Stable and Poised for Growth
By Paula Hane
Ingenta is marking its 5-year
anniversary of serving the scholarly publishing community. Founded in 1998
through a public/private partnership with the University of Bath (which developed
the BIDS online abstract searching services for the U.K. higher education community),
the U.K.-based Ingenta has grown quickly and is now close to profitability.
Mark Rowse, Ingenta's founder and CEO, has led the company through its inception
and growth, including several rounds of funding and a listing on the London
Stock Exchange in May 2000. Ingenta now has around 160 staff members worldwide,
with offices in Oxford and Bath, U.K.; Boston; and Providence, R.I. He talked
with me recently about the company's technology investments and product initiatives
as well as industry trends.
Q: What led you to found this venture to disseminate scholarly research materials?
It seems like somewhat of a stretch given your background in law doing mergers
and acquisitions, and then at Spafax, which supplied media to the airlines.
A: It may seem like a stretch, but actually it's a fairly logical leap from
the previous business. Fundamentally, my skill set is in identifying markets
that are about to change and then pulling together a new business to facilitate
that change. My work in supplying video content to the airlines in the '90s
got me involved in the world of digital contentand particularly in the
delivery of digital content in a highly secure environment.
As the Web emerged as a delivery medium, I began to consider markets that
could be affected. I think there are surprisingly few marketplaces that have
been completely altered by the Web. But I felt that certain parts of the publishing
industry would be fundamentally affected. I did some investigation into the
scholarly publishing marketplace and saw a need. I established Ingenta as a
business that could help the societies, associations, and publishers in that
space, and the libraries and end users, to fulfill the promise of the Internet
to allow users to access scholarly content in a much more useful, convenient,
and value-added way than on paper.
Q: From my perspective, Ingenta has come a long way in just 5 years. You've
bought competitors like CatchWord, made key acquisitions like UnCover, partnered
with companies like Gale, and diversified to develop multiple revenue streams.
What do you think have been the key factors in your progress?
A: I think the key factor of the company's success has been sticking consistently
to a single vision of the kind of business we tried to createa vision
that perhaps we haven't articulated as clearly as we should have. Essentially,
Ingenta is two different things. Firstly, it is a business serving the needs
of publishers. We build Web sites for their journals, we help them reach the
academic and institutional marketplaces, and we help generate revenue for them.
Allied to that, we also have an e-journal access platform, which assists libraries
in managing access to the e-journals they subscribe to and provides a kind
of customer-service function for publishers. Secondly, we then have a range
of Web-based tools that assist libraries and users in locating and viewing
the publishers' content. The combination of the two businesses is at the heart
of Ingenta's growth and is also different from the companies that try to compete
We promise publishers that we'll put their content on the Web and build them
a great site. And I think we're pretty good at that. But we also promise that
we'll help them increase traffic. I think that, increasingly, journal pricing
and income are going to be more closely related to the amount of usage the
content gets. So if we can help them increase usage, we'll also help increase
the publishers' revenues.
Q: Ingenta started with an academic focus and was geared mostly to STM publications.
Now you've branched into other subject areas, including social science, business,
and humanities. And you've reached beyond academia into corporate settings.
What's your intention? To be everything to everybody?
A: We've had a very clear focus and it has always been broader than STM.
We have a set of technology tools that help publishers producing periodical
content and selling it by subscription to be used by researchers. So while
many of these are within the STM journal sectorand this is where much
of the early investment by publishers has gonein fact we meet the needs
of a much broader range of publications and intended use.
Q: But how are you reaching into the corporate marketplacesomething
very different from academic libraries?
A: It is different and it's not a promise we can make as strongly to our
publishers. But about 30 percent of our usage base is from the corporate sector.
We have three-quarters of the Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. and of the
FTSE 100 in the U.K. using our servicewhich I think the publishers would
have found very difficult to reach on their own.
Q: The home page of Ingenta's site states: "The most comprehensive collection
of academic and professional publications available for online, fax, and Ariel
delivery. Search 15,234,518 articles from 28,139 publications." But the search
capabilities are quite limited in comparison to other services, particularly
in STM databases that employ special indexing and taxonomies, and services
that offer full-text searching.
A: We certainly aren't trying to position Ingenta as an alternative to the
aggregated databases, such as [those] offered by Gale, EBSCO, or ProQuest.
