Discoverability in Academic Publishing a Digital Lunchtime Lecture with David Cox (#DLL14)

by Jaimie Banks

Findability. Discoverability. Granularity. Taxonomy. Those of us studying publishing – and indeed, those already working in the industry – know these words are more than just industry jargon, but it can be difficult to fully understand their meaning and importance in a world gone digital.

David Cox, Head of Digital Publishing and Development with Taylor & Francis (T&F) Group, thinks about these words every day. He considers the most effective ways to tag book content and apply metadata to a huge backlist. He equally struggles to ensure the T&F frontlist is properly tagged using algorithms and hierarchies. And he always, always keeps a close eye on analytics. All these things, he says, are what keeps him up at night.

“It’s all about findability and discoverability,” Cox explains. 

“Findability” refers to how easy it is (or is not) for consumers to locate exactly what they’re looking for, while “discoverability” is the material they happen across when they weren’t looking for it. These days, all publishers are consumed with ensuring their content is both findable and discoverable.

Cox points to Patron-Driven Acquisition (PDA) in libraries as one trend where user activity is influencing buying in a major way. Library patrons are able to trigger automatic library purchasing through their activity – printing, reading, copying – without librarian mediation. The more patron activity in a certain subject area, the heavier the purchasing taking place. And of course, a book with good discoverability is more likely to trigger PDA.

A lot of this is simply about ensuring all material is tagged correctly and that hierarchies within the books are well organised. “Granularity” is an oft-used word referring to how deep down the tagging information goes and how specific it gets. Cox cautions that simply tagging a book with a word is not always sufficient; the word ‘virus’, for instance, has a much different meaning whether associated with the medical or computer disciplines. Tagging and taxonomies must link together associated data in a way that makes sense for the book’s content.

This is obviously a taxing business, and where possible Cox and his team try to ensure authors are tagging their own content using online surveys containing the publisher’s tagging structure. But this can be quite a job—do authors actually fill these out?

“It is a process of re-education,” Cox admits. “We have to convince authors that the context is as valuable as the content.”

As for the analytics piece of the puzzle, Cox emphasizes its importance in driving the trends and major decisions in publishing, and for publishers. Publishers are always keen to understand why a customer buys product A and not B, or what gaps exist in the market. 

 “It’s about reacting quickly to the trends,” he says. “What are customers trying to access and what don’t they have access to? This is crucial.”

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About the author of this article

Jaimie Banks is an MA student in Digital Publishing. She is also a world traveller, coffee guzzler, and former Canadian public servant. Find her on LinkedIn, or say hi to her on Twitter @lifeuncubed

Edited by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 17 Feb 2014 around 8am

Last edited: 18 02 2014