What is Content Syndication?
Over the past year, there have been some important developments among the major publishers as they move towards a new model for distributing their content. The principal driver has been the fear of “leakage,” which is to say usage for which publishers cannot provide COUNTER statistics and therefore are unable to monetize. There is real fear of losing library sales altogether due to leakage to SciHub, ResearchGate, and similar sites, which in one view is what has happened, at least for now, for Elsevier content with Germany and California. The new model that is emerging to control leakage is one that I have called syndication.
Syndication models enable publishers to put their content in the discovery and access pathways that users have adopted. Users who are entitled to access the materials, based on an existing license typically between the publisher and the library, would be able to do so on almost any site. In turn, usage data would be shared back to the publisher, which can use those data in representing their value to libraries and authors. I have written about some of the key elements of syndication, as well as the challenges impeding its widespread adoption.
Syndication will enable the continued development of a series of cross-publisher platform hubs that, depending on levels of publisher participation, may come to contain substantially all the published content on a single “legitimate” site. I have called these cross-publisher hubs supercontinents, trying to distinguish them from today’s array of individual publisher sites which introduce barriers across the user journey. Today, news broke that Springer Nature is beginning to pilot content syndication to ResearchGate, which therefore might come to emerge as a legitimate supercontinent.
The business model for syndication is quite different from that of aggregation, which is likely more familiar to many readers. In aggregation models, the aggregator serves as an intermediary business, paying a licensing fee to the publisher and in turn setting prices and selling its aggregation to libraries. In syndication, the business relationship for content licensing remains direct between the publisher and the library, preserved through a system for sharing entitlement information. The business model for the hosting and access services provided by the syndicated supercontinents can rely on anything from library licenses to advertising to publisher fees.
We’ll be continuing to track closely the development of content syndication. It’s a model that is potentially transformative for publishers, libraries, and users alike.