The New Face of Swets
By Phillip Britt
The evolution of digital content and digital subscriptions has triggered a variety of discussions across the industry. At the core of these discussions is whether a subscription agent is still needed in the electronic publishing marketplace.
Not only are subscription agents as relevant as ever as brokers, they now may actually be asked to handle more services for their clients—both publishers and content consumers—than in the print-only world of only a few years ago, according to officials from Swets Information Services. Swets, a subscription-management company, works with more than 65,000 publishers and more than 60,000 content consumers.
The Value of a Subscription Agent
Librarians and other customers use a subscription agent such as Swets for a variety of reasons: A subscription agent can manage the process of ordering subscriptions from publishers; it can ensure that subscriptions are fulfilled as expected; it can determine how content is used; and it can help determine the client’s appropriate subscription list.
“Fulfillment is our baliwick. Our mission is to make things simple,” said Arie Jongejan, CEO of Swets. “People thought that with the move to [electronic publishing], things would get a lot easier for content consumers, but they’ve actually become more complex. We’re trying to manage all of these components.”
Managing subscriptions has become more complex because subscriptions now include purchases of full, unlimited publication subscriptions as well as pay-per-use models and hybrid pricing models. To make sure that the content users and librarians are getting the most for their subscription dollars, the users also want the ability to track usage statistics. This enables them to drop publications that aren’t used and reallocate the money for those subscriptions elsewhere.
So for 2007, Swets has repositioned itself, focusing on key areas of the information industry that help simplify electronic resource management. These key areas include the following:
• Emphasizing services and technology that simplify digital content selection, acquisition, and delivery
• Repositioning the overall brand under a single, comprehensive portfolio called SwetsWise so end clients can access everything from a single source
• The February launching of SwetsWise 4.3 and the all-new SwetsWise Subscriptions Library Edition to give users a “dashboard-type” interface to view subscriptions, usage statistics, and other information at a single point (a handful of clients piloted these products for the last 9 months, according to Jongejan)
The SwetsWise Subscriptions Library Edition is designed to let users acquire, search, access, and manage their electronic and print resources from a single Web-based interface. SwetsWise Subscriptions Library Edition, which is the cornerstone of the company’s SwetsWise solution, is billed by the company as the most comprehensive subscription-management and electronic-procurement service now available.
Expect Others to Follow
Swets officials expect other subscription agents to follow with their own consolidated offering, though they don’t expect any similar competitive offerings to be developed quickly. Many other subscription agents also have content and other business divisions, so they don’t have the same core focus, according to Ezra Ernst, who heads Swets’ North American division.
In recent years, Swets has streamlined its offerings. Swets also had a content division, Royal Swets & Zeitlinger Publishers, but it was sold several years ago, Ernst said. “Subscription management is our core business.”
“Usage is a difficult animal, because there can be content on so many different platforms and databases [for a single user],” Jongejan said.
“For decades, the industry was controlled by publishers,” Jongejan said. “But what we’ve seen in the last 10 years, a counter move has started taking place. All of a sudden, there’s a large group of consumers and librarians who want a choice. I think that agents such as ourselves can play a pivotal role in providing balance in the marketplace.”
Offering Better Value Overall
Kate Worlock, director of EPS, Ltd., an Outsell, Inc. company, agreed that by providing a more focused solution for its subscription customers, Swets will provide better value.
“The role of subscription agent[s] is to help their library customers save money by helping them in acquiring and managing all of the subscriptions that they have,” Worlock said. “Providing better simplicity is the reason the agent has always existed. The agent reduces the need to go to several different [sources] for subscriptions.”
Even though the Internet provides self-service (online subscription) capabilities that didn’t exist several years ago, there’s still a place for subscription agents today, according to Worlock. “They can offer search across several different publications.”
These agents also ensure the permanence of a publisher’s link and provide fulfillment services, according to Worlock. “All of these things can make [subscription management] quite complex. Publishers have different technologies. There are no real standards in some of these areas.”
The industry only has two large subscription agents in the business today, said Worlock. Those two are Swets and EBSCO Publishing. EBSCO provides subscription-agent services while producing its own content.