preview and embargo support, publication, alerts, browse, search, taxonomic support, discovery, access control, eCommerce, and analytics, these new-age platforms support a wide array of XML-based content and multimedia content types. Multiple front-end technologies support a wide array of use cases.