EBSCO Celebrates Its 60th Anniversary
By Paula Hane
If you haven't noticed, EBSCO is no longer just a journal-subscription company.
The venerable firm is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2004 and has experienced
considerable growth and development over the past 10 years. There's been a
lot going on behind the scenes at EBSCO, but many people don't realize what
the company has really been up to. So I talked with EBSCO Information Services'
two top executives to understand the company's directions, strategies, and
plans for 2004 and beyond.
Tim Collins is vice president and division general manager of EBSCO Publishing.
He has been with the company for more than 16 years. EBSCO Publishing, EBSCO
Subscription Services, and EBSCO Book Services form the EBSCO Information Services
F. Dixon Brooke Jr. is vice president and division general manager of EBSCO
Subscription Services. He has been with the company for 31 years and is married
to the daughter of founder Elton B. Stephens.
EBSCO Information Services provides information access and management solutions
through print and electronic journal-subscription services, research database
development and production, online access to databases and e-journals, and
e-commerce book procurement. It serves libraries in the academic, medical,
government, public, and school markets as well as corporations and other organizations.
EBSCO Information Services is a division of EBSCO Industries, Inc., a diverse,
global corporation comprising more than 20 businesses in 19 countries.
Q: Give me an overview of the database offerings on the EBSCOhost platform
and what the division accomplished in 2003.
A: EBSCO currently offers more than 120 databases via EBSCOhost and
has become the largest full-text aggregator. We also license a large number
of leading secondary databases, and that area has grown dramatically in the
last few years, both in sales and the number of databases offered. We've also
expanded beyond journal databases at the request of our customers. We now offer
non-journal content, such as the Magill series of literary products (MagillOnAuthors
and MagillOnLiterature), the Auto Repair Reference Center, and a new product
called Book Index with Reviews. We saw customer needs that we could meet and
worked hard to add the appropriate databases to EBSCOhost. Our goal
is to have robust offerings in all the library markets we serve: school, public,
academic, medical, corporate, and government.
Q: How much are you doing in the corporate library space?
A: It is a fairly new area for us. Because of our focus on our Business Source
Premier product, which is for the academic market, we were able to license
a lot of content pertinent to the corporate market. So we created a corporate
version of that database. It's very appropriate for corporations, and many
of our secondary databases are applicable for the market as well, such as Inspec.
So we've slowly increased our sales power in this sector.
2003 was a year of significant growth overall. We expanded the number of
full-text titles dramatically, we added more than 20 new databases, and our
customer base grew as more libraries chose to access multiple databases from
EBSCOhost. We also made numerous acquisitionsabout a dozen. The
acquisition of the CINAHL Database was the largest.
Q: Looking at the list of recently added databases, it looks like you are
focused on adding in niche areas: textiles, theater, etc. Are you targeting
niche subject areas, are these serendipitous additions, or are you getting
requests for these areas?
A: Some of each. We relied heavily on our academic advisory board to identify
subject areas that they felt were underserved or areas that were appropriate
for EBSCO to offer content. They came up with a list of subjects and databases.
One of the new files we are most pleased with is our GLBT Life product. It
was not the result of an acquisition but a subject area that the advisory board
felt we should focus on. We established an advisory board of leaders in the
field and partnered with a number of leading organizations, such as the ONE
Institute with its large archive of gay literature. We created a subject thesaurus
and then indexed all the material we could get access to. The database now
has more than 100,000 records.
In other areas, we identified a subject and found we could make an acquisition,
for example, in the area of communications and mass media. We acquired two
databases and created a database with those serving as a foundation. In other
cases, we learned of databases that were for sale and felt they would fit.
Q: Do you have a similar advisory board in the public library area?
A: Yes, we have boards in several areas. Most of the acquisitions we made
in the past year were in the academic area, so that's why I mentioned that
board. We invite members, usually from some of the top schools in the country.
We meet with them at least three times a year, and we have a fair amount of
communication with them throughout the year. We see this as a key part of what
we're doing. I learned a long time ago that it's better to ask customers what
they want than to waste time guessing.
Q: What about plans for the next year? Any specific subject focus for expansion?