Those companies have a fundamentally different business model. They are aggregating
content and reselling it to libraries.
We claim to be the most comprehensive, freely available e-journal access
platform. We are not an abstracting or indexing service, and we don't have
an editorially controlled collection. Most users would prefer to search in
a Web of Science or Chemical Abstracts or Sociological Abstracts than in a
more random collection like Ingenta.
But the Ingenta e-journal access platform should be seen as a way for libraries
to wire multiple entry points into journals from their own systems. About two-thirds
of our use is directly from library catalogs or from abstracting-and-indexing
services like Cambridge or ISI. We are more interested in helping the librarian
help the user to find the full text than we are in whether the patron uses
our interface. And we're interested in maximizing access to the content on
behalf of our publishers.
Q: Back in June 2002, you announced a partnership with Gale for a service
to make scholarly journal content available in a single search interface. The
deal added access to Ingenta's journals through Gale's InfoTrac service.
A: Yes, that was launched about 15 months ago. There are now several hundred
libraries that have taken our service up. It's been instrumental in Gale retaining
and winning a number of key consortial markets. And as you know, there have
been very tough conditions for the last year or so.
Q: Besides Gale, what other services do you partner with?
A: We have linking arrangements with about 150 different partners. From an
inward linking perspective, I think that makes us probably the largest linking
target. We have always specialized in linking technology. Recently, we completed
a linking deal with JSTOR. For our humanities and social sciences publishers,
it provides a fantastic resource. Citations at the end of their articles can
resolve back to historic materials held in the JSTOR archive. It's a very valuable
But that's only a very small part of our total linking capabilities. It encompasses
the resolution capabilities within CrossRef and also benefits from a large
number of agreements we've made independently with full-text hosts and abstracting
services. I believe we have the largest link resolution database anywhere in
Q: Let's talk about how Ingenta is doing in these difficult times. In mid-2001,
you said you expected the company to be profitable by the end of the year.
But we all know how tough things became after that. Recently, the company said
it expected to produce its "maiden pre-tax profit" for this fiscal year. Tell
us how things are going.
A: This is a key moment in Ingenta's history. It is our fifth anniversary
and the stock market has been expecting us to move into profitability during
the second half of the year. And we are on track to do that. Now that we've
established the company as a profitable entity, we can look forward with a
different perspective to continuing to grow and develop our business in the
About a year ago, we had to significantly adjust the expectations of the
stock market to the level of profits we would produce, and implement a company
reorganization. Over our first 4 years, we had gathered about 260 publisher
customers, but to be honest, we were a bit patchy in delivering for those customers.
Over the last year, we've been internally focused. We have focused on streamlining
our processes, becoming more efficient, and making sure we were delivering
on the promises we were making to our customers.
We've also tried to be more responsive. One of the key building blocks of
that this year was the hiring of Janet Fisher of MIT Press, a very senior and
respected member of the scholarly publishing community in the U.S. She is now
responsible for managing relationships with our U.S. customers. She is hiring
an expanding team to make sure we are looking after people properly. We've
made a lot of progress.
We've also been re-engineering some core technology and investing significantly
in our global server network, amounting to about $2 million of investment over
the last year or so. The usage of the Ingenta service has doubled over the
last year on a month-by-month basis. To keep performance levels up, we've upgraded
servers and invested in more servers, such as in mainland China. Ingenta now
maintains 60 servers worldwide.
We are constantly moving our technology forward and progressively rolling
out improvements. We try to avoid having large technology leaps, which can
be quite disruptive for customers.
Over the summer, we released an entirely new subscription-access management
system, which is at the heart of our e-journal access platform. It was rolled
out seamlessly with very little disruption. It will enable us to provide increasingly
sophisticated access control and information commerce services. Another description
for this might be digital rights management. The publishers we work with tend
to have fairly complex business models, and the system we've introduced allows
for flexibility and change in their models. You'll be hearing more about access
control from us over the coming year.
Over the last 18 months or so, we've had a large engineering effort to bring
together the ingenta.com and ingentaselect.com platforms. ingentaselect is
the old CatchWord platform. We have not wanted to disrupt users or take away
any functionality as we merge the two. We have now replaced almost all the
underlying technology components of both systems. We're looking forward to
revealing within the next few months a single system that combines the best
of both. This will give us a new-generation look and feel, and will position
us much more clearly in the marketplace as a publisher-services business, which
also has a library-facing, e-journal access platform.
