How Readers Discover Content in Scholarly Publications: Evidence-Based Report From Simon Inger Consulting

Scholarly publishing consultants Tracy Gardner and Simon Inger recently published the report, "How Readers Discover Content in Scholarly Publications." This report should be required reading for those in the scholarly publishing industry! The result of an impressive large-scale survey of readers of scholarly publications (n=40,439) and their behavior in the discovery of journal articles and online books, this report provides a rich resource of user interaction and trends over 10 years.

Usage statistics and analytics gathered by publishers, libraries, and intermediaries provide a partial view of discovery behavior, but there are many gaps in the knowledge that these can provide. The authors fill these gaps by surveying readers about the tools they use in discovery and they combine data from earlier surveys conducted in 2012, 2008, and 2005. 


Findings are presented based on many useful demographics and attributes---academic sector, income classifications, geography, and much more. I know I will spend weeks reviewing the data provided in the extensive figures and tables.

For example, the following figure details the use of the publisher web site for delivery varies simply by income bracket, with most use being made from higher income countries.


Delivery sites, academic by income, 2015.


Check out the change in user behavior from 2012 to 2015 in terms of apps and discoverability:


Apps used to discover and read journal articles.


The number of people who do not have a phone that supports apps has decreased dramatically, only 18% of people now don’t have a smart phone compared with nearly 50% of people in 2012. Further data support that people in low and low/middle income countries are more likely to use apps to find and discover journal articles than those in high income countries.

***Report Spoiler***

The report from Simon Inger Consulting  provides hard data and evidence on publishing details on which you had a strong intuition.  For example, online book discovery is far less mature than that of journals. This is partly due to the fact that most online books are available in multiple silos, each with their own specific terms of use, rights management, and interface. Each silo comes with its own search engine, and the metadata that would allow for external discovery is not extensively shared with discovery partners. Most online book platforms seem to be seeking to own the discovery as well as the delivery which is in stark contrast to how journal publishers have grown to behave, where maximized external discovery is seen as key to their success.

Another factor may simply be that there is less money to be made in books publishing than journals publishing, and by extension in books discovery versus journals discovery. Major academic libraries spend much more money on journals than books, and have only recently
started to focus on significantly improving the findability of books in their online book collections.

Data and Analytical Tool

The full data from 2012 and 2015 are available for purchase. This is incredibly helpful for publishing organizations to demonstrate the value in publisher web sites as discovery sources. Libraries can justify investment in publications and reveal usage by country, sector, and subject. Technology providers (like us at Cenveo Publisher Services!) can use the data to demonstrate to publishers how important it is that content be everywhere it needs to be!