Transcript: What Subscription Data Can Teach Publishers

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Interview with Susan Wolper, CEO, Wolper Information Services

For podcast release October 14, 2013

KENNEALLY: In a world of content and data overload, we could all use some advice in information management. Corporate and academic librarians feel the pain and the burden most. The content challenges they face daily range from difficult decisions on acquisition to the dilemma of delivery – ensuring that content users get what they need when they need it and at a price they can afford.

Welcome to Copyright Clearance Center’s podcast series. My name is Christopher Kenneally. For an expert look at the content industry from the consumption side, we turn to Susan Wolper, President and CEO of Wolper Information Services, a leading provider of information management solutions for serials, books and much more. Welcome to Beyond the Book, Susan.

WOLPER: Thank you, Chris. Thanks for having me on.

KENNEALLY: Well, we’re delighted to have you join us here today and, in particular, we’ll tell people that Susan Wolper is going to help us understand that the measurement of content usage should be qualitative as much as quantitative. And Sue has led Wolper Information Services, as President and CEO, for more than two decades.

She was named a 2013 national champion of diversity by DiversityBusiness.com. And she was a nominee for the 2012 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award. She’s a member of the Special Libraries Association, American Library Association, Medical Library Association and serves on the executive committee of the International Association of Subscription Agents and Intermediaries.

So with that by way of background, Sue, tell an audience that’s not familiar what subscription management is about.

WOLPER: Chris, what subscription management really boils down to is services – they’re services provided to organizations such as corporations and academic libraries, which provide tools to acquire, assess and manage the paid content that they bring into their organizations.

KENNEALLY: OK. So how do they do that? What kinds of tools are you using and what kind of assessments are you making then?

WOLPER: Well, the organizations can use subscription management tools themselves. Many of them are online tools that help them manage their subscriptions. But there are also a number of additional products and services that are available through intermediaries.

And one of the values that subscription management services can bring to the table is to help them assess and evaluate how best to utilize those tools and how to best make sense out of the information and technology overload that they’re faced with on a daily basis.

KENNEALLY: Right. I mean that’s really the issue for everybody right now – is that whole overload question. How do you sort that out? How do people begin to make choices and make evaluations about what’s important in the content they’re acquiring?

WOLPER: Well, certainly there are many resources to try to evaluate many of the products and services out there. One of the primary functions, though, of a subscription management company is to help that librarian or procurement person assess the value of the different tools that are available out in the marketplace.

So those tools can range from usage statistics to help them measure and evaluate the products that they’re currently using to assisting them with choosing tools that will help them discover and utilize the content that they’re investing in. There are a number of ways that subscription management services bring those tools to the table.

KENNEALLY: Right. Discoverability is a word we hear a lot about on the publishing side of things. And so it’s interesting to hear it thought about from the consumption side. People are acquiring all this content, but they need to know what they’ve got. They need to get to it and get it in the hands of the people that need it.

WOLPER: Well, absolutely, that’s true. So the use of content and the management of content really is many-fold. So the first important way to manage the content is to just be aware of what the organization is actually acquiring and in what formats.

So, for example, traditionally, formats were print and perhaps databases. Now it’s expanded to include not only print, but electronic, digital site licenses, packages, e-books, aggregated databases and so on. So there’s a multitude of varieties of ways that the content can be delivered. And that’s one way that a subscription management service can bring value to the customer.

KENNEALLY: Right. And of course content, at one point, as you say, meant print, and print would mean text with occasional illustrations. Today the kind of content that they’re managing is going to include much more than print, I would imagine.

WOLPER: Absolutely. It includes really a variety of ways that content is delivered – and not only delivered to the organization itself, but also can be accessed. So, for example, nowadays, content can be accessed via a tablet or other mobile device. Within a library, it can be accessible to patrons outside of a library. There a multitude of ways that content can be delivered to the end user.

KENNEALLY: Well, we’re talking with Sue Wolper about the evolving landscape in subscription management. And you’ve been talking about some of the tools and the ways that people can apply these tools.