We talked about our expanded linking to partners like JSTOR, but in the past
year we've also extended the dynamic linking capabilities of our technology.
I think this is a key differentiator from how most others do linking. We don't
use any fixed URLs, but maintain a dynamic link-resolution database, which
means we can keep links fresh. If you hardwire a URL into a citation and the
document gets moved, the URL doesn't work.
Q: But how does this work with the DOI (Digital Object Identifier) system?
Aren't you bucking the trend toward standardizing links?
A: One of the difficulties of the DOI system is that it uses a fixed URL
system, and it's the publisher's responsibility to keep this information updatedand
not all publishers do this. So it's not as reliable as it should be. I think
dynamic linking works better from a technical standpoint, but I'm not saying
that DOI and CrossRef are doing things wrong. We incorporate those links within
our database. But we aim to provide a very high level of resolution capability.
Increasingly, we are trying to enable people to resolve to links that aren't
part of the CrossRef system and maybe not even in full text. In cases where
an article has not yet been digitized, our system can usually link to an abstract.
So we are taking a much broader approach.
In addition, one of the technologies we've progressively worked on is the
ability to accurately render special characters in full-text SGML and XML.
Over the last few months, we've developed an effective tool for rendering MathML,
which had been a problem for some publishers. This has been a fairly major
technology leap for us. We're now accepting content from publishers in PostScript,
PDF, or full-text SGML or XML. Our toolkits can now deal with multiple formats.
Q: What about plans for the future?
A: We feel we have interesting times ahead to grow and develop as an independent
company. Our short-term focus is to make sure we deliver for our customers.
We have a very substantial level of activity going on. We work with 260 publishers.
We regularly process content from around 6,000 journals. We have about 15,000
libraries registered and using Ingentathis is up about 25 percent in
the past year. So we have a lot to do to keep people happy.
We continue to grow the business organically. Even in the last year when
we were internally focused, we added about 30 new publishers. Longer term,
you'll see us back in growth mode, and we'll be much more visible in the marketplace.
We expect to grow all our divisions in the coming year.
Q: What companies do you see as major competitors? My guess would be HighWire,
MetaPress from EBSCO, and Infotrieve in the article delivery business.
A: I would include all of those companies and say we certainly compete well
against each of them in each specialty area. I think the key difference with
Ingenta is that we provide such a broad range of services and have demonstrated
that we can deliver for customers consistently and in scale. It's very easy
to promise new things[but it's] very hard to deliver reliably for 6,000
titles to 15,000 libraries.
Q: How do your revenues break out?
A: Building Web sites for publishers is about 40 percent of our revenues,
processing journals through our e-journal access platform for publishers is
about 45 percent, and about 15 percent comes from the library market through
pay-per-view transactions and alerting services.
Q: Are there any specific product plans you can talk about at this time?
A: An interesting new development is the work we're doing with Oxford University
Press (OUP) for Oxford Scholarship Online, which will be the world's largest
monograph site when it launches later this year. At launch, it will have around
1,000 monograph titles. In the creation of that site, we developed a whole
set of new technology tools, which means we can now handle books and collections
of books. We'll be limiting our offering there to books sold on subscription.
The Oxford site is quite visionary in transforming the business model for monographs.
It moves the OUP from single sales of books to libraries to subscription sales.
Q: So are these e-books you produce? And are they delivered in PDF or another
A: E-book is a broad word and implies things we won't be doing, so I guard
against using the term. The book is delivered in the browser as HTML. I think
the reason OUP will be so successful is that it applies the online journal
model to books. A library can have unlimited access to this collection of monographs
for a single annual subscription. This is very different from how the e-book
business has evolved, using a number of models that mimic individual books
in the library. I think that unlimited searchability and access to hundreds
of monographs will be very appealing.
Q: Actually, it sounds similar to what Knovel is doing with sci-tech books.
Also, ebrary is creating a searchable database of books.
A: Yes, it is similar. But a key difference is that we aren't licensing content
from publishers and reselling it. We will offer publishers the opportunity
to create their own Web sites and sell directly to libraries.
