As the final entry in the series about consumption contexts, I want to talk about product life cycles. Most people will be at least vaguely familiar, if not outright educated, with this concept. The product life cycle is an illustration of the stages that occur when a new product comes to market. Typically you look at sales over time, with the emergence of different stages. At the library we won't necessarily consider "sales" but we may think of patrons, transactions, overall use, etc.
In the instance of a for-profit corporation, you would typically see competitors arise during the growth stage. While a service or product is in the introduction stage, typically the producer would have a monopoly on the offering. Looking at this chart, imagine a very standard library service. An obvious standard service would be our collections. Whether you regard "sales" as check outs, collection size, or even maturity of the collection - we do not have to think about it as a literal transaction. However, this product life cycle does accurately represent what librarians experience with our collections. As they grow, they reach a certain critical mass. As we enter the digital age, our physical collection may actually be shrinking, becoming a physical manifestation of the decline stage. We also may see lowering circ counts, lower gate count, or whatever benchmark indicator we have selected as our metric.
In order to maintain relevancy, many corporations try some of the opportunities I wrote about in the previous entries. Libraries may try the lateral strategy of increasing services. Either way, the natural product lifecycle will enter a decline stage eventually. I think we are all convinced, and probably rightfully so, that libraries will continue to see some use so long as they are available. However, we may see less enthusiasm for the services, less training in classrooms, or less general knowledge and interest in libraries. Another product lifecycle model shows how to integrate new services to maintain relevancy and engage customers.
In this example, we can hypothetically say the blue curve is our physical collection, the green curve is instruction services, and the yellow curve is online resources. We have to grow each service to its full potential, but realize when it is time to implement a new service to fulfill a new need. We must focus on basic maintenance of the mature services, with an emphasis in growth for the new services. Finally, we must allow old, outdated, or matured services to naturally decline. This may mean a number of things, from abandoning outdated services to reallocating funds to shifting strategy. With collections, for example, perhaps we have lower print budgets in favor of larger online resource budgets. This does not mean the print collection will go away, or that we have to stop offering print, but we can make better use of the funds in a growth area. By completing a marketing audit and analyzing the product lifecycles of your current services you may be able to make some informed decisions about new ways to provide services to patrons.
This post was written by Gabrielle Annala, MLIS of Loyola University Chicago. For more information about Gabrielle, please click the "Contact" page
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