Information Today
Volume 18, Issue 5 — May 2001
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IT Interview •
EBSCO Publishing Provides Integrated Serials Solutions
Division general manager Tim Collins talks about the organization's focus on growth
by Paula J. Hane

There may still be folks out there who only associate the name EBSCO with magazine subscriptions for libraries. But EBSCO Subscription Services ( is just one of two divisions within EBSCO Information Services (EIS; Tim Collins heads up the other division, EBSCO Publishing ( The two divisions work closely in serving the needs of libraries, and Collins talked with me about their products, competitors, and markets. Collins is also vice president of EBSCO Industries, Inc., the parent company. (By the way, if you've ever wondered what EBSCO stands for, it's the Elton B. Stephens Co., named for the founder and now chairman.)

Q Give us a capsule description of EBSCO Publishing's mission.

A The mission is really shared between EBSCO Publishing (EP) and EBSCO Subscription Services (ESS), given that we make up what is known as EIS and given that we're both intermediaries between libraries and publishers. The mission is to provide solutions for libraries that meet their needs in the area of serials information. This includes provision of access to secondary databases, full-text databases, as well as current journal subscriptions, both in print format and online.

EP focuses on the secondary and full-text databases through our EBSCOhost service, whereas ESS focuses on the services related to the purchase of print and online journals, and EBSCO Online provides the access to online journals. And, ESS now offers articles on a pay-per-view basis as well as selling books through a new service.

What makes EBSCO unique is that we integrate the services so that a user can look at an abstract from a licensed database, such as BIOSIS, and link over to the full-text article in one of EBSCO Publishing's aggregated databases, or to the article from one of the online journals that they buy through ESS. The key to all that is the user doesn't know where the full text came from—they just know that it's available and seamless. We call that our "smart linking" technology, and it's central to our mission of integrating our services. So, it's a shared mission but we each focus on different aspects of it.

Q So, what are the differences between searching on EBSCOhost and on EBSCO Online? On EBSCO Online, can someonesearch the full text of journals, whether their library subscribes or not?

A Within EBSCO Online you can search the full text of those journals that you subscribe to, but you can only access the abstracts and headers of the journals that you don't subscribe to. EBSCO Online provides current subscriptions, on a journal-by-journal basis. The average user in an academic library, for example, would come to EBSCOhost and search a full-text database directly, or for a subject-specific query, would use a licensed database. Then they may link to an article available in a journal via EBSCO Online.

Q So, libraries could have both services?

A Yes, most libraries do have both. It depends on what the user wants. If the user wants to browse the most current issue, then he'd go to EBSCO Online. The advantage of searching in a database on EBSCOhost is to be able to use targeted indexing terminology and classifications, such as class codes in EconLit.

Q I've seen differing figures on the number of journals you have in full text. Is this a difference between the two services?

A There are about 4,000 journal titles available in full text for sale on EBSCO Online. On EBSCOhost we offer aggregated databases, which vary by market and subject, created from about 6,000 full-text publications. Some publishers might work with both and choose to sell all of their journal titles on EBSCO Online—but maybe license only half of them to EP for inclusion in a database. Some publishers, such as academic or scientific publishers, have chosen not to work with aggregators—but they do work with subscription agencies. So, a lot of the additional content that people hear about EBSCO getting is coming from academic publishers who have worked with EBSCO Subscription Services as an agent for years and are now starting to work with an aggregator. They are choosing to work with EBSCO Publishing as an aggregator because EBSCO is their natural partner. We've worked with them for years on the subscription side.

Q Besides adding new full-text journals, you seem to have been quietly licensing new databases to add to EBSCOhost. Someone might look now and say, How and when did they get so many? What are some of your recent, largest suppliers of databases?

A We license from many of the large providers now—for example, CINAHL, American Psychological Association, BIOSIS, EconLit, Cambridge Scientific Abstracts, ERIC, e-psyche, and MEDLINE. We have six databases from H.W. Wilson.

Q Hmmm. You are beginning to look like a Dialog. Let's talk about your competitors.

A I think we look better, as we link over to our aggregated full-text databases. We don't see Dialog as one of our main competitors. On the full-text database side, we hear most about Bell & Howell Information and Learning and Gale Group. On the licensed database side, we hear most about the SilverPlatter and Ovid combo—actually news of their services combining just came out.... [Editor's Note: For more information, see the NewsBreak on page 1.] None of those organizations offers the combination that we do of licensed databases and full-text databases. We think we're kind of unique. And really, we don't spend much time focusing on the competition. We just have ourheads down, listening to customers. We continuously enhance our products based on what they tell us they'd like to see.

Q I've heard someone in the industry—who shall remain nameless—call EBSCO the "hungriest of the aggregators."

A We are indeed very committed and focused on growth and improving ourselves, such that we offer the best products for serials information solutions. If that makes us the hungriest, I'm proud to be called that.

Q I've also heard about EBSCO signing exclusive contracts with certain journals, specifically Harvard Business Review (HBR), and about how much that particular deal cost EBSCO to get. I've also heard that other exclusive contracts with publishers are being pursued by EBSCO. Could you please clarify?

