early 2001 a brouhaha erupted on various library listservs concerning a
sudden large increase in periodical holdings on EBSCOhost. It wasn't
the number of journals that caused the concern, but the worry that many
of them were moving exclusively to EBSCOhost. Rumors circulated
that EBSCO was enticing publishers into exclusivity deals using a ton of
money. The other two competitors in the academic market, Gale Group's InfoTrac
Web and, most loudly, ProQuest Information and Learning's (formerly Bell
and Howell Information and Learning and earlier UMI) ProQuest Direct, raised
alarms over the prospect of lack of access to journals for libraries and
end users, higher fees in a bidding war, and raised, false expectations
for publishers. One notable EBSCO acquisition was Harvard Business Review.
This major business publication signed with EBSCO for an undisclosed but
allegedly many-times-the-normal price, agreeing to withdraw from all other
The questions here
are as follows: Does EBSCOhost display a surfeit of "exclusive"
titles? Are questionable business practices underway with the potential
for great harm to this segment of the library market and online industry?
Is EBSCOhost (or anybody else, for that matter) going about acquiring
titles and then pressuring publishers to yank those titles off of other
hosts? After all, if you paid kilobucks for a year's access to a title
list and those you particularly need suddenly vanish, do you need to go
elsewhere or purchase access to a second service? What about embargoes?
What if the title still appears on the list, but you and your patrons don't
realize that "there" means only articles from a year ago or earlier? Will
you or heaven help us! your end users even notice?
To check out the
facts, this writer obtained the latest available lists of holdings for
EBSCOhost, InfoTrac Web, and ProQuest Direct and compared them with
each other. We also compared the lists against the database of Web periodical
archives that go into Hermograph Press' book Net.Journal Directory
and its online version, Net.Journal Finder. Even between Net.Journal
editions, we had noticed that something was up with EBSCOhost because
its regularly received files had suddenly gotten larger.
some definitions. The word "exclusive" has a connotation "not available
anywhere else" i.e., the synonym of "unique," but that's confusing here.
Let's try these:
for the purposes of this article, means Periodical X appears on one of
the three academic market services, and only one. It may, though, also
appear on a commercial search service like Lexis-Nexis, Dialog, or Dow
Jones, where anybody with a checkbook or credit card can access it.
means Periodical X only appears on one of the academic services and also
on any of the "commercial services." This is the more restrictive case
and the librarian's ultimate worry, particularly since services marketed
to academic settings usually have strong licensing clauses restricting
distribution outside the institution, nor do they have any pay-per-view
So is EBSCOhost
locking up titles "uniquely"? The numbers of titles all these services
list is large, but we cut it down significantly by only considering full
text (in any format HTML, text, PDF, etc.). We did not include titles
carrying only citations or abstracts. We also eliminated any titles that
act more as newswires than as magazines or journals. Bye-bye ANTARA and
After this pruning,
we ended up with the following: 4,039 titles on EBSCOhost, 3,602
on ProQuest Direct, and 2784 on InfoTrac Web, using our definitions. How
many titles do we find listed by all three services? 827 titles. Titles
appear on two of the three academic services from 391 times to 632 times,
depending on which pair of services one examines.
Now for the big
answer drum roll please! for how many titles appear uniquely on each
out of 3,602
InfoTrac 1,160 out of 2,784
EBSCOhost 2,170 out of 4,039
The two main protagonists
arguing on the listservs, EBSCOhost and ProQuest, are running virtually
neck and neck, with EBSCOhost taking over the top spot after many
years as a near-cellar dweller in the standings.
Look at it another
way. Fifty four percent of the titles on EBSCOhost are unique to
it; that is to say, they only show up on this service and NOT the other
two academic services. Sounds pretty nasty until you look at the rest
of the numbers.
ProQuest 48 percent
InfoTrac 42 percent unique
This is hardly
a monopoly situation. This isn't The Wall Street Journal only on
Dow Jones Interactive. Competition seems to have survived.
What this resembles
most closely is the online universe situation of about 10 years ago, pre-Internet.
At that time, you needed unique proprietary software to access any particular
service. If you wanted something on Dialog, you had to get an account and
learn their software. Want something else on Lexis-Nexis? Write another
check and receive another diskette package. Oy! It's only on Dow Jones
News/Retrieval? Where's that checkbook?
The real lesson
here remains that librarians who need access to everything in the academic
universe stillhave to fork out money for all three accounts. If you hadn't
realized that before, it's not because EBSCO suddenly began locking up
academic ink. It's been that way for quite some time.
Buy or Die?
is the long-standing aggregator service for the academic market. It comes
from the EBSCO Publishing division of EBSCO Inc. You pays your fee, you
gets your mass of journals. You can get the whole package of thousands
of titles or smaller subsets, depending on your needs and wallet. It has
no transactional pricing leave your American Express card home.
