Evolution not revolution

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Olaf Ernst, Springer's president of eProduct management and innovation, talks about some of the new developments in electronic publishing

What is your role at Springer?

I look after all kinds of STM e-business activities, including our e-books, e-journals, databases, archives and electronic platforms. Looking after electronic products together is important because we can get synergies out of different developments and learn, for example, how you organise platforms, get access or build a website and search on it.

We recently launched a new database, SpringerImages, which we are really proud of. This searchable database contains high-quality peer-reviewed images. The images come from across the Springer environment, from our journals and a few other products within Springer, although not from our books yet.

The database is free to search and users can see thumbnails. They can then opt to buy access to the high-resolution images to include in PowerPoint presentations, teaching materials or other non-commercial uses. Our goal is to grow this into the biggest image database and we have got excellent feedback so far.

If you want to find images on a normal platform you have to find an article, then search within that article and then do it again with every other article that might be of interest. This new database brings all the images together. At its launch at the American Library Association Annual Conference in July the database included 1.6 million images and we want to grow this further. We started with our ongoing content but we can do our archive later.

Researchers can drill down to the information they need because all our content is in XML. This also means that indexing is not really a challenge. We did all the metadata for the images and within the images when we put them online, which we couldn’t have done if the papers were all in PDF form. We also work with MarkLogic, which specialises in this kind of searching.

What trends do you see?

The trends don’t really change; we just see the proof of the trends. Things are still moving more online and we can help researchers optimise their time to information. E-books and e-readers are developing rapidly. There is also more text mining of content. The context of articles is being included more, for example offering users other articles that they might be interested in.

Our CEO, Derk Haank, put it nicely at the last UKSG conference: the last 10 years was a revolution; now moving forward it’s more of an evolution.

What are your thoughts on Web 2.0 for research?

The funny thing is that you see a lot of Web 2.0 developments in the social world but there’s not much uptake in the STM world yet. Researchers are really ahead of the curve in being online and they know where to look for high-quality content, so the lack of uptake of Web 2.0 concepts is not for technical reasons. It depends on how engaged people are with this. If you want to post comments online it is always an effort to do so, for example. Social bookmarking is something that people really take up though because they can add the information to their references so it is of immediate value.

We are experimenting with different Web 2.0 ideas and develop things in response to the experiments.

What plans do you have with e-books?

We have made large scale online access to Science Technical and Medical (STM) books the norm in Springer and each of our subject collections has hundreds of titles. The relevant metadata is provided to Google, making our complete portfolio full-text searchable on Google Books.

In June 2008, Springer expanded its MyCopy offering to all Springer eBook Collection customers in the USA and Canada after a successful pilot project with 30 selected libraries and research institutions in North America. MyCopy allows all registered library patrons to order soft-cover copies of more than 11,000 Springer e-book titles that have been purchased by their libraries for their personal use for the unitary price of US$24.95, including shipping and handling. The process is handled by Springer in cooperation with a print-on-demand (POD) vendor, and we expect to expand MyCopy to other parts of the world over the next months.

We will also add more e-books to our platform. We also might consider moving backwards with books and creating an e-book archive although it is not really clear when this might happen. The long-tail effect means that there is a lot of interest in old books.

Interview by Siân Harris