A We do have a close relationship with the Harvard Business Review and we are actually expanding our products—and creating new products—based on licensing additional content from them and other publishers. We have been pleased to establish a number of relationships in the past year with publishers that we have not worked with in the past. Many of these publishers have never before worked with an aggregator, so their content is unique to EBSCO's database. Many of these publishers see EBSCO as their natural partner for aggregation, since EP is the sister division to ESS, with which they've worked well for decades. They know that EBSCO will explain to customers the difference between aggregated full-text databases and online journals, and not do anything that will negatively affect the publisher's core business, which is selling subscriptions—because this is EBSCO's core business as well. I think it is from this trend that the rumors started. HBR has chosen us as their preferred partner for the academic market. As far as I know, this arrangement with them has not affected any other arrangements they have for other markets.

Q Is HBR available to libraries as a single subscription through EBSCO Online, or only as a full-text database on EBSCOhost?

A It is not available in this format via EBSCO Online at this time.

Q Speaking from the users' perspective, we are concerned about exclusive deals ultimately hurting the public's access to titles. [HBR is no longer available in full text via Bell & Howell's ProQuest service or from Gale Group. Archives of HBR articles dating back to 1995 are available for sale on its own Web site, and selected articles are now for sale on—PJH]

A A library can subscribe to individual journals directly from the publisher in print and often in online format. The addition to EBSCO's databases of the many titles that were not previously available in aggregated databases actually expands the access to the content from these journals.

Q I believe that the only non-library outlet for EBSCO full-text titles is content that is licensed to Contentville. Can you tell us about this arrangement?

A We've worked with Contentville and several of our publisher partners to make articles available from selected titles on a pay-per-view basis. So, it's a subset of what's available in our full-text databases—probably a third of our content. It's still in the early stages, but we've been pleased so far and usage is growing.

Q I understand that EBSCO is now including content from free e-mail newsletters.

A Yes, this is through our full-text databases available on EBSCOhost. We licensed a number of newsletters after hearing that some of them were high quality and would benefit our users. And, we are abstracting and indexing these titles. However, this is a very small part of our content expansion, as the majority of the content is peer-reviewed research journals.

Q Let's talk about your markets. I've used your service in public libraries and I know that academic libraries are a large part of your business. I know that you have some corporate library clients and you offer Corporate ResourceNet for intranets. What is your penetration into the corporate library market where you are up against some large information providers? And also, what about the K-12 education market? Is this of lesser emphasis?

A We really don't focus on the corporate market, although our content is quite relevant. We have a very strong business database that is very successful in the academic market. But we don't have a large sales organization for selling into the corporate market. We're actually quite strong in the K-12 and public library markets. We have our own direct sales and are pleased with our efforts.

Q Would you consider doing any partnering? Other than with Contentville, it doesn't seem like you've done this much. With companies like Hoover's, Northern Light, and some others, it seems like I'm covering a new partnership or affiliate agreement about every other week.

A We're open to partnering. We've been very selective, however, in our partnering. We want to make sure that any partnership we enter makes sense for the partner, for us, for our publisher partners, and for our library market, which is our main focus.

Q Recently we heard about Wolters Kluwer buying SilverPlatter and planning to merge it with Ovid. We are seeing considerable changes in the information industry landscape and many consolidations taking place. What do you think about what's been happening?

A I think it will definitely continue. I think you have to look at each deal individually. I think some of the acquisitions really work well. I can say I'm very glad I sold to EBSCO. [Collins' original company, which published Popular Magazine Review, was purchased in 1987.—PJH] Many acquisitions result in changes of management teams, and luckily EBSCO doesn't have that philosophy.

Q With your corporate parent, EBSCO Industries (, encompassing more than 20 businesses, including real estate, steel manufacturing, and fishing lures, it may be diversified enough to weather any current economic turmoil. Since it's a privately held company, it's hard to know how the company is doing. Is it doing well and would it ever go public?

A I've worked for EBSCO for 14 years and I continue to be very impressed by the company and its top management. EBSCO is doing fine. I'm not in a position to comment about going public, but we've never had an issue with funding for our growth. EBSCO Publishing has been growing nicely and is positive about the future. Last year we grew just under 30 percent in overall sales.

Q What are your plans for EBSCO Publishing over the next year or two?

A The plan for the next 2 years is to continue doing what we're doing and add additional full-text and licensed databases, and to improve our services, linking the two together. We don't have a lot of partnerships to manage, so we'll just continue to listen to customers and move forward. It may not be exciting, but it is effective.

Q Actually, partnerships are at the heart of what you are doing, because of your partnerships with publishers.

A Yes, we are an intermediary between publishers and libraries, and are really partners with each. We keep within that framework and do few partnerships outside that. It's a simple business but it's fundamentally sound. We feel it's a business that has long-term stability and growth potential.

Paula J. Hane, co-editor with Barbara Quint for NewsBreaks, is contributing editor of Information Today, a former reference librarian, and a longtime online searcher. Her e-mail address is phane@

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