EBSCO Online was
begun by the EBSCO Information Services division of EBSCO Inc. as a tool
to manage access to publishers' electronic archives for their journals.
If you have a print subscription to the Journal of Biology, you
can get access to the electronic version using EBSCO Online. EBSCO simply
took its subscription agency model for print subscriptions and applied
it to the burgeoning set of electronic archives, strictly a middle-man
But then EBSCO
took it one step further. They made arrangements with some publishers to
allow access to EBSCO Online users on a pay-per-view basis. You whip out
your credit card and download the article but you must have at least
one regular EBSCO Online e-journal subscription in order to have access
to EBSCO Online at all and to access the pay-per-views. You can not come
in with your credit card from outside the system, ala Lexis-Nexis or Academic
There is considerable
sharing of titles between EBSCOhost and EBSCO Online, but one
EBSCOhost actually has the data in its computers, the other
EBSCO Online is just a sophisticated portal between you and the publishers.
So all the players
have "uniques." But what about "exclusives"? In other words, can you or
can you not escape the teapot-only barriers of subscription services and
buy a teacup of articles from a commercial service when you need to? Suppose
you run a small library and can only afford one service, or maybe two in
a good year, but never all three. Can you get access to journals not found
on your service of choice only when you need them by going elsewhere?
We separated out
the titles unique to each service and ran them against the listings in
Directory/Finder for the three main commercial services, Lexis-Nexis,
Dialog, and the Dow Jones Publications Library. On each one, you can get
an industrial-strength account or wave a credit card at your monitor and
One should point
out certain factors here. ProQuest Information and Learning has a long-standing
relationship with the Dow Jones/Factiva group, in which Factiva serves
as the corporate market partner. So a lot of ProQuest unique titles ought
to show up on Dow Jones Interactive. Gale Group has long-standing relationships
as a supplier to Lexis-Nexis and Dialog; in fact, Dialog and Gale Group
are now subsidiaries of the same parent company, Thomson.
has made a conscious decision to withdraw from other services. You won't
find its periodical files on OCLC any more. Its Collectanea service is
mere history. One might expect fewer titles shared between the commercial
service listings and EBSCOhost.
The table below
compares how many of each service's Uniques (only available on one of the
three) appeared on a commercial service. For example, 15 percent of EBSCOhost's
unique titles also appeared in Lexis-Nexis, so they were classified as
unique but not exclusive. The other 85 percent of the titles are, of course,
exclusive only on EBSCOhost, period.
At first glance,
what we could have anticipated from the established relationships between
aggregators and commercial services seems to be true. Those titles unique
to InfoTrac or ProQuest can often be bought elsewhere (though clearly not
unique title). On EBSCOhost, though, you have at most one chance
in eight to find any full-text periodical unique to their collection on
any one commercial service. I also ran just EBSCOhost's unique
titles against the combined total title lists of the three commercial services.
Four hundred seventy two titles appeared on the commercial services, though
obviously some titles show up on more than one service. This means that
a total of around 25 percent of the unique titles can be bought pay per
view on a commercial service, or conversely, 75 percent of the titles remain
truly exclusive. One does not have to run title lists from ProQuest and
InfoTrac to know that the unique titles from these aggregators will appear
more frequently on the commercial services than EBSCO's. ProQuest and Gale
sell titles anywhere they can; EBSCO does not. Whether the exclusivity
policy at EBSCOhost in relation to distribution through commercial
services stems from contract stipulations with publishers worried about
digital cannibalization of print subscriptions, numbers alone cannot determine.
One other note.
Business Review may be exclusive to EBSCOhost in the academic
market, but you can still find it on Dialog and Lexis-Nexis and Reuters
Business Briefing but not Dow Jones Interactive (though that could change
if Factiva ever completes its long-promised merger of the two services).
While whipping out the university credit card may not be an academic librarian's
preferred option, it nevertheless leaves HBR a non-exclusive offering
outside the academic market.
||versus Dow Jones
Long, Long, Long Lag Times
One final complaint
was raised. ProQuest Info and Learning also claimed that EBSCO was embargoing
periodicals for as much as 2 years. That means that although EBSCO may
have a run of titles going back who cares how far, the most recent "as
much as 2 years" would not be available. A long lag occurs between the
latest issues out in print and the latest issues available online. For
libraries going from paper to paper+digital or digital-only, this may or
may not become an intolerable situation. It all depends on whether you
have the stomach to tell your patrons you can't get anything more recent
than a year or more ago.
I asked each representative
of the three aggregator services if they embargo. All said they do. ProQuest
and InfoTrac both claimed they have very few embargoed publications and
none with lag times as long as EBSCO.
me with a listing of embargoed titles and their time lags. The listing
varied slightly from the listing of full-text titles I had received 2 weeks
earlier, which I have learned to expect from rapidly moving online services.
