Eyeing up the future

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The Frankfurt Book Fair is a time when publishers and publisher services companies tend to showcase their latest developments and news and these are often in the area of publishing platforms. From shifts towards mobile devices and decisions about changing technology to trends in e-books and the launch of new database platforms, companies tell us about some of their latest trends

Earlier this year, platform developer Atypon acquired MetaPress. Jonathan Hevenstone, senior vice president of business development, talks about the acquisition, Atypon’s approach to platform development and considerations for mobile

I don’t think publishers can really service their users without offering a global solution. We have a Web CMS called Page Builder that enables us to add features to our clients' sites using drag and drop widgets that are fully integrated into our backend. This tool is being used to build new sites and is then rolled out to the publishers for them to change and modify the look and feel and functionality of their sites as they wish. They also have the use of our Admin Tool to control backend functionality on a really granular level, like setting up licences and deposits or managing and applying taxonomies.

The Metapress acquisition has gone very smoothly. We are not integrating the technology. Instead, we are keeping the Metapress platform until we have migrated all the customers using Page Builder, then discontinuing it.

At Atypon we added tablet optimisation to Literatum for Mobile in January. Literatum for Mobile is a web app that delivers a mobile optimised view of the publisher's main site to the mobile browser. If a change is made on the main site it is reflected everywhere.

We are seeing higher levels of use of medical content on mobile. In the small sample we looked at, we saw almost three times the amount of usage in medical compared to other fields.

We’ve really focused on the user experience in our mobile product. We use Responsive Web Design where appropriate – mainly for the non-editorial components - but we also use Adaptive Web Design. I think the story of adaptive design is getting lost. With responsive design, you actually send, for example, image files that are full-sized for the main site, then within the user's device you resize them to fit a smaller browser size. You have one version of the site for everywhere. This means that with a responsive approach, if you’re not extremely careful, you can slow down page load and give users a bad experience. 

Adaptive design does all of this work on the server side and only sends optimised pages to the device. It’s all about how to maximise bandwidth and increase loading speed and also give the user the right controls to do the kinds of things they want to do on the device they are using. It is more economical and much faster for the user, which has advantages to the publisher and the user.

We have a mobile API that third parties can use to develop apps for publishers, but we now have a new design and development team that can create custom apps and can also design sites for our clients. 

When we first developed Literatum for Mobile as a web app, there was lots of talk about native apps, but it didn’t really happen. It didn’t make sense; you don’t look in the app store for a specific publisher. Instead we based mobile around the browser because everybody has a browser. However, above and beyond the basic solution, there are niche needs for apps so it is important to have that capability too.

We used to accept PDFs and had a version of our mobile app that displayed these inline, with the proper form factor, but we are moving away from that because publishers usually now deliver full-text XML that we render into HTML5.

In terms of mobile, it will be interesting to watch the Readium project. We’ve had a trickle of publishers in the USA delivering the EPUB format to us, even for journals. However, the distribution channels are hugely controlled by Apple or Amazon. Readium is a new open reader initiative, which has the participation of companies like Google and IBM and Kobo.

Adobe has already tested it to include in Adobe Digital Editions. We’re looking at it closely and may go ahead with solution based on Readium within our platform. It’s the first time I’ve seen a true standard developing for EPUB reading systems.


Jake Zarnegar of Silverchair shares some usage analysis from across the sites hosted on its SCM6 platform

We just completed a device/mobile usage analysis of all sites on SCM6 in June. It shows a steady trend away from the desktop towards the tablet/mobile devices.

One thing that surprised me a few years ago was consistently hearing from users: ‘Don’t give me a lesser experience on tablet or mobile.’ Prior to that, almost everyone was taking the approach of creating a smaller, more limited version of their full site for mobile devices (for example, only a small portion of the latest content and features). What we’ve found is most important to users on small devices is creating tailored pages and navigation for their devices that load extremely quickly – not arbitrarily cutting off their access to some content and features.

What is hidden by the neat summary categories of ‘mobile’ or ‘tablet’ is the huge amount of variation that exists inside those descriptions. On one site in 2014, we’ve already been accessed by more than 3,000 distinct hardware devices with more than 800 unique screen resolutions. And it should be noted that not one of those devices or screen resolutions accounted for more than a third of total traffic. For web-connected devices, the old approach of providing separate mobile URLs that recognise and adapt to a few devices and screen resolutions is no longer sufficient.

We now deploy all sites with full responsive web design (RWD) interfaces. The distilled definition of responsive web design is that it will fluidly change and respond to fit ANY screen or device size. This is accomplished through use of a fluid grid and breakpoints to automatically reflow content to fit each screen. The responsive content display allows for dynamic changes in typography (font sizes, line height, etc.) that makes text more readable on smaller devices.
While we can’t adjust for all file types, we do use a third-party video distribution network (Brightcove) that automatically detects devices and will deliver a playable video file format (for example, Quicktime instead of Flash for iOS).

