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These are meant to be the dog days of summer. Lazy interludes when half the media-eating world was so distracted by sun, sand and sea that a prime minister could assassinate a few long-serving colleagues or a presidential hopeful could explore prospects in autumn primaries without the full flood of critical commentary that you might expect in the hard light of western winter. But this is the Digital Age. It is remorseless and quite without shadow or shade. And having spent this week in bed throwing off a minor illness I am now as full of news and commentary as I am of medicine. The effect is overwhelming. Because I now know everything I realise I know nothing at all. I can’t wait to get back to normal-half-informed but deeply opinionated!
But from the ashes of the week I draw out three stories that seem to me at least to express some of what we are about at present. Rupert Murdoch’s attempt on Time Warner must clearly be one. The Elsevier deal with DCL to add value to the Scopus archive was another. And the court case in which Reed as Lexis and Thomson Reuters as Westlaw claimed that their appropriation of legal briefs filed by US litigators constituted “fair use” was the third. And what is the picture drawn here? It shows, in my view, a still content-dominated world where major players still think that the more you have the more powerful you are, where grabbing and re-using third party data can help to bolster failing content positions (even if you have to use the tools of the enemy to do so!), and where upgrading value becomes a necessity in a world where metadata is the currency of users who cannot afford the time to view content. Just like me with all this News.
So what do I think is really going on? Investors and Big Players are now deeply confused. The old maxim – “if in doubt make it bigger” – still seems to make sense, but can you trust Mr M, who seems to have dumped his slow growth media assets into Bad Bank (aka News) and is now readying another wonderful adventure in consolidation in which banks, analysts and advisors will earn prodigiously as well. But the game is not about Archive alone, surely? It’s about distribution and it’s about innovation and it’s about funding, and, step forward Netflix, most of the evidence seems to show that smaller, aggressively competitive players do these things better than media giants. Perhaps the best argument for Twentieth Century Time Warner may be that you will have to be that big to buy Netflix in an OK Corral shoot out with Google.
So then transfer the “commoditization of archive” argument over to Elsevier’s Scopus. In my view, developing Scopus was one of the bravest publishing decisions in STM in the last half century. It is a benchmark for quality and consistency, but as the abstracting pushed back prior to the 1996 start date, so citations were not broken up and separately tagged as they would be today. Redressing the past with a current standard approach using a DCL automated solution seems to be what the current deal accomplishes, and pretty vital it is too if today’s researchers are not to miss something through assuming that tags would be in place to show them. In the age when Scopus was built we had begun to assume that not all researchers would need the full text of articles all the time: we are beginning to see now that researchers do not always have time to check the abstract. This means that the metadata must be as high quality and consistent as possible. One day archive will not be for full text or abstract reading purposes but for audit and authentication purposes. Has anyone in Mr Murdoch’s team run an analysis of the valuations available on a video archive where the revenue model is “by the drink” but you have to keep updating the metadata to maintain the access expectations of users? Especially those who normally use illegal streamed content anyway!
I once had a client, havering about the costs and implications of going XML, who asked me to stop pestering him and come back when the ultimate value add had taken place, so he could adopt that. Sadly we will never reach that point, but in the Age of Data a very significant value has been added by associating third party data with our own. And we now have the platforms like MarkLogic and the semantic analysis to make this work. Law has always been a front runner, having text susceptible to taxonomic treatment and a superfluity of documentation to be searched. Fortunes were made here in the 1990s. Until the 2007 recession it looked as if this would always be a litigator research led market. We now know that law can decline in recession. And, ironically, we also know that those who have zealously protected their “ownership” of public documentation in the past are having to defend their right to use it in the present. West, before Thomson, famously sued Lexis for reproducing punctuation in state law reports added by West editors. Now we have the delightful picture of both companies defending themselves against lawyers by resort to fair use, long regarding as the librarian’s defence against them. But the point is not the irony: it is that no archive is ever quite big enough or quite tagged enough to satisfy users whose expectations, created by us, are simple. Answers and Solutions. Are you ready for this, Mr Murdoch? Delivered to my smartphone, please!keep looking »