Top findings from the BAD focus groups

The Book Analytics Dashboard (BAD) Project (2022-2025) is focused on creating a sustainable open access (OA) book focused analytics service. During this project, we are scaling up from our prototype dashboard to a fully functioning service. New to BAD? Learn more about the people, background, and work packages in our project overview.

In the first quarter of 2023, we carried out a series of focus groups with publishers to test some ideas and get their feedback to help inform our future decisions.

We really enjoyed meeting the participants and we thank them warmly for their participation. So, what did we learn from our interactions with them? You can jump to the full findings on Zenodo (which includes our methodology and instruments), explore the BAD template dashboard (currently featuring University of Michigan data – thank you U of M!), or continue reading here for a summary.

How will the Book Analytics Dashboard help publishers?

Our participants told us that this data would provide them with a better understanding of the usage of their OA books across different countries, including which titles are most popular, how language and translation affects circulation, and comparing users’ preferences for full books vs chapters. Participants largely agreed that one of the most important aspects of the service is its ability to combine, normalise, deduplicate, and visualise OA data so that it can be quickly used and trusted. 

“Our current articulation of OA is narrative-, not data-driven, so it’s very labour intensive”

Some participants also hoped the data might help inform their publishing decisions; others hoped it would inspire acquiring editors and other decision makers to become more engaged with usage data. We also heard from participants that having tangible dashboards and reports to show people would be very helpful in getting editorial boards, authors, and funders to understand OA impact. Publishers acknowledge that this needs to be done with appropriate context and explanation, but also note that this type of data is increasingly requested by authors and funders.

A key value proposition of BAD is that it allows easy synthesis and consolidation of disparate data sources, which is otherwise a very manual process that is often conducted by publishing staff members.

Features of the Book Analytics Dashboard

Publishers appreciate being able to download visual elements of the dashboard and export data from it. They value the accuracy of the data sources used, allowing them to make comparisons. Participants encouraged us to maximise this by making provenance information available so that users know that we’re providing standardised and good-quality data. 

The focus group participants identified a number of features we can improve or add, and these will be reviewed by the technical team for inclusion in the technical roadmap for years two and three of the project (see the technical roadmap for year one).

Publishers helped us explore which features would be present in different levels of the service, for example a standard dashboard with additional features as a premium offer (such as an API, integrations, or more detailed reports). It would also be possible to include additional ONIX streams (for example, from non-OA titles) as an à la carte option.

Financial sustainability

Though few participants are immediately ready to commit financially to the dashboard service, they widely acknowledged that such data and dashboards will be essential for their operations in the not-too-distant future. We discussed a number of options for pricing, and there was agreement that there should not be a flat fee for all publishers.

Community governance

We asked publishers what they wanted and expected in terms of community governance qualities or characteristics for BAD. To our surprise, many participants were reluctant to commit to being involved due to bandwidth constraints. There was a strong preference for consultative rather than democratic engagement with BAD governance. This is quite a contrast with other open scholarly infrastructures where community participation in governance of the organisation is considered a key value. Perhaps this is because people realise how much time and effort it requires to stay abreast of developments and think deeply about these aspects of work; it also might stem from cultural differences in scholarly publishers (as compared with librarians). It could also be because of the participants’ high levels of trust in OAPEN, the suggested long-term home for BAD.

Publishers welcomed being part of a community around OA books usage data as long as that did not demand they undertake governance responsibilities. They appreciate periodic stakeholder reports and annual meetings, as well as opportunities to contribute to a technical roadmap – though participants do not think that they should make decisions about technology.

“We can make suggestions, but should not fly the plane.”

As we expected, participants told us that it was important that the OA books data is provided in trust, not sold on, and is only used appropriately. Transparency is key; as is the not-for-profit status of this service.

Many publishers were happy with the idea of BAD becoming an OAPEN service under OAPEN’s existing governance. 

Next steps

The focus groups findings have given us plenty to think about! Our technical team are currently considering all the feature requests and tweaks that we discovered, and our findings will also directly feed into our work around sustainability and modelling different pricing possibilities.

Laura J. Wilkinson & Katherine Skinner

Learn more about the BAD project

Laura J. Wilkinson

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8922-7839

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