Why EndNote® will never get better.

EndNote® is a very popular bibliographical manager.  I’ve been supporting it for over 10 years, and it was pretty established when I met if first in the mid 2000’s.  It does some pretty cool things, and if you show someone who has to manage references in a document how it can build a bibliography, that’s all the all the sales job you have to do.

However, there are a number of other tools that do the same thing.  EndNote, in NZ at least, has the lion’s share of the market, and it will continue to do so, and the support infrastructure provided by academic libraries means it is probably the only tool of its type anyone has heard of.

And here is the problem.  EndNote’s business model is to sell institutional licences for its product to academic institutions, and they then upgrade the product religiously every September (which is a total PIA for those of us in the Southern Hemisphere).  The upgrades are generally pretty minor.  All the ancillary costs normally provided by a software vendor in terms of support and marketing are done by the institutions – there must be an EndNote class running somewhere in NZ at least a couple of times a week that is not funded in any way by the people making the money out of the product.   There is no training support or materiel.  There is no real pressure for the software to be improved, as the sales are solid and steady.  It would be foolish for them to pour money into development when that could be used as profit.

To the end user, the product is ‘free’, as the institutions bear the cost, so moving to an open source alternative means no advantage to the user, and as most institutions don’t actively support alternatives, then there is a cost in time and anxiety for the person using the odd thing no-one else uses.

Interestingly there is a tight knot group of supporters for bibTeX, a bibliographical manager for LaTeX documents.  As they get support from their peers, and can’t use common tools like MS Word as their disciplines require a much higher level of typographical functionality than Word can provide, that set of costs is mitigated.

Like the Vi/Emacs Macintosh/PC Android/iOS wars, choice of a bibliographical manager is usually tightly defended – if the user has made a choice.   Usually they have not consciously made one and are just using the thing they ended up with, and as long as institutions keep forking out behind the scenses for EndNote licences that will be the default.  And that means it will never get better.

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