At the same time as creating a responsive web display, we work with partners to develop mobile apps for key publications and sites. SCM6 provides a set of standard APIs that app partners use to retrieve content and download it to the local app (which can then function online or offline). While the mobile web is getting better and faster every day, installed apps still outperform them on the device and apps remain in solid demand from scholarly audiences.

On SCM6, we host everything from primary research to breaking news to education/certification to quick answers. We have seen a wide variation in device use that tracks to the use model of each content set. The deep research and education content is still most popular on the desktop (with tablet quickly gaining share) while the news and quick answer content has moved more quickly to become mobile-dominant. We take a mobile-first design philosophy on the mobile-dominant content – in many cases our ‘largest’ breakpoint for that content will be designed for tablet (it also looks fine on desktop, of course).

The challenges in delivering scholarly content on various types of devices are speed, speed, and speed! Attention span seems to be positively correlated with screen size.

Scholarly content can be long and complex, but we’ve been focusing on techniques to quickly get users what they need on their device to continue their task and then load more information as it becomes required. Our sites built with responsive design load two to three times more quickly on all devices than older interfaces.

We provide a well-documented API that can be used by any partner to create mobile apps. We have partnered with Amphetamobile and WillowTree Apps for multiple existing and upcoming projects.


Tom Scott, director of product management at Nature Publishing Group, talks about usage trends for different types of content

If you look across nature.com as a whole, people still predominately access our content via their desktop, with small screen devices representing about 12 per cent of our total traffic. However, that number masks significant variations when you look in more detail. For example, news content has a much higher mobile usage. Around 30 per cent of users access news content on their mobile or tablet, compared to 7 per cent for research content.

The other significant difference we see when comparing news with research content on the web is the Android/ iOS split. iOS is the biggest mobile operating service for both, by almost double for research content. News content is closer with a 60:40 split iOS/Android. Another significant difference is the average page views per visit, which is about half on mobile devices compared to desktop users. The iOS NatureJournals app users buck this trend - where we see by far the highest page views per visit for any user group on any platform.

We’re seeing a steady increase in mobile usage (as a percentage of the total) with the inevitable jumps in December and January as people purchase new tablets and phones for Christmas. But across the site as a whole, we don’t see the sort of rates of growth the consumer industry is seeing.Our overriding strategy is to be standards compliant and to adopt the design principle of progressive enhancement (rather than ‘graceful’ degradation).

We design our pages to work for all devices over any connection. Enhancements are then added in, for example, via JavaScript to benefit those users that can use it. This approach has served us well; not only can users today access pages published many years ago without difficulty but we can also support the varied devices accessing our content. We still have users running Windows 3.x, Windows 95, and some people (although not many) read the content on their PS3 and Google TV as well as the more mainstream platforms.

An example of progressive enhancements was the responsive design we rolled out a few years ago. The technology enables a webpage to detect the size of the screen the reader is using and display information accordingly, improving the overall reading experience. As part of that, we also use JavaScript to replace standard journal navigation.

We also have a native iOS app, supplemental to nature.com, and intended for personal users. It has been designed to offer a better user experience for those devices (iPad and iPhone/iPod touch) – and allows the user to download a whole issue, which they can read offline.

In terms of trying to ensure our content is accessible on any device – we don’t differentiate between different types of content. We apply the same standard across the site.

There are some specific challenges when it comes to displaying some content, such as gene sequences or 3D chemical structures on small screen devices, with limited screen space. Likewise, rendering mathematical notation across all devices can be tricky where you rely on Mathjax, since some mobile devices can struggle running the JavaScript. Otherwise the challenges aren’t unique to scholarly content.


This year at the Frankfurt Book Fair, Springer will launch a new version of its Springer Materials platform, using the same technology as SpringerLink. Michael Klinge,  business owner for SpringerMaterials, Alexander Hannemann, product owner for SpringerMaterials, and Mikail Shaikh, eProduct manager for databases describe some of the considerations in the new design

The main reasons for developing a new platform for SpringerMaterials at this point is to provide new interactive features to our users and at the same time enable a common technology platform with SpringerLink. This allows us to realise better user experiences for the researcher, allowing him or her multiple efficient ways to access our content and manipulate and filter data. 

For these user journeys, responsive design allows us to cater for different screen sizes and devices. This change also allows Springer to develop better features in the future, and seamlessly integrate new content onto the SpringerMaterials platform.

The biggest challenge in developing a product like SpringerMaterials is trying to anticipate user needs, which evolve over time.  Scientific databases have a different purpose in a researcher’s workflow, where a researcher understands the theory and content, and needs quick access to numerical and graphical data. He or she needs to be able to pull related data on either materials with similar properties, or more properties of the same material. Therefore in contrast to e-books and e-journals, properties’ databases like SpringerMaterials require different types of search; for example periodic table searches for multi-element systems, a chemical structure search for organic systems, and text-based searches.