A: In the next year, you'll see us expanding our activities in the nursing
and allied health area. With our Cinahl acquisition, we see an opportunity
to expand that business. Over the last few years, we've had an overall focus
on quality. Our abstracts have gotten longer for academic journals. We've enhanced
our overall subject treatment by creating subject-specific thesauri. We've
added bibliographic elements, such as author affiliations, more subject headings,
article types, geographical headings. We feel this is the right move even though
it increases our costs. We think the library market will appreciate it.
Q: What about all the H.W. Wilson databases you've been adding?
A: We see them as one of our key partners. I think we have licensed 17 or
so and keep methodically adding them to EBSCOhost. Our customers asked
us for these, and so we've provided them.
Q: What's the status of providing access to nearly all the full text of journals
found through your databases?
A: We're now north of 10,000 publications for which we have full-text licenses.
Despite that growth, we're not slowing down. In fact, we have more people licensing
content than ever before. Many publishers that we've been talking with for
a long time have agreed to do it because they've seen the success of other
publishers. For example, we're still adding considerable content to our Business
Source Premier database, which is now the largest full-text database covering
business. There are still a number of publications that aren't online yet,
and we'd like to help them get there.
Where we haven't licensed the full text, we make linking available. We link
to the online journal regardless of where that journal might be located: a
publisher's site, linked through an aggregator, etc. One new thing we've added
that we're not aware of other aggregators doing is we've made the references
within articles browsable, searchable, and linkable. We've added more than
10 million of these references to our databases. Our feature, called Searchable
References, links to additional full-text articles.
Q: This kind of functionality is matching to work-flow patterns, to the way
users do research.
A: Yes, we've sat down and watched our users and asked what they would like
to do with our products that they cannot do now. This feature has been available
for about a year, and it's been well-received.
Q: On the topic of browsing, last fall you introduced index browsing in some
databases. How much use does this feature get from customers? In other words,
are library end users taking advantage of these search aids that professional
researchers love? And are you planning to expand this to other databases?
A: We monitor all search features, and index browsing is not one of the most
used, but it doesn't make it any less important. We serve a broad user community.
We find that some of our more sophisticated features really don't get used
by end users as much as we'd like. But we think this is slowly changing as
users realize that the advanced search features are necessary to get high-quality
results. We are systematically adding this to all of our secondary databases
and plan to roll this out across all databases for which it is appropriate.
Basically, the more information that is online, the more important it is to
have high-quality metadata and tools that help users discern what is useful.
What about your goals for 2004?
A: Our goals are pretty simple. We are growing by adding new databases and
improving existing databases. We try to listen and fill customer needs. Our
long-term goal is to realize our potential. We want to be recognized as the
best online research service for libraries.
Q: What's the status of library budgets? How much of a hit have you taken
as libraries have struggled, and do you see the situation starting to improve?
A: We've definitely seen libraries struggling. Unfortunately, the news reports
about the economy improving have really not translated into larger budgets
for libraries. But because we've increased the number and size of databases
available via EBSCOhost so much over the last several years, we haven't
been negatively impacted by the budgetary situation in libraries. We've grown.
Q: What about pricing? Have you had to adjust or become more flexible in
your offerings to accommodate libraries' needs? This comes to mind because
of the current backlash against Elsevier's big-deal pricing.
A: We have a tradition of being flexible on pricing. As an intermediary,
we try to put together packages that work both for our customers and for our
Q: What about adding multimedia to databases? I understand you recently told
customers you plan to add audio and video to the History Reference Center?
What kind of response have you gotten?
A: We recently announced our intent to add historical multimedia content,
and we've done some content licensing in this area. But we're really asking
our customers about their interests and any concerns they might have, such
as bandwidth, etc. It's a bit early to gauge the response.
Q: What technology enhancements would you most like to see implemented, and
what are your customers asking for?
A: We're excited about the Web services paradigm that's emerging and see
it as a natural extension of object-oriented systems development where various
software functions are handled by different components that may be stored on
different machines. For the user, this can mean better performance and faster
turnaround time on enhancements. It's really a behind-the-scenes improvement
to processes. For example, we have an article-matcher component that matches
the citations in secondary databases to citations from full-text databases
that facilitates our linking. We designed it as separate services on separate
machines, so the linking is seamless and fast.
XML has become a standard, and we now handle most of our content in XML.
For the end user, this means faster development and load time for content and
a better treatment of the data. We've been investing in XML-based systems for
several years, and now we're seeing the benefits of those investments. We look
at our technology investments more for product improvements rather than any
cost savings. Anything we've saved, we've poured back into our products.