Describe for us the world as it might have been some years ago and what really has changed. Obviously the tools have changed and the technology has changed. You were just talking about the devices. But is there a mindset change in the way that librarians are approaching these challenges?

WOLPER: Well, the mindset certainly has had to expand to try to understand all the availability of content and how it can best be utilized by the end user. I think that the librarian and the procurement people – all the people involved with content management – have a huge challenge to be able to assess the value of the content that they’re acquiring, how best to make it available to the end user and how to manage that.

And that’s where the subscription management company can provide their services to help with the acquisition, the assessment, bringing the appropriate tools to them to help them evaluate and measure usability and also to help them distribute that information and to make it findable to the end user.

I think also that, especially on the corporate side, there’s additional technology within the enterprise itself that the subscription management service assists with. And that is the integration with e-procurement and accounting and enterprise management tools that they have within their own organizations to help them manage this content as well.

KENNEALLY: Well, we’re talking about managing content, but obviously they have to manage budgets as well, and that plays a part, I would think.

WOLPER: Absolutely. So the services that the subscription management company offers is not only limited to content, but it’s also very heavily intensive in helping them manage the actual licenses and content itself – subscriptions, renewals, claiming, all of the other attributes that relate to the acquisition of content.

KENNEALLY: Right. And these tools are of use to those librarians, but they also provide benefit to the other side of this equation, which is on the publishing side and the partners that publishers have in providing technology. So explain that – help us understand that piece of the puzzle.

WOLPER: Absolutely. So the value that the subscription management company can bring to the publishers is really from several different perspectives. One is we’re delivering the content as effectively as can possibly be done and expeditiously. We also can provide feedback to the publishers as to what the customers are reporting with respect to the products and services that the publishers are offering. And we can also provide data related to sales that publishers may not have access to.

KENNEALLY: Right. And I understand that, from the perspective of subscription management, to convey that information to publishers is to help them understand their customers better and really to urge them – gently and with some data – to listen to what the customers are telling them.

WOLPER: Absolutely. So the bottom line is really for all of the intermediaries and publishers to be able to work together to bring the greatest value to the end user and the acquirer of the content. And the subscription management company, by being the intermediary between the end user and the publisher, really has a view of the use of the content that, in some respects, the publisher doesn’t have access to.

KENNEALLY: So we can certainly immediately recognize the value of all this on the consumption side. But it’s increasingly appreciated on the creation side.

WOLPER: I think that’s very true. And it extends not only to the publishers, but also to other technology intermediaries. Because of the intensive information and technology overload in the industry in general, one of the greatest values that I think the subscription management vendor can bring to the customer is to help them sort through and best understand and analyze what their needs are and how they can match those needs with the products that are out in the marketplace.

So the value is not only to the customer, but also to the technology intermediary, because there’s greater exposure, there’s greater description of and explanation of what those products do, and so it really helps both sides of the equation.

KENNEALLY: Well, it’s remarkable, isn’t it, just how much the publishing business is a technology business in 2013?

WOLPER: I think it’s completely a technology business. There is certainly the one piece that I think has still remained relevant, and that is with respect to customer service. And although all of the technology in the world provides the content in usable ways, the bottom line is – is that there still needs to be a human piece to the equation, and customer service and consultative selling and really reaching out and understanding what the users need is a very, very important part.

KENNEALLY: Well, Sue Wolper, CEO and President of Wolper Information Services, a leading provider of information management solutions – thanks so much for joining us on Beyond the Book.

WOLPER: Thank you for having me, Chris.

KENNEALLY: Beyond the Book is produced by Copyright Clearance Center, a global rights broker for the world’s most sought-after materials, including millions of books and e-books, journals, newspapers, magazines and blogs, as well as images, movies and television shows. You can follow us on Twitter, find Beyond the Book on Facebook and subscribe to the free podcast series on iTunes or at the Copyright Clearance Center website – copyright.com. Just click on Beyond the Book.

Our engineer is Jeremy Brieske of Burst Marketing. My name is Christopher Kenneally. For all of us at Copyright Clearance Center, thanks for listening to Beyond the Book.