Another major set of initiatives will be providing tools for publishers so
they can integrate loading content into Ingenta as part of their in-house production
systems. At this time, publishers send us content and we process it. We'd like
to offer publishers the option to use a toolkit to directly upload content
to their site. This could result in huge savings in both cost and time. It
also gives publishers more control of how the content is presented.
We also expect to release an automated reference extraction technology that
will significantly enhance the reference linking area. For example, a PDF document
with untagged reference citations usually requires a manual process to identify
and turn those references into live citation links. Our tool will automate
this process, so it will be cheaper for publishers to implement.
Many publishers want to digitize their archive content. There are two big
problems with that. One is how to create header metadata, and the other is
how to make the reference links liveboth without having to incur the
expense of re-keying the text to get full-text SGML. In the coming months,
we will be releasing tools that will automatically create header data from
PDF documents and automatically extract and resolve citations as reference
links. These tools will significantly reduce the costs of putting up an online
archive, benefiting both publishers and scholars.
Many of these new technologies will be showcased at Ingenta Labs, a new area
of our Web site that we'll be launching during the fall.
Q: I recall an article about Ingenta by Information Today columnist
Mick O'Leary, [published] in January 2002, which criticized the pay-per-view
article purchasing for having confusing, unpredictable, and high costs for
articles. Can you comment on whether that has been addressed?
A: I'm afraid these are issues that belong to the publishers, rather than
to Ingenta. We have a completely consistent pricing strategy that is the same
for every article. Where it varies is the royalty costs set by the publishers,
and this can vary from zero to $100. As part of our contract with publishers,
we have to sell articles with whatever royalties the publishers want. So if
it seems unpredictable or high, it is the result of dealing with 260 different
Q: We've touched on some trends in the industry, including difficult economic
conditions and linking, but I'd like to hear your thoughts on other trends
A: Academic librarians as a group, over the last year or so, seem to have
identified much more clearly how they can add value in a connected world, through
the creation of library-level services that integrate the content they buy
from a wide range of sources.
I think that over time, you'll see tighter integration between our e-journal
access platform and the kind of toolkits that librarians are able to use. Increasingly,
search engines and library portals will use sources like RSS data feeds to
create their own services for users, regardless of the interfaces created by
publishers or intermediaries like Ingenta. Users can be alerted to content
on Ingenta without even knowing where it is. I think these are very good types
Libraries are under continuing budget pressure, and yet publishers are saying
they need to increase their revenues. So I suspect that librarians are being
even more creative than in the past about using budgets for different purposes.
While many libraries' overall budgets might be down, I suspect that budgets
for electronic serials purchasing have grown.
Q: With commercial publishers wanting to raise their prices, what about the
growing trend toward open access journals that are providing free access to
scholarly journals on the Internet? The initiative seems to be gaining momentum.
A: It is gaining momentum, but it's still a long way from achieving critical
mass, in my view. I think the commercial publishers have to appreciate how
their business models may have to change if they are to retain their positionwhich
they certainly can, even in a changing world. At the most basic level, there
is a cost to produce a journal. Whether that cost is covered by submission
fees or by access fees is a less important issue. In either case, the publisher
can have a role.
Imagine a publisher that has already licensed content to all the library
consortia in the U.S. The publisher could, at a stroke, say that the license
will now confer rights for the academics in those institutions to submit content
rather than to access content. The publisher would have successfully flipped
its business model completely, to being an open access business. So I think
it's possible to see a transition from where we are now to a completely open
access world without fundamentally destroying the existing scholarly publishing
Q: That's a very interesting scenario. I have one final question about another
trend. The new Microsoft Research Pane in the next version of Office is providing
links to traditional content providers like Ovid, LexisNexis, and Factiva.
What do you think of this? And is it something Ingenta might consider?
A: We'd be very happy to work with that initiative, just as we would be with
some of the things Google is doing. I think Google is becoming the de facto,
non-library search engine, like it or not. We decided some time ago there was
no point in trying to compete with that but to try to be as supportive as possible.
Any final comment?
A: Ingenta and the whole scholarly communications marketplace have been through
rather turbulent times. I'm very happy that all our hard work over that last
year has resulted in a very stable business, and I look forward to a successful
continuation of that growth in 2004.
Paula J. Hane is Information Today, Inc.'s news bureau chief
and editor of NewsBreaks. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.