Using Search Engines to Find New Customers at the American Institute of Physics

Scientific Publisher Combines Findability with 'Buy by the Piece' to Grow Its Customer Base

March 4, 2004

The American Institute of Physics, a scholarly publisher, reached a huge new market by creating a new platform for sometime and one-time buyers. The new platform leverages AIP’s taxonomy and highly structured product data and makes it very easy to buy an article. And by focusing on search engine compatibility within the site, AIP provides a seamless experience for seekers who start their journey at an Internet search engine.


What is the most effective way to connect seekers with the products and information you offer and turn those seekers into buyers? At the American Institute of Physics (AIP), the answer is Google. AIP is a publisher of scientific journals. Its chief customer set is physicists in research and education who subscribe (or use libraries that subscribe) to any of AIP’s ten journals. AIP also hosts 114 publications on its ScitationSM site platform, serving 18 publishers.

AIP wanted to reach out to a new market: people who have a narrow or passing interest in physics and scientific research. This new market demanded a casual rather than a subscriber or member relationship, which meant that AIP could not expect this new customer segment to know about AIP or to learn how to navigate the AIP site.

AIP’s approach to this market was to create PhysicsFinderTM, a new platform that supports single article sales and a new approach to findability. By focusing first on search engine indexing, AIP ensured that prospective customers would be able to find the articles they needed and could then transfer seamlessly from sites such as Google to AIP. Findability within its site leverages AIP’s taxonomy and highly structured product data, enabling navigation by author, citation, title, keyword, and taxonomy.

Since establishing the new PhysicsFinder platform midway through 2003, AIP has achieved nearly a 200 percent increase in average monthly article sales. In February 2004, PhysicsFinder logged 679 visits per hour and effectively increased the total use of AIP journals by 43 percent, as measured in page views.


The American Institute of Physics (AIP) is a not-for-profit corporation chartered in New York State in 1931. Its purpose is to promote the advancement and diffusion of the knowledge of physics and its application to human welfare. The Institute delivers programs, services, and publications to Member Societies and their associates, individual scientists, educators, students, R&D leaders, other scientific publishers, and the general public. Through these activities, AIP also serves the astronomy community, as well as other related fields in science and technology.

AIP publishes ten journals of its own, which currently have more than 250,000 articles online. These articles are peer reviewed, and being published in an AIP journal is a prestigious event for a scientist. The vibrant AIP community is a primary place to go to learn the latest research discoveries.

AIP also leverages its investment in publishing technology to provide cutting-edge services to other publishers. These services include online editorial peer review, complete journal production, as well as circulation and fulfillment services for subscriptions and scientific society memberships. AIP’s online journal platform, Scitation, hosts 114 publications from 18 publishers, with more than 100,000 active subscriptions.

As a publisher, AIP is coping with a primary market that is effectively shrinking. An essentially fixed number of traditional subscribers are cutting costs and trimming subscriptions in the face of budget pressures and ever-rising prices from producers.

There is a potentially large population that, while not exclusively scientists, has a need for the latest research in a narrow area. AIP thinks of this market as “hidden physicists,” a cohort that includes specialists at legal firms, engineers, and product developers in a range of industries. These people are unlikely to buy a subscription from AIP, but they occasionally need research in one of AIP’s core fields. AIP journal subscribers know what research is available and how to find it. Everyone else has a bigger hurdle: Where can the latest research in physics be found, and how do I get my hands on it?

AIP’s answer to both problems is to offer single reports and make them really easy to find and buy. This will attract new customers, raise brand awareness, potentially increase demand for subscriptions and AIP Society memberships, and bring in new revenues. In 2002, AIP confronted new business pressures with an aggressive strategy: Create a new online platform to attract potential buyers of individual research articles. At the same time, AIP also sought to explore new approaches for search engine indexing and content navigation.

In fulfilling these goals, AIP also positions itself to offer researchers an attractive alternative to the more traditional suppliers of “unbundled” journal research: document delivery companies and libraries. AIP’s appeal to customers is based on its ability to add convenience, lower prices, and unique value to its published research.


New Customer Scenarios, New Site

Investing in search requires a plausible business model (and a fund of optimism). Tim Ingoldsby, AIP’s director of business development, and Wayne Manos, ecommerce program director, were convinced that sales of individual articles to new customers would provide a significant revenue stream for AIP and attract enough new customers to have an impact on AIP’s reach and recognition—if only new customers could be connected with AIP’s articles.

The potential new customers for individual articles were not subscribers, nor were they habituated to the AIP site. And they were seeking not general knowledge but information to solve very specific problems. Whereas AIP subscribers are keeping abreast of their specialty, these new customers have Customer Scenarios such as the following:

• I am an engineer designing a microprobe sensing device and I need to know the best methods for tip fabrication.

• I am a biophysicist studying protein folding and I need to understand the forces involved.

• I am a patent lawyer and I need to know all the current research in blue light-emitting diodes.

Ingoldsby, Manos, and AIP’s ecommerce development team saw that it made sense to build a site specifically designed for the scenarios of “non-” and “never-” subscribers, using the major search engines preferred by this target customer set. This site would make it very easy for users to locate research on a site such as Google and then to buy articles from AIP. Hence, AIP’s PhysicsFinder Web site and its content, author, and topic Web pages were born.

Making Physics Findable

“If you build it, they will come” only works for fictional baseball fields. For online sales at AIP, the rallying cry became, “If they find it, they will buy.” But making products findable requires a confluence of good product information, good practices, and good search technology...

1) For more information about Digital Object Identifiers, consult, and read our analysis in “ Protecting Your Digital Assets: Technical Journal Publishers Lead the Way Using Digital Object Identifiers ,” February 13, 2003.

2) For more information about the CrossRef initiative, which facilitates forward and backward citations, please see “ The Network Effect: Weaving the Semantic Web of Information ,” February 27, 2003.

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