Q: What about other technologies, such as visualization for interfaces?
A: We've looked into visualization and experimented some and find it intriguing,
but at this point have no implementation plans.
Q: What about Google's recent deals with some traditional information companies
like OCLC, IEEE, and others? Google sees itself as the great gateway to all
content. How does EBSCO view this?
A: Google is a major player that we watch, but from what I can tell it's
mostly an advertising-based companyone that is looking for additional
content to wrap advertising around. Libraries have always vigorously told us
they don't want us to add advertising into our database products, so it should
be interesting to see if they embrace Google. It makes us even more committed
to adding quality content and enhancing it with our sophisticated search functionality
and value-added data elements.
Q: Bottom line. What do you feel are EBSCO's advantages over competitors'
products? What do you tell customers when you try to win business?
A: Of course it varies by customer type and product, but I'd say our key
advantages are superior quality and quantity of full text; comprehensive collection
of secondary databases; seamless linking between secondary and full-text databases
and between all the databases and external sources of full text; an easy-to-use,
fast, and reliable service that offers sophisticated search tools if the user
wants to use them, but doesn't require them to; and finally, something I think
is very important: a customer service orientation that provides training and
support to our customerssomething that isn't so common among companies
F. Dixon Brooke Jr.
Q: Give me an overview of what the Subscription division accomplished in
2003besides weathering the stress and details of managing the RoweCom
A: We grew our subscription business outright (between 5 and 10 percent),
even without the inclusion of the additional RoweCom volume, so we were pleased
about that. We made major investments in our infrastructure. We invested in
our global telecommunications network to expand our bandwidth capacity, including
the Internet2 partnership we have. We enhanced our fully redundant global network
to anticipate additional volume but also to shore up our Web support to improve
our service. We doubled our customer service for Web support, if that gives
you an idea of the growth. We're trying to stay ahead of the curve.
We also invested to improve our EBSCOhost Electronic Journals Service
(EJS). We added approximately 1,000 titles to the service this past year and
added more than a million full-text articles. We expanded the number of articles
available for pay-per-view by approximately 40 percentnow totaling more
than 700,000. We enhanced our emphasis on interfacing with e-commerce platforms,
such as Ariba and SAP. We've experienced a multifold increase in our transaction
volume as a result of those partnerships, including an expansion in the volume
of book orders.
Two other areas for 2003 I'd like to comment on were our expansion of our
efforts worldwide with consortia and the launch of our A-to-Z service. Our
customers had been asking for this level of journal support. We studied the
market for other such services and determined we could develop an approach
that could help our customers manage their electronic resources more effectively.
EBSCO A-to-Z is one of several tools we offer, including EJS, LinkSource, Smart
Linking, etc. We have plans to expand our efforts to facilitate access to full
text, but we're definitely pleased with the market response so far.
Q: Hearing what both you and Tim have discussed, I would say the themes that
emerge are integration and linking. What would you say?
A: I would agree absolutely. On the matter of integration, we've worked on
that for so long that it's not new. We work with numerous third-party service
providers that market ILS systems to our customers, and we've spent years doing
software development to interface our systems with those third-party systems
to make it easy for our customers to conduct their business. Integrating solutions
has been a big part of what we do.
Linking is growing in importance. We now work with more than 10,000 e-journals.
We provide seamless authentication and linking via EJS. We have approximately
5 million articles viewable through EJS, and we're working with EBSCO Publishing
on a joint project to offer Reference Linking through both EBSCOhost and
Q: What is EBSCO's current status with Sage Publications? In 2002, Sage pulled
its titles from aggregators. Then in 2003, it did a deal with ProQuest for
titles in ABI/INFORM. At that time, Sage said it was talking to EBSCO.
A: Generally, we enjoy a cordial and long-standing relationship with Sage,
handling subscription orders, both print and electronic; providing access to
electronic content through our EJS service; and representing them through our
consortia efforts. They made a decision to discontinue their relationships
with secondary database publishers, but we hope they will rejoin the ranks
of hundreds of publishers that work with us and are happy with what we do.
We hope they will change their mind.
Q: What's the current status of the RoweCom integration?
