The latest land grab in the LIS world: Citation managers

Apr 10 2013 Published by under information policy, publishing

The information industry (or whatever) seems to go through wave after wave of big land grabs with mergers and acquisitions and then series of product launches. The current one is for citation managers. You might be wondering why now? What's going on? I have some thoughts (spurred along in part by discussions in the Library Society of the World area on FriendFeed).

Citation managers have been around since at least the 1980s if not before. They're really a no-brainer for people who need to write about their research (attributing ideas gotten elsewhere) and it always surprises me that not every scholar has one set up. They're simply a database that's smart about citations/references/bibliographies. All viable ones right now take imports from research databases, the web, and digital libraries; let you search; and let you reuse information by inserting citations into documents and formatting them in your preferred format. In the past 5-10 years, newer ones are web-based or at least back-up/sync over the web, and offer some social or collaboration features.

The web-based citation managers provide a ton of very interesting data to their companies:

  • What are people reading?
  • Where are they searching (where is their data coming from)?
  • How are they reading - what in documents do they find interesting (for services that provide annotation tools)?

You start to see, then, why for-profit publishers would find this very interesting indeed.

At the same time, the publishing market is growing at a set rate, so to increase profits, publishers need to branch out into different services. Hosting pre-prints? Indexing or hosting data (too expensive)? Expanding presence into other parts of the scientist's workflow (ding!)?

By expanding their brand's presence into the writing process and the reading and analyzing the literature process, companies gain a few possible benefits:

  • more places to put ads, better data to sell more relevant (thus acceptable and profitable) ads
  • lower the friction to submit valuable articles into their journals
  • get submissions with better markup so editing and typesetting are easier (may be a pipe dream)
  • more brand loyalty?

What's in it for us? Some of these big corporations actually have very functional UX teams and have the potential of really making some improvements. Better integration of these tools with the research databases and whatnot you already use could be useful.

With respect to Elsevier and Mendeley. Sure Elsevier is evil... BUT... they do actually have some really great products and they do spend a ton of money improving them. Some of their competitors are also evil, but do not put any money back into improving their interfaces.

Your data going to help Elsevier (and a fuss coming from a Microsoft employee - give me a break!)? Yeah, well, I guess I'm of the school that I'm willing to give up some things to get better and more relevant services. To be honest, Elsevier is a known entity and that's slightly more comfortable than a start-up on venture capital looking to turn a buck. Maybe less uncertainty is better? (bring on the pitchforks and torches!)

Other acquisitions: Springer and Papers - I actually missed this news last Fall.

Also: ACS and ChemWorx (not an acquisition but a partnership, I believe).

Of course Thomson Reuters bought ProCite, EndNote, Reference Manager ages ago and now offer EndNote Web to Web of Science subscribers.

Edit 4/30: I forgot to mention that ProQuest bought RefWorks a while ago. I just read today (via) that there's now a free version of EndNote Web. Competition is good!

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