RedLink Dashboard: Interview with Kent Anderson

Ingenta Interview with Kent Anderson, CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network

Kent Anderson is well-known to many in the scholarly and academic publishing world, perhaps mainly for founding the Scholarly Kitchen blog and writing there since 2008. He has also worked in prominent positions at many prestigious publications, including Science and the New England Journal of Medicine, and has served as President of the Society for Scholarly Publishing. Now, as CEO of a startup, we at Ingenta wanted to understand what drew Anderson to this role, what RedLink does, and how a startup differs.

Q:           So, how did you find your way into the role of CEO at RedLink?

A:            I’d been working at AAAS for just over a year when, facing another winter commuting between my Boston-area home and DC, it occurred to me that maybe there was a better way. So I left AAAS and started consulting. The founder of Atypon happened to be looking for someone to head RedLink, a company he’d been cultivating inside Atypon. He wanted someone to take the new organization into the marketplace. Since a number of the ideas informing RedLink had been inspired by some of the things I’d done at NEJM and in other places, he thought I’d be a good fit. I’ve always enjoyed product development and technology initiatives, so RedLink’s startup nature seemed compatible, as did the visual design aspect, since I’d been a graphic designer in a previous career branch. Finally, it seemed like a long overdue project to run a startup, so I happily signed on.

Q:           What are some of the key ideas informing RedLink? What’s its purpose?

A:            That was one of the first things to tackle – getting the brand to speak clearly about purpose and scope. I wanted something simple and broad, so came up with the tagline, “See What You’re Missing.” RedLink is really about purpose-built solutions that leverage data to help librarians and publishers make more informed decisions. There are data everywhere, but making sense of them – interpreting them, accessing them in a useful manner, and having them normalized from many sources – is a lot of work and effort. We strive to solve those core problems so that using and understanding data becomes a normal activity, and part of the daily workflow.

Q:           You mentioned product development as a key appeal for the role. What kinds of products does RedLink have?

A:            We’re in an interesting position, since we don’t sell content or offer a publishing platform. That makes us independent, so we can position ourselves differently in the market. One goal is to level the playing field, so we have complementary products when possible. For instance, our Library Dashboard and Publisher Dashboard seek to give librarians and publishers equivalent insights into their programs, so they can make better decisions. They make different decisions, and we reflect that in the interfaces. Libraries and publishers also want to ensure that students, researchers, and readers have access to everything that’s been licensed, but there’s a lot of friction around IP and access credential changes, so we’ve created a free service called RedLink Network, which allows libraries to broadcast and monitor changes to their IP addresses and access credentials, and then for publishers to review, approve, and integrate these much more quickly than any manual system would allow.

Q:           And RedLink Network is free? How can you do that?

A:            RedLink Network is free. We’ve even set up a public benefit company subsidiary so that we can manage it in that manner. We have a great Advisory Council with librarians, publishers, and technologists. We can make it free because we have a more fulsome business that works better if RedLink Network is well-used. We also feel that this is a bit of infrastructure nobody should have to pay for, and that a community-driven approach can work well. It supports hierarchies, branding, Shibboleth, link resolvers, consortia, and so forth. It’s really elegant software, but now that it’s done, people should feel free to utilize it.

Q:           Speaking of your other products, Ingenta is now partnering with RedLink to provide RedLink’s Library Dashboard to Ingenta’s new library members. Can you talk about this?

A:            I’d be happy to explain. RedLink’s Dashboards – both Library and Publisher – are geared to provide cost-effective and reality-based analytics solutions to librarians and publishers. We’ve disposed with a lot of the bells and whistles of bigger systems, and added practical tools in a friendly interface. Librarians can view usage and cost-per-use data by publisher, journal, ebook, or bundle, and drill down to specific year-over-year reports, or look across their entire collection to view changes by discipline. Because the interface is very intuitive, there’s hardly any learning curve. And because it’s web-based, there’s nothing to install. As an independent company, we don’t also sell content, so we focus purely on presenting usage and cost-per-use data in a straightforward manner. I think our independence, ease-of-use, and price points all will prove attractive to Ingenta’s library members, who will also receive a 10% discount by joining Ingenta.

Q:           You’ve worked with major journals before, some from large, legacy non-profit publishers and societies. What’s different about running a data company, and a startup at that?

A:            There’s a lot of flexibility in the startup world, and a lot of immediate demands, as well. Decision cycles at publishers can be long, while in a startup, they can’t be. I’m fine with that, actually. And you have to be able to take the bad with the good. My CTO and I play a game we call, “good news, bad news.” Every day, we wrap up and face the good news and the bad news. We don’t celebrate the good news too much, and we find solutions for any potential setbacks. But it’s a frequent game, and playing it keeps us moving forward. So, I guess there’s also no room for hiding from the facts, which I also like. And we’re a small team, so team chemistry is critical. Finally, because it’s truly “all business” – without the softer concerns of membership or leadership or honorary aspects of a society publishers – the focus is sharper.

Q:           One of the phrases I see a lot in RedLink’s materials is “the network effect.” Why is that?

A:            Well, we believe that remains a critical aspect of efficiency and growth for digital publishers, and a great source of information for librarians. RedLink Network draws on this most directly, but our other products do, as well. We have a new product called SiteLeads™ that lets publishers identify sources of content requests they can’t see otherwise. We leverage our knowledge of the Internet to accomplish this. That’s another part of the network effect. Then, there is just the idea of collaboration, which, at its best, the Internet enables. We think by connecting librarians and publishers via RedLink Network and common data, more collaboration can occur, because both have a common customer – the user.

Q:           What’s in the future for RedLink?

A:            We have a robust product roadmap over the next 12-18 months, and it’s being informed by some really interesting core technologies that we hope will make RedLink extensible in ways that really helps to modernize the scholarly infrastructure without disrupting the quality aspects of it. Some new entrants see “disruption” as a core value. We see “modernization” as a core value. There are essential traits and qualities scholarly and scientific publishers shouldn’t lose. These can be upgraded with “the network effect” and given new life and longevity, enhancing their value without disruption.


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