I did not "clean" this file of 5,093 titles, which was a few hundred more
than the original file sent to me. Nevertheless the conclusion shouldn't
differ. There are only 932 titles with embargoes in the periodical (non-newspaper)
listings. That's 18 percent of the titles. Of these 932, the embargo is
one year for 588, or 63 percent of the embargoed listings and 11 percent
of the entire periodical list. Most of the rest are 6-month embargoes and
only 52 titles (1 percent) have embargoes that extend more than one year.
Good Business? The Executives
access," says Vince Price, vice-president of marketing at ProQuest Info
and Learning. "The aggregation [of titles] gets fractured and this will
raise the cost structure."
The arguments of
Price and Alan Paschal, CEO of the Gale Group, run something like this:
EBSCO is making
outlandish offers to publishers to move all their titles to EBSCOhost,
paying three, four, 10, even 100 times as much as the usual fees. Often
the money paid exceeds revenues publishers receive now from all sources.
Many publishers simply can't pass up a windfall like this. It protects
their bottom lines in shaky times. Meanwhile, there's an embargo on the
new holdings so those publishers can maintain their print products, causing
libraries to continue print subscriptions and not go wholly digital. And
the contracts extend from 1-5 years. This also protects the publishers,
though some publishers undoubtedly don't want to play this game, believing
in the current model of spreading themselves around to have a variety of
inbound cash streams.
Price and Paschal
maintain they would rather compete not on exclusives, but on quality and
indexing and value-added. For example, they point out that each of their
systems is codified and indexed with many more fields and keywords than
EBSCO's and supports more sophisticated searching. Price says EBSCO has
four index points while his ProQuest products offer 19 index points.
of the competing aggregators believe that this policy of EBSCO's will cause
1) publishers to have higher expectations in the future for money they
can get from any of the three players when existing contracts come to an
end, 2) initiate a bidding war for exclusives that will ultimately raise
the costs that libraries and end users have to pay, 3) that libraries choosing
just one service because budgets are too tight will be unable to get access
to all the titles they need for their patrons with the missing titles unavailable
anywhere else. Price said, "There will be three systems at twice the price."
Though Price doesn't
like such a cutthroat way of doing business, he says, "We're prepared to
do this strategy. But it will make electronic collections more difficult
and less stable. As the pricing war escalates, content will move around
and prices will escalate."
asks, "What does the customer really want us to do? Do they want us to
go pursue exclusives? They may think so, but that's not what they really
Alan Paschal is
a lot less concerned than Price. He even concedes EBSCO's plan is a good
strategy for getting market share. Still, he states "We don't like them
[exclusives]. [It's] not good for libraries and publishers. It forces libraries
to subscribe to multiple vendors. [and] hurts publishers because smaller
libraries can't afford the costs, so publishers can't get their brands
out farther. It is like the escalating costs of major league baseball.
The ticket prices will get out of hand."
He's not worried
about competing against EBSCO, however, no matter which way the company
wants to compete. "We can outspend anybody."
Paschal adds, "This
is a short-term strategy. EBSCO can't continue to spend the money. It's
Paschal also thinks
the strategy of embargoes isn't a good one. He claims InfoTrac has few
embargoes and none as long as EBSCO. "These kinds of services are research
tools; people don't read the journals online like they do offline." He
doesn't believe putting the information online without an embargo should
hurt print subscriptions.
Tim Collins, division
general manager of EBSCO Publishing, responds that the arguments were grossly
exaggerated, even comical. As to the contention that EBSCO's titles would
be hard to access anywhere else, including pay-per-view systems, he says,
"This was a conscious decision to focus on the library market." This is
why EBSCO dropped Collectanea or EBSCO files on OCLC. Collins states:
We're making an
investment in growth and to improve our product. But I've seen some statements
that are gross exaggerations. It's not like we won a lottery. It's rather
comical. It's not as extreme as I've seen out there. We have a number of
titles that are unique to our service, but they aren't exclusive. It's
not like we can tell them who they can work with. But they do have a long
history of working with EBSCO Information Services.
There are a number
of publishers that we have signed arrangements with that EBSCO Publishing
[the parent division of EBSCOhost, separate from EBSCO Information
Services that runs the subscription service and EBSCO Online] has not worked
with in the past and these publishers are scholarly/academic people. But
these publishers have never worked with an aggregator before. So we approached
them to work with us in our databases on EBSCOhost and they've agreed
to do that When you've never been in an aggregator database before and
suddenly they appear in ours, they've become unique.
Examples of these
new EBSCO partners include the American Institute of Physics and Springer-Verlag.
What about the
Business Review? Collins says, "HBR is a separate thing. They
made a decision to work only with us in the academic market. We're obviously
happy with that. It's not exclusive, it's just they chose to work with
us and not with them [InfoTrac and ProQuest]."
