Congressional Information Service, Inc. (CIS), a subsidiary of LEXIS-NEXIS, and SOLINET (Southeastern Library Network) have made information industry history with their recently announced contract for academic access to the LEXIS-NEXIS Academic Universe service. The multi-million-dollar deal was negotiated by SOLINET, a regional network consortium of southeastern colleges, universities, and public libraries, which acted as negotiating agent for 23 library consortia and three individual universities. SOLINET will administer the contract and be the billing agent--not a small task.
By consolidating the buying power of academic libraries across the U.S., SOLINET significantly reduced the charges that would be incurred by any one library. Starting this month, all undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and administrative staff at the almost 700 participating institutions are able to use a standard Web browser to access LEXIS-NEXIS Academic Universe from CIS in their dorms, the library, offices, or off campus. The contract covers more than 3.7 million full-time equivalent (FTE) students, said to be approximately 53 percent of the total U.S. academic market (defined as 4-year institutions).
Academic Universe provides access to a subset of the vast LEXIS-NEXIS information database. Over 5,000 sources are searchable on the system--with unlimited, campus-wide access--at a cost of under $1.52 per student per year. This low per-student rate is normally only available to contracts for over 500,000 students, according to the pricing schedule posted on the CIS site, so smaller institutions are definitely getting a bargain.
Tom Sanville, chairman of the International Coalition of Library Consortia (ICOLC, http://www.library.yale.edu/consortia), an umbrella organization for many library consortia, called the agreement "unprecedented" and stated, "The national scale of this agreement brings tremendous economic advantages for participating consortia by driving down the cost per student beyond what any individual consortium could attain."
Subsidized by Ads
Mark Capaldini, president and chief executive officer of CIS, said the low cost per student was achieved in part because the mega-consortium agreed that CIS could use advertising on some Academic Universe Web pages to subsidize the subscription cost. CIS has formed an advertising advisory board of librarians nominated by the ICOLC to implement advertising guidelines. Reportedly, without some advertising, the subscription cost would be 40 to 60 percent higher.
The ad guidelines will be posted on the CIS Web site (http://www.cispubs.com) and the first ads are scheduled to appear on July 21. Librarians I spoke with are ambivalent about the ads. They welcome the ads if they keep costs down, but worry about screen clutter and potential product slant.
The advertising advisory board consists of five librarians from a cross section of large and small, public and private universities. The guidelines specify ad categories (e.g., no alcohol, tobacco, or sexual products), types and sizes of ads (e.g., no sound-enabled banners, pop-up windows, or anything deemed intrusive), and details privacy and disclosure restrictions. Adherence to these guidelines should satisfy the concerns of users. There is also an ICOLC-nominated seven-member librarian advisory board for database content.
CIS Serves the Academic Market
Academic Universe was introduced in August 1997, with Florida State University as the beta tester and the site of the first installation. At that time it was called LEXIS-NEXIS UNIVerse. CIS took over marketing to the academic market for LEXIS-NEXIS in early 1998--a logical and intelligent business development--and Academic Universe is now part of the CIS Universe family of Web-based information services, which includes CIS Congressional Universe (legislative reference product, formerly known as Compass), CIS Statistical Universe, and a forthcoming History Universe (with primary source documents).
Academic Universe was designed to supplant the 10-year-old LEXIS-NEXIS Education Program that used proprietary LEXIS-NEXIS software to access the service. The Education Program originally targeted M.L.S. programs and graduate business and journalism schools, but expanded into the general libraries of the institutions. The program was closed to new participating institutions in 1993 because it was grossly unprofitable and because of system capacity limitations. After August 1998, participation will once again be limited to the target professional schools.
As an end-user Web-based service, Academic Universe overcomes the costs of the proprietary system and offers a number of other advantages, such as convenient browser access, unlimited simultaneous users, full-document print and download included in the subscription, and easy-to-use search forms tailored to each subject.
Tom Wallman, CIS director for LEXIS-NEXIS Access, is credited with the idea for the new product. I asked him about the increased demands from the academic users on LEXIS-NEXIS system resources. He reported that the new Web-based search service is designed to be much more efficient in consuming system resources than the old Education Program utilization. The heavy use of the system in the evenings and weekends by academic users should not conflict with the traditional 9-to-5 heavy traffic hours of the service's business and legal users. The company has also recently added and will continue to add system capacity to meet demands.
I spoke with Angee Baker, electronic information services director at SOLINET, who reported that all the libraries are up and running, with minimal glitches in the setup. She noted that the agreement was forged by establishing a real partnership among libraries, their consortia, and the vendor. She feels that this kind of strategic alliance will now open the door for future discussions--networks and library consortia will look for opportunities to explore this business model with other aggregators of information.
LEXIS-NEXIS has long known that getting lawyers hooked on the search service while in law school builds a loyal user base. Now, CIS has taken a giant step toward ensuring that many millions of college students will head into the workplace demanding access to LEXIS-NEXIS content. This is a win-win situation. CIS has proven its marketing savvy and ensured a growing revenue stream. Academic institutions can now provide a valuable information resource at an affordable price. Congratulations to all involved in this mega-deal. I bet it won't be long before the remaining 47 percent of the academic world tries to join in.