I once heard a C level executive at an international publishing company describe the platform hosting the online version of over 1800 of his journals as simply a fulfillment system. In fact it is but in the online world the publishers role is much larger. Librarians, publishers, and Google all claim as part of their mission organizing information.
When an end user goes to a university library and uses a z39.50 enable federated search gateway to find content the holdings knowledge base will direct them to the appropriate copy on some platform where the IP address is recognized as coming from a university and the user is given access to the content they have found. and in that content there are scholarly citations to other content and the platform builds an OpenURL link back to the Library's link resolver which again looks in the holdings database and directs the user to the appropriate copy of the second conten item.
I have spent a good part of the last ten years getting this system to the point where it sometimes works. But How many users really begin at the OPAC? And even if they do how do social bookmarking and tagging sites fit into the appropriate copy discussion? For journals it is rare for the same content to be hosted in more that three or four systems. and the vast majority of access controlled journals are hosted in fewer. And then there are books. As book content increasingly goes online and records for those same books are distributed in ONIX or Marc21 to hundreds of websites how is the appropriate copy issue ever to be addressed.
The answer is publishers. Publishers are not irrelevant. They have new and very important roles to play in the organization promotion and distribution of content. We have special standing with at least Google and microsoft and their respective academic and books sub-platforms. because as publishers we have engaged in special arrangements though cloaking and CrossRef and distribution of full text books to these entities. And are thus able to get first among equals treatment from these search engines.
These links come to the publisher controlled version of the landing page as do links in the references sections of other publishers articles through CrossRef. One interpretation is that the end user is at least as likely to come to the publishers page first as they are to go to the librarian hosted page. But the librarian is the customer and the publisher wants usage Final Report on the Investigation into the Feasibility of Developing and Implementing Journal Usage Factors. The publisher should recognize this and provide an OpenURL link back to the link resolver. And to do this the publisher will have to put access authentication on their catalog. But it would be silly to send then to the OPAC only to have the use sent right back to the publisher site to get the content so the catalog also needs an entitlements system.
We have a lot of work to do to get the knowledge bases and COUNTER reports for books in place but the Google mediated world makes the role of the publisher in provisioning content to a library and its patrons is as important as ever.