Along with an updated interface, we now offer a facetted approach, which allows users to access our content better; users are able to narrow down search results by scientific disciplines or by the properties of the materials. In addition to the facetted navigation, the user can scale down and filter details of the properties they are interested in, for example the vapour pressure at pre-defined temperature intervals, via a combination of sliders. On a similar footing they can interact with phase diagrams, by clicking on them for accurate coordinates, and view crystal structures online on the new platform.

For the user’s convenience we provide data downloads for tabular (thermophysical & polymer datasets) data via common formats like csv and jpg files, extended PDF documents as well as crystallographic information. We offer reference link-outs and citation tools as well.

We are trying to achieve the best combination of efficiency, flexibility and granularity on our platform, while maintaining the quality of the data that powers this interactivity. Springer will continue to innovate and grow this database, so that we can offer our users the very best content and tools to aid their research efforts.


Luisa Gaggini is head of e-content and partners relations at Casalini libri SpA, which provides an electronic platform for content from non-English language publishers


Casalini Torrossa focuses on humanities and social sciences (HSS) titles whose reading and studying experience is similar across the various disciplines. Some reader habits tend to vary depending on the discipline. Social sciences content is consumed more rapidly, and ‘in snippets’, while philology or ancient history titles, for example, have a longer time-frame and continue being used as monographs.

Until recently, users were still mainly using their laptops or PCs to access our content; this is no longer true. Now we see more users accessing e-content from their devices. Among mobile devices, we notice a predominance of Apple devices (iPhone and iPad). We do not experience important differences in user behaviour as a result of this trend, as long as their device can easily open the e-document.

Offering e-content fruition via all devices available on the market while keeping a DRM system is a hard challenge. We have just started an analysis of the pros and cons for adopting a ‘lighter’ DRM to facilitate access to content while maintaining control of digital rights on electronic copies. The analysis will be shared with publishers distributed on our platform. It is interesting that a number of publishers (such as Springer) have chosen the no-DRM way to facilitate access (and citation) to their content from the scientific community. This is a road that we want to explore further, if a lighter DRM can help encourage the public to continue reading titles in non-English language such as Italian.

The challenges in delivering scholarly content on various types of devices are both technological – that is, being able to deliver content that can be usable across the different devices /operation systems/browsers/ readers – and commercial, that is, reach an economical sustainability. For non-English language literature and small-sized, specialised publishers this is not an easy task.

While a significant portion of technological maintenance and development is being done in-house, we do partner with a software house and trusted IT consultants to support us in the deliver of e-content and services to libraries and individuals.


Tony O’Rourke is commercial director and Ross Wilmot is digital marketing specialist at RCN Publishing Company. They share the publisher’s experience of a recent platform change and its impact on mobile usage and reflect on the benefits for the main customer group, nurses

Since we changed our journal hosting service to Atypon’s Literatum platform in August 2013, we have seen the start of a very clear trend away from traditional desktop devices towards mobile and tablet. In August 2014, 28 per cent of all traffic started from either mobile or tablets and we only see this trend increasing. Atypon’s platform is mobile optimised and this has resulted in significant increases in overall traffic.

We have noticed a number of trends in our usage data: The bounce (rejection) rate is higher on mobile (55 per cent) than it is on desktop (42 per cent) and tablet (42 per cent). It should be noted though that the bounce rate has reduced since the Atypon platform (Literatum) was mobile optimised.

In addition, we have seen that users visiting the site from tablet devices view more pages per visit – an average of 3.2 pages from tablets compared to 2.8 for desktop and 2.4 for mobile. It’s the same pattern for average visit duration with tablet sessions lasting 3.07 minutes compared to 2.16 minutes for desktop and 1.63 minutes for mobile.

The mobile optimised version of the Literatum platform went live in March 2014. All of our digital (page turning) editions are coded in HTML5 so they automatically render to the size of any device. We also use mobile optimised themes in Wordpress as well. Bear in mind the way nurses work. They don’t always have easy access to libraries; they need the right information quickly to support their clinical decision making – in the ward, in the community, etc. Institutional users, for example, students and researchers, are able to pair their mobile devices with their own institutional accounts.

The trends are the same regardless of the type of content, whether it be news, feature material, CPD or peer reviewed research or practice papers.

One challenge we see is how we resolve detailed images such as tables and charts within peer reviewed and other content types. Scholarly or other types of research/clinical practice content often include tables or charts, which can prove challenging to display properly on a smaller screen. Links to referenced content needs to be suitably spaced to avoid clicking on the wrong link.