A: It's certainly been an interesting and challenging year. We've successfully
integrated RoweCom's business onto EBSCO's technology platform (except for
the business in France, which remains on a separate system) and handled all
2004 renewal invoicing through our system. We've been pleased by the response
and support we've received from the former RoweCom accounts. While the legal
wrangling for a settlement continues for publishers and libraries with the
bankruptcy court, I think most of us are happy to move past the controversy
and on to another year.
Q: I think you gained some credibility and stature when you stepped up to
purchase RoweCom. You could have just waited for the end and then scooped up
the customers. EBSCO looked like the white knight.
A: We saw an opportunity to expand our European operation. Secondly, we were
pained by the idea of a huge disruption in the industry. We felt there was
value in trying to maintain as much stability as possible. And when the publishing
community was willing to partner on it, we went ahead, and we have no regrets
Q: What are your goals for 2004 for the Subscription division and overall
for Information Services?
A: We are highly focused on providing outstanding quality of service. Secondly,
we want to have the premier service for electronic journals. We continue to
expand access services and electronic journal-management services, which we
think adds value for both libraries and publishers. We are endeavoring aggressively
to add to the array of databases and products we can add to the marketplace,
both domestically and abroad.
Q: What technology developments would you most like to see implemented, and
what are your customers asking for?
A: The whole area of electronic journals and improved systems to enable immediate
access. In the old print world, when you placed an order you were advised that
you could expect to receive the first issue in 6 to 8 weeks. In the electronic
world, we think this kind of fulfillment is unacceptable. We think and hear
that there's a significant need for improved systems on all fronts: ordering,
payments, invoices, authentication, and access. Our goal is to speed this entire
process. It will take widespread publisher commitment and involvementand
some procedural changesto make it a reality. That would be my dream.
Q: What do you tell customers when you try to win business? What do you feel
are EBSCO's advantages over competitors' products?
A: Number one, we talk about service, service, service. Our global reach
with local office support is a big element in our ability to provide service
to a broad range of customers. Stability is key for us, [as are] financial
strength [and] reliability. We have a history of fulfilling our obligations
not only with publishers but with customers. We try not to overreach or overpromise.
We like to do what we say we will do.
Because of the success we've had, we're able to invest in new technology
and keep the company moving forward. It allows us to offer a wider array of
products and services. The synergies between EBSCO Publishing and EBSCO Subscription
Services allow us to provide a fully integrated information systems and services
approach. We feel this gives us a unique position in the marketplace.
Q: How much of the stability, growth, and financial strength is due to the
vastly diversified businesses of EBSCO Industriesoperating kind of like
a nice, balanced, low-risk mutual fund? If one business sector has trouble,
the other businesses buoy it up.
A: EBSCO is celebrating its 60th anniversary. It's still very much a family
enterprise that retains the family's values. We value our culture and our history,
which has been about doing a quality job and taking care of the customer. Our
founder, Elton B. Stephens, is a product of the Depression and World War II,
and some of our businesses evolved because of his efforts to serve the military.
His philosophy is that it's better to have five things so if one isn't doing
well, you have the other four to fall back on. I think our diversification
has been a good thing. It gives a solid foundation that allows the company
to grow, make investments, and be around for the long term.
Q: Just one final question: Are there any industry trends or issues that
particularly concern the company at this time?
A: I'd like to address the issue of consortia and direct deals for publisher
packages. It's natural for publishers to want to test the new electronic medium
by dealing directly with customers. It's also natural for libraries under severe
budget constraints to seek ways to save money. But we are hearing more and
more about the hidden costs associated with these types of deals. Some of our
customers are asking us to help because they're not organized to be able to
cope with the added work generated by these so-called money-saving deals. We
plan to address this, and we're looking at a new array of services that we
feel could help with this.
It's precisely due to budget constraints that organizations can ill-afford
to take on back-office work to make up for the publishers' and consortia's
inabilities to integrate (there's that word again) with the library's local
systems. We're troubled by the fact that publishers have gone from an understood
model to individual deals that are individually negotiated and do not have
adequate systems in place, thereby putting the burden on the libraries. This
whole process erodes very badly needed resources that could be used to acquire
the very information publishers seek to sell. Earlier, I described my dream
for the entire journal transaction process, and this would be part of it.
Paula J. Hane is Information Today, Inc.'s news bureau chief
and editor of NewsBreaks. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.