I have enjoyed reading an Outsell Market Update today entitled “STM Platform Providers”. It reminds me of the speed of change in a very forceful way, and Deni Auclair’s expert analysis brings out the differences between the various publishing and distribution offerings in the market place. But it also reminds me that the words we use to describe things are more rapidly eroded than we imagine, and that this can lead to imprecision if we are not careful. Thus in recent years I have begun to reserve “platform” for infrastructure. So I would reserve the word in this context for something like MarkLogic, a way of organizing and searching your total content, applying analytics to it (semantic in this instance) and developing new products through adding value to existing content or recombining it with third party content. By comparison, I would see Highwire as essentially a delivery system, Semantico as a systems integrator now developing its own tools, and IXXUS as a brilliant systems integrator using mostly MarkLogic and Alfresco to build platforms upon which publishing and distribution tools can sit.

This search for distinctions may just be pedantry, so please feel free to ignore it. Or it could be that there is something stirring out there which relates to wider changes. The worrying part, to me, of the work of the Atypons or the Publishing Technologys analysed here is that they tend to reflect the publisher’s need/desire to control and distribute content in its existing packages. Yet, as Deni wisely points out, eBook publishers commonly sell “by the drink” – typically in chapter-sized portions though if their metadata were better they could go smaller. This points me to the thought that these publishing and distribution technologies are often a barrier to change, locking publishers into format driven responses to markets that now want something different. New product development that starts with end-user requirements must begin on format neutral platforms, where content-as-data has to be the rule, where third party data can be absorbed and integrated with existing data and where analytics are semantic from the very start, and not added later.

So I am going to continue for a bit to define “platform” my way, and whenever I meet a publisher who says he is “re-platforming” I will ask the same question: “do you have your customer data and your sales data on the same platform as your content?” If they say “No” then I know they are buying bandages, not addressing the problems of rapid, iterative new product development, where those data sets are vital to the process. But then again, we may all be wrong.We may all be dancing in an emptying ballroom. For this was the week when writeLaTex partnered with Rubriq (www.rubriq.com). Or let me put it another way: this was the week when a prominent (and free) self-publishing service for scholarly research authors joined up with a developing service for pre-submission peer review (standard cost $600, well below any publisher). Or think of it this way: they do not need us for authoring and they do not need us for peer review, so how do you re-insert the value in the publishing sandwich?

And this was a week when the great things STM publishers do just got greater. I was delighted to see that IOPP had decided to make a further 5 physics journals wholly digital and I expect that in the next three years print will yield entirely in this marketplace. I was even happier to see that the brilliant men and women who built Elsevier’s Scopus have just launched the first Chinese language search interface to the service. I think this is a first anywhere and much to be welcomed: what an anomaly if the world’s largest science research source nation continued to function only in English. And then, yesterday, IMS Health (www.imshealth.com) announced that they had bought a group of data-intensive businesses from Cegedim. Bringing these data sets onto the IMS Health platform is clearly seen as a huge boost to the latter’s ability to derive new products and services. The revenue earned by this data at Cegedim last year was approx. $573m with Ebitda of $86m. IMS Health paid $520m in cash. As a result they add to their platform, amongst other things, a database of analytical comparisons covering 13.7 million healthcare professionals around the world and a range of information solutions that use primary research data. This deal may not be widely reported, but in the sense that building data into platforms for new product development purposes is important, this could be very significant.

This is the age of self-publishing. We know that the consumer fiction genre market now sells a greater volume of self-published digital fiction than all of the traditional publishers put together. We shall soon see similarly large proportions of STM markets devoted to self publishing. When that happens, the battle will not be around how effectively we deliver traditional products in familiar formats. The winners will be between those who can leverage their own, and third party/Open Web content, to produce the tools, the viewers, the analytics needed to support end-user researchers in their workflow-related tasks. Our data revolution has scarcely even started!

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