Kiren Shoman is executive director for books at SAGE and gives an update on the company’s approach to e-textbooks and some of the usage figures that it has gathered

We are at an exciting point in the development of textbook and library markets, as technology is opening up opportunities. We are seeing a scholarly community becoming more mobile; people want to be able to access information at the click of a button in the format and on the device that they are using at that moment.

At SAGE, we continue to experiment with adding more resources and increased activity to support traditional reading, be this through our enhanced mobile optimised platforms, our journal mobile apps, interactive e-books or the development of mobile and video learning resources to support traditional learning.

Faculty want to be able to offer students resources that recognise them at different levels. Students also want to go at a pace that works for their learning level or style. As a result we are seeing a growth in interest in adaptive learning tools, particularly in the US.

From our focus groups, we have found that the way in which researchers are accessing material, as well as the preferred format, is dependent on the type of reading that they wish to do.

Researchers tend to use mobile devices for initial searches, then saving data/ references to read or refer back to at a later date. Deeper reading is still primarily conducted at home and in print. Meanwhile there is research ongoing that indicates that students feel they have better recall if reading on print rather than electronically, and students are still showing a preference for print with textbooks.

As the digital landscape evolves, we need to understand the effects on reading habits and then selecting and understanding which materials are best delivered and work in this interactive environment, and in which format. Increasingly, SAGE is moving beyond digital formats for learning materials that are rigidly tied to original print versions, and developing online course content (e.g. interactive learning objects) and other digital-first products such as video, to support faculty in encouraging students to engage with course material.

The primary use case for mobile activity on our platforms is search-locate-share-save. We have also found that the best mobile site features are those that keep users up-to-date, for example with journals, the ‘Table of Contents’ – people want to locate the information they need quickly, keep up to date, and then archive this for later reading. Users accessing our journal platform from mobile sites are more likely to land on our journal platform at the article level following a free web search, than users accessing from non-mobile devices.

We know from other sources that the average length of a session for students reading textbooks online is to 20 minutes; we also know that usage changes during the day – mobile devices are used most in the mornings, and Windows/Mac in the evenings, again suggesting students on the move during the day will use mobile but revert to computers in the evening.

SAGE’s companion website usage stats have shown the most used resources by students are eFlashcards, chapter quizzes, and videos, with full chapters preferred in print. Since 2011, SAGE’s journal collection has been available in a mobile-optimised format. Readers visiting one of 700+ SAGE journals using their iPhones, Androids or other smartphones are redirected to the mobile version. Subscribers can view content in a format designed for the smaller screen size and functionality of their mobile device.

On the library side, we work with a range of aggregators to ensure that we have our content with the major providers to the libraries (e.g. Dawsonera, Myilibrary, Ebrary,etc.). With each of our library partners we have ensured that distance learners have access to content and that mobile download is accessible.

We produce EPUB3 as standard now and have developed interactive digital textbooks in conjunction with VitalSource to provide a fully immersive experience for students. Assessment is key to improved learning outcomes and we seek to provide highly instructive, fully mobile compatible content to our customers.

Given the preference that we’re still seeing for print textbooks, and the way in which students are accessing resources, we’re keen to keep supporting our print programme, and offering additional resources online (e.g. Mobile Study) without jettisoning print. However, we ensure students and lecturers have the choice, and have added resources and processes to enable this, as we did with journals.

Digital developments and enhancements are already and will continue to be very much a part of the research landscape. We need to ensure that we continue to stay ahead of this curve supporting the scholarly community, not just with access and an enhanced user experience, but also helping with discoverability and providing them with the tools to support the changing way in which research will be conducted.

A key part of this is also the collaborative approach between publishers, librarians and their vendor partners to increase the discoverability and usage of scholarly communication. Such conversations have to consider discovery tools, web discovery services, publishing tutorials and library research/research pages as well as the increasing presence of social media and trend of ‘googling’ everything. This applies to mobile as much as general web discovery. One of the biggest challenges in this space remains the lack of standard formation for app/product development. With mobile sites, the content is device agnostic, but for each type of device, a different app needs to be developed. The increased growth in tablet use also means that publishers continue to face the challenge of developing further ranges of apps and product resources to support these users.

The slow adoption of a single, device-agnostic e-book format has created issues and costs. The ‘walled-garden’ approach of some vendors does mean that we have to produce content in different formats. This is time-consuming and costly. Embracing a single format across the industry would allow more time to be devoted to improving content.

SAGE are keen to ensure that we disseminate our content to all our customers whatever their needs and we have also partnered with Load2Learn (part of the RNIB) to provide all of our digital content to the visually impaired and print disabled. This project mirrors our similar ventures with BookShare and AccessText. Our digital content is built with accessibility in mind and is unencumbered by DRM so that text-to-speech functionality is unimpaired.