To bq, From ProQuest
by Marty Kahn and Matt Dunie
[Editor’s Note: In the February 2007 issue of Information Today, columnist Barbara Quint devoted her Up Front With Barbara Quint column to what “sound” advice could “a consumer advocate, such as myself, give the new owners of all this luscious, unparalleled content” as ProQuest Information and Learning merged with CSA. bq’s advice in her “Dear Marty/Dear Matt” column was taken very seriously by the key players at ProQuest, so much so that Marty Kahn, CEO, and Matt Dunie, president, decided to write a response to bq about their insights, thoughts, and plans after the mer ger. Here, then, is their response.]
Shortly after Cambridge Information Group announced its plans to acquire ProQuest Information and Learning and merge it with CSA, you interviewed us—the new senior management team of what was then called ProQuest CSA. It was, as always, an interesting discussion, and, in the course of it, we asked you for your ideas on where to take this new company. A foolhardy question by most publishers’ standard—asking Barbara Quint for her opinions means you’ll get them … invariably in a pointed, public way.
But as a company in control of its own destiny and with a long-run view, ProQuest (our permanent name) is in a unique position to encourage and explore outside voices. So, when you responded to our question with “Dear Marty/Dear Matt,” a column devoted to “tips” for how not to screw up a company that has an important tradition in the information business and great potential for the future, we listened, we evaluated, we matched it against our plans as a reference point from an information consumer advocate. Your column became part of a comprehensive research program that tapped our customers, our employees, and other essential audiences for their thoughts, ideas, and opinions about how ProQuest would move forward.
Now, as the dust has settled on this merger, we’re responding to your column to let you know where we stand on your tips.
Tip No. 1: Content Is King
We couldn’t agree more. You said, “In the information field, the three key assets are content, content, and content. Don’t let anything diminish what you already have: no cutbacks in production and no production shutdowns of temporarily less revenue-generating content. In fact, this is the time to reach out for new content, particularly if it fits with established content streams.”
We could not agree more. Our strategy going forward is to unlock content. We’ll continually hunt it down and get it out to researchers. This includes our own information vault, where we are identifying the properties stored on microfilm that would better serve serious researchers and librarians, if they were available digitally. Additionally, we’ll continue the tradition of building strong partnerships with information creators, enhancing access with robust searching and a larger information context. Our job is to consistently add to the pool of what you describe as ProQuest’s “luscious, unparalleled content” (a nice turn of phrase, thank you).
But we want to add that it’s more than having the content—it’s about creating clear signposts that allow researchers to find it easily. That’s an integral part of our future—a strength that will be leveraged to its fullest. CSA Illustrata is a great example. It uncovers illustrations and tables in content through a process of deep Web indexing. We’re accelerating the growth of this product’s content because of its ability to unearth content that would remain largely invisible to researchers. And there’s more to come. In short, we pledge to push the envelope on abstracting and indexing—the very foundation of accessibility. Which brings us to your next tip …
Tip No. 2: Access Is Divine
Ah, Barbara, right again (when was the last time a publisher said that publicly?). “Whatever you do, don’t shut down any outlets for ProQuest content,” you said. We agree. Exposing end users to our content—wherever that may be—makes them happy and makes us happy by introducing our brand to potentially new markets.
But does that mean we’re interested in growing direct-to-end-user markets? Let’s put it this way: We understand clearly that end users are driving the
development of interfaces and usage of content. End-user needs will be a key driver in our product planning. We consistently seek to understand how they’re interacting with content, where and how they want to receive it, what they feel is the better search path. At the same time, our commitment to librarians and libraries remains strong. We’ll deliver on that commitment by creating products that allow librarians to better serve their customers—people who rely on solid, serious research.
You commented that “almost every serious knowledge worker in the country has to pass through academia to get to his or her future career. Ergo, if you have a strong market presence in the academic marketplace, you automatically have a potentially strong market opportunity in all other knowledge-worker marketplaces.”
We agree again. ProQuest’s strength in academic markets is very deep, with an especially strong presence among Ph.D. candidates since we digitize, classify, and index their dissertations. We’re committing to expanding our presence with those scholars who move outside of academia into corporate and government roles. As you suggest, it’s a lever for growing our brand in new, emerging institutional markets. Which brings us to your closing point …
Your ideas for staying in touch with students after they graduate and directing information seekers to libraries with ProQuest holdings are in alignment with our goals for the future. We’re eager to leverage understanding and appreciation of these databases into a life of usage … and your suggestions are being explored further.
However, we want to raise another aspect of marketing to end users that we feel is essential to the core of our business: setting up libraries for success. Our future is built upon creating products that precisely serve the needs of the library’s community (whether that’s a neighborhood, faculty and students, or a business) and then providing tools that teach our customers how to market to their customers.
Our goal is to empower libraries with the right products along with tools and knowledge to build their own brand. It requires building products from the end user point of view, rather than what’s available or easy for us. On the marketing end, we’ve already begun an initiative to provide marketing tips and tools to public libraries and will follow later this year with a marketing kit for academic libraries.
You mention that “whatever future plans CIG has for its new subsidiary, ensuring and increasing the quality of content, as well as ensuring and increasing access to that content, can’t hurt,” and we’re with you all the way. In fact, that’s our game plan, Barbara. Know that your column will continue to play an important role in helping to shape that strategy.
Marty Kahn, CEO
Matt Dunie, President