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Document Delivery Field Continues to Shrink with Demise of EBSCO Document Services
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Posted On September 21, 1998
The number of major information industry players in the document delivery field continues to shrink. On September 14, EBSCO Industries' chairman and CEO, J. T. Stephens, announced that the company would terminate EBSCO Document Services as of the end of the month. Over the last few years, several other document delivery services from major information industry players have ceased operation, including UMI's Information Store and the SourceOne service from Knight-Ridder Information (now Dialog Corporation).

[Editor's Note: UMI has reminded us subsequent to the posting of this NewsBreak that its Information Store remains in force, just on a more limited basis. While the full-fledged document delivery service has ceased, the Information Store continues its traditional service of providing articles from UMI's huge microfilm collection of journals.]

In announcing the decision to close down operations, Stephens said: "Our decision stems from our sense of industry transition, and a judgment of unacceptable economics. In today's world, a document delivery company faces government-subsidized competition, increasingly costly and restrictive publisher licensing, and the need for significant technical investment with very low cost/revenue margins to provide a return on this investment. ... We believe that buying information by the document is useful and has a future, but that document delivery will migrate to immediate electronic access from publisher-licensed electronic storage."

Although announcing strategies to increase access to online journal subscriptions over the EBSCO Online service, including the ability to place document orders for fulfillment by third-party document suppliers, Stephens set no target dates for such service from EBSCO.

With the September 14 announcement, EBSCO Document Services notified its current customers that they would not accept new orders after September 25 and would ship or cancel all outstanding orders by September 30. They offered to help clients make as easy— and quick—a transaction as possible to other suppliers, recommending Advanced Information Consultants (http://www.advinfoc.com) as an alternative. Based in Canton, Michigan, Advanced Information Consultants has some 100 information specialists on staff, offering a full range of consulting and information research as well as document delivery from offices around the country.

EBSCO Document Services—until recently, EBSCOdoc—began in 1979 as Dynamic Information, a small independent information brokerage that began focusing exclusively on document delivery in 1985. In 1994, Randall Marcinko, founder and head of Dynamic Information, sold the firm to EBSCO Industries, who renamed it EBSCOdoc. EBSCO integrated the operation with its EBSCO Subscription Services and EBSCO Publishing divisions. The grand goal appeared to be to provide a complete birth-to-earth service for periodical material that could supply subscriptions to libraries, full text to online searchers, and individual articles for anything not online.

Over the years, EBSCOdoc got rid of some of the special collections (INSPEC, BIOSIS) that Dynamic Information had accrued. In 1996, it signed a cooperative agreement with the University of California at Berkeley that placed an onsite document delivery office in the university library, providing special access for EBSCO to the campus collections.

EBSCO also invested in the development of order management products and scanning and faxing software, and just this year it acquired Network Support, Inc., manufacturer of Relais hardware and software systems for document supply. Relais International is still an EBSCO service and will not be discontinued.

All in all, EBSCO certainly appears to have given document delivery energetic and well- funded support, but changes in the market seem to have turned against it. As one document delivery expert told us, generally customers use document delivery for what they can't find readily, which means the hard-to-find documents that consume too many resources. Clearly the high prices set for copyright clearance have affected all document delivery operations. (Elsevier recently raised its base price per article to $19.) Probably the clearest indication of the decline of the field comes from the fact that EBSCO did not sell the service, but simply liquidated it.

With the demise of EBSCO Document Services, only a few large document delivery services remain in operation—government-sponsored ones (Canada's CISTI, the British Lending Library) and commercial ones (Institute for Scientific Information, Dialog's CARL UnCover service). Dialog's new owners announced plans to divest CARL immediately upon takeover several months ago, but reputedly have had difficulty in locating a buyer. Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) supplies document delivery service largely as a complement to its secondary abstracting-and-indexing services and relying on privileged relationships with a network of publishers. Once again, document delivery has become a small-company, niche-market operation as the big players move away. However, publishers, scholarly societies, and libraries themselves have begun their own direct document delivery operations that may grow into major sources in time.


Barbara Quint was senior editor of Online Searcher, co-editor of The Information Advisor’s Guide to Internet Research, and a columnist for Information Today.


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