And the complaints
about raising the cost of access? "When you have a new product with a lot
more titles, yes, it will be a lot more expensive. Of course a BMW 740
is more expensive than a Lexus, it's got more content. A product with twice
the content, sure it will be more expensive.
As far as embargoes?
"The database is not a replacement for a current subscription, this is
the difference between a database and an online journal. Would the libraries
want to have no online content or embargoed content?" Collins does allude
to the fact that one could get the current content on EBSCO Online for
those EBSCOhost titles also found there.
"We're hearing on the listservs that EBSCO is trying to limit the access
to information. I think we're increasing it. If titles have never been
in an aggregator database before and now they are available in ours, that's
a good thing, right?"
Conclusions and Predictions
Does this tempest
in a $500M market teapot really boil down to something substantial? EBSCO
came late to the aggregator field. It has always been the third player
in this game. Now it has hit upon a strategy to build market share at the
expense of the other two players. This corporate model of business may
seem somewhat distasteful, especially to the academic marketplace, but
it is legitimate, though it may come with some trade-offs.
First of all, should
ProQuest and InfoTrac decide to play the same game, Gale Group probably
has the most capital to play with. ProQuest Info and Learning can dig deep
into the past with all its microfilm and microfiche holdings which, old-tech
or not, represents a major trove and a still-viable market. EBSCO's biggest
information ace is its direct relationship with publishers and their print
products. Past trends have shown print products shrinking in sales while
digital products grow and that publishers have made more money by diversifying
their income streams, not restricting themselves to exclusive arrangements.
If EBSCO plans
to buy market share by buying exclusivity with higher up-front fees, does
it have the capital (even from E.B. Stephen's diverse company holdings,
such as the real estate empire) to play this out for the long period of
time it would take to compete against the other two players? Is it, as
Paschal says, "a blip"? Can EBSCO build and maintain market share by paying
higher-than-average fees over the long haul? Only time will answer this
At this point in
time, however, the arguments about exclusivity are somewhat misleading.
All three players have unique titles among the three of them, in the
academic market, and in roughly equal amounts. Perhaps EBSCO has suddenly
upped its position in the threesome, but that's not necessarily a cause
to cry foul.
clearly demonstrates a rise in exclusiveness in EBSCOhost, when
compared to the commercial field, that the other two aggregator companies
do not have. Many of the titles EBSCOhost has unique to its library
service cannot be found on the big three commercial services. This might
be a real complaint...except I've found that many of the EBSCO exclusives
are more academic in nature than one would expected for collections on
Dow Jones or Dialog and Lexis-Nexis to a lesser degree. They aren't even
on EBSCO's other service, EBSCO Online.
I ran the EBSCO
list of uniques against the title list for EBSCO Online. As readers may
know from my other recent article in the June 2001 issue of Searcher
("The Continuing Adventures of Scholarly Jones, Chapter Two: You'll Pay
to View This, Doctor"), EBSCO Online, an access/management entry point
for libraries to e-journal archives, has a moderate percentage of pay-per-view
titles now (see the "EBSCOnfusing" sidebar
on page 42). I ran the unique EBSCOhost titles against the list
of titles for EBSCO Online. There isn't much overlap yet, but those titles
common to both come from the folks at, for example, Adis International
or Blackwell Publishers, Carfax or Sage or Lawrence Erlbaum, and many other
typical STM (scientific/technical/medical) publishers.
of the EBSCOhost uniques are those that one might expect ProQuest
or InfoTrac to want in their services for the library market. If the deals
EBSCO made to get the titles on their service involved exclusivity in the
library market, one could see the advantage to EBSCO, though not necessarily
to libraries or end user.
Only 350 matches
occurred on that cross-list checking, not a very high percentage. The good
news is that many of the matches did fall in the pay-per-view domain. If
you have access to EBSCO Online and a credit card and need one of the 2,000+
unique EBSCOhost titles, you have a shot at getting them on EBSCO
Online, though it will cost you generally as much as $23 an article. But,
yes, you probably are locked out of them if you don't have EBSCOhost
or a site package with the STM publisher's own Web archives.
EBSCOhost has found at least a short-term solution to building up
its market by adding STM and other periodicals, evidently by making higher
than average offers to publishers. This may not be the usual way of operating
in the academic library market, but it's probably not the foul some have
claimed. Librarians and end users depending on commercial pay-per-view
services may be shortchanged by exclusivity, but the academic library service
world already has to deal with masses of unique holdings within each major
aggregator's offerings. It just may not have been so obvious.
Whether EBSCO has
found a viable long-term policy will depend on how much money it wants
to spend, whether Gale Group and ProQuest want to raise the stakes in this
academic poker match, and whether EBSCO's policy sways more publishers
to its side over the long haul. And that, in the end, will determine the
real effects on libraries and end users.
e-mail address is email@example.com.