|Volume 17, Number 4 • April 2000|
Report from the Field •
2000 NFAIS Meeting: The Battle for the Desktop
Conference featured three excellent keynotes
by Donald T. Hawkins
Also during the meeting, two Honorary Fellows were inducted into NFAIS: Toni Carbo, dean of the library school at the University of Pittsburgh and former executive director of NFAIS, and Miriam Chall, former executive director of Sociological Abstracts.
Apart from the keynotes, the meeting featured sessions devoted to the future of scholarly publishing, government information initiatives, new methods of information dissemination, secondary publishing, licensing, and new technologies. Two sessions were especially noteworthy: one on mergers and acquisitions, in which participants in recent industry mergers (and also one in which the decision was made not to merge) shared their experiences, and the final one, in which representatives from the “kingpins”—longtime information industry leaders such as the Dialog Corp., SilverPlatter Information, and Ovid Technologies—discussed their views of the evolving marketplace.
Because of space limitations, only a few of the presentations can be
summarized here; most of them will be available shortly on the NFAIS Web
The opening keynote was by Martin Kahn, managing director of Cadence Information Associates, a venture capital and investment-advisory firm. He is well known to many information professionals from his former executive roles at Ovid Technologies and one of its predecessors, BRS Information Services. He recounted some of his experiences while employed at a print publisher, W.B. Saunders, and how its unswerving devotion to print caused it to miss the impact of the online information industry (an experience not unique to Saunders). Because of attitudes like this, today’s information industry is not on the cutting edge of the new economy, and it is not an agent for change; that role has been assumed by newcomers like Yahoo!.
Kahn’s involvement with the venture capital business has caused him to look at the world in a different and more structured way. It is important to recognize that wealth no longer flows from optimization but from innovation, and it is important to abandon the known and move into unknown areas because cycles are occurring faster than ever. We in the information industry have devoted ourselves to the production of accurate, correct information, but we cannot do this anymore in isolation from the networked economy—we must embrace change. Kahn presented 12 rules that are governing the new economy:
The final keynote was given by Patricia Seybold, founder of the Seybold Group and author of a new book, Customers.com, for which she studied 40 companies and illustrated the business principles that are working for them through a series of case studies (further details about the book can be found on the Web site at http://www.customers.com). In her keynote address, she discussed some of those principles. No successful business today focuses exclusively on the Web; buying behavior and marketing must be tracked. The challenge is to integrate customer stimulation points and streamline cost scenarios, which is a major transformation in how business is conducted.
So, for example, the secondary publishing industry is being transformed.
Primary publishers are taking more responsibility for marketing online
content, and customers are increasingly expecting to receive information
free of charge. The value in the new economy is customers; we must know
who they are and what tasks they do, and interact with them frequently
to establish a relationship. The customer’s scarcest resource is time,
not money, so convenience is a major selling point.
Many of the presentations stressed the need to focus on customers and develop relationships with them. If information companies do not stop and listen to their customers, they will not succeed. New business models, including giving content away, are forcing major changes on the publishing industry. End-users are demanding more perceived value for their money.
Karen Hunter of Elsevier Science described the viewpoint of a primary publisher in today’s market. Competition to get on the desktop is becoming more intense than ever, and publishers are becoming indistinguishable because they are finding that they need to link to each other. Many new pricing options are coming, and there is a move to depart from added-value pricing. Can we still add value while not raising prices—or even lowering them? Most publishers are not Internet companies, and they are still trying to understand how the Web fits into their business models.
Simon Inger, managing director of Catchword, Ltd., addressed the three components of access to information: hosting, access control, and indexing and referencing. He listed which companies have the ability to function in each of these areas and which are the dominant ones. Publishers and hosting service providers dominate hosting; nobody dominates access control (because it is done only through necessity); and new gateways (i.e., portals) dominate indexing and referencing. The conclusions to be drawn from this model are the following:
Bette Brunelle of Ovid Technologies offered some excellent advice for those who want to learn how the world perceives the information industry: attend a conference outside the industry! When she did, she found that popular topics included the revolution in communications, the end of the “PC era,” and broadband and wireless communications. In contrast to the Northern Light viewpoint, she found that many people feel content should be free. They view information not in terms of publications but as a service.
Dennis Auld, CEO of Database Access Group, followed up his highly acclaimed talk at the 1999 NFAIS meeting and returned to give an updated view of the secondary publishing industry. He mentioned the following current trends:
NFAIS conferences are well worth attending. They can be depended upon
to provide a stimulating and challenging in-depth look at our industry,
and the 2000 meeting was no exception. The dates and location of the 2001
conference will be announced shortly on the NFAIS Web site.
Donald T. Hawkins is editor in chief of Information Today, Inc.’s
Information Science Abstracts and Fulltext Sources Online.
He is also editor of the ASIDIC Newsletter. His e-mail address is
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