The fulfillment function (also referred to as circulation, distribution, and/or subscription management) is the backbone of the publishing operation, connecting customers to content. The fulfillment operation is responsible for invoicing customers, generating renewals, receiving and tracking payments, and delivering the goods purchased. This includes physical distribution involving printers, warehousing, and postal regulations as well as electronic delivery with its own issues of technical support, user authentication, and access rights.
Regardless of whether the “deliverable” is print or electronic, the fulfillment team needs to work closely with subscription agents, online hosting services, printers, the marketing and editorial departments, and the company’s own accounting systems. As with the discussion of marketing in the previous chapter, we will discuss “fulfillment” in the broadest sense, regardless of which department is responsible for the various activities that constitute it.
Online publishing has turned fulfillment into a 24/7 operation, very different from what was necessary to distribute print journals. With print, institutional “subscribers” were essentially shipping addresses, often with multiple mail drops within a single institution – but seldom related to each other in the publisher’s database at an institutional or “customer” level. Indeed, many of the publisher’s institutional customers were completely unknown to the publisher, buried in bulk-copy orders from subscription agents, who then redelivered the copy to the final recipient. Publishers and agents sometimes argued over who “owned” such customers, and agents were not always willing to identify them to the publisher.
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