A recent ALPSP meeting (February 2015) included a talk about the future of reference publishing.  The speaker, David Hughes, is Editorial Director for Major Works at John Wiley, so he should know.  He stated the major competition to paid-access reference content was Wikipedia. According to him, the way in which Wiley could deal with this competition was to:

  • Ensure the use of reference remains relevant for users
  • Articulate what makes their content better (“be differentiated from freely available content”)
  • Identify pain points for end users, to encourage usage
  • Make sure the reference product fits into the workflow of end users
  • Create bespoke new taxonomies (e.g. for Wiley StatsRef)
  • Create new platform(s) for reference publishing to make it more intuitive to use, more discoverable and to enhance the collections.

Unfortunately, it’s easier to state the intention than to work out just what needs to be done. Exactly what are the pain points for users when they use Wikipedia?  You could argue there are as many pain points when using paid content:

  • It’s a pain to log in
  • You have to go to a separate site for each subject, whereas Wikipedia covers every subject
  • You may not know if Wiley publish a dictionary of X or Y, while you can be certain that Wikipedia will have something on it.

Perhaps more interesting are the bespoke taxonomies and fitting with the workflow of end users. Perhaps these were articulated more at the presentation itself, but each of them would require some elaboration to be understood in detail.