ProQuest Information and Learning's acquisition of bigchalk was announced in early December 2002 and completed at the end of December. The takeover of the digital learning resource provider for the K-12 education market provides ProQuest with a collection of new licensed content as well as some interesting technological and interface improvements.
ProQuest is currently consolidating operations in Ann Arbor, Mich., and moving out of bigchalk's offices in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. According to Rod Gauvin, senior vice president of sales and marketing for ProQuest Information and Learning, ProQuest plans to absorb the organization, rather than maintain it as a separate unit. The company has market tests underway to determine usage of the bigchalk brand.
Founded in December 1999, bigchalk represented a partnership of several education companies: Infonautics (later owned by Tucows), MediaSeek Technologies, HomeworkCentral.com, and ProQuest Information and Learning. The bigchalk service targets not only schools, but individuals-faculty, students, and parents. Products include eLibrary, bigchalk Integrated Classroom, and ClassMate. At present, bigchalk services reach more than 43,000 schools nationwide.
ProQuest, which already had a minority interest of around 38 percent, agreed to pay a net cash amount of approximately $29 million for total ownership of bigchalk. ProQuest estimated that in 2003, bigchalk would contribute $22 to $25 million in sales.
In announcing completion of the acquisition, Alan Aldworth, president and CEO of ProQuest Co., stated: "We are excited about the combination of bigchalk and ProQuest electronic resources for our customers. ProQuest has a history of working closely with bigchalk, and we are very familiar with its products. This acquisition provides opportunities to expand distribution of existing products from both companies into their various markets. It also allows greater opportunity to develop new products, drawing from an increased number and range of content sources." ProQuest already has a strong presence in the postsecondary academic library marketplace.
Gauvin said, "With the addition of bigchalk products, we will be able to fully meet the needs of multitype library consortia with a seamless set of electronic reference products serving Kindergarten through postgraduate researchers." However, at present, ProQuest has no immediate changes planned for the product offerings.
Customer service and technical support contacts will remain unchanged for customers until further notice. ProQuest has extended offers to individuals in the over 100-person staff of bigchalk, according to Gauvin. They have already moved sales staff into ProQuest. Gauvin stated: "the sales, marketing, and customer services pieces were more easily defined and easier to integrate. When it comes to IT, editorial, and product development staff, we are taking our time."
The acquisition furthers a number of strategic initiatives for ProQuest Information and Learning. Specifically, it opens up sales for existing library products, such as Historical Newspapers and Chadwyck-Healey reference databases, to K-12 libraries. The bigchalk service package already included special versions of some ProQuest offerings, e.g., Literature Online (LiOn) for Schools, which offers full-text works of literature from medieval times to the present with author biographies, reviews, critical studies, etc. The strong classroom service, with easy and fun interfaces, that bigchalk supplies for the K-12 group, matches ProQuest's Xanedu service, which provides course packs and educational materials to postsecondary educational institutions.
The bigchalk service fits into the new Education unit in formation at ProQuest. The company plans to continue concentrating on library markets rather than individual sales, according to Gauvin. For example, they point to the advantage the acquisition gives them in bidding for library consortia contracts that require a single provider for all levels of education-kindergarten through adult-as well as public libraries.
Gauvin stated that ProQuest was still looking at the pieces of the classroom services and the portal, and still assessing how current products fit into company strategies. He promised: "Now that bigchalk is part of the family, we will give new products more attention. It is our intent to create more K-12 specific curricular-tied products."
In fact, ProQuest recently hired Barbara Beach, former senior vice-president at Gale with a strong background in schools and public libraries, to serve as vice president and publisher at ProQuest. Gauvin indicated that they planned to look at the new content bigchalk brought them in order to: "re-purpose it where we have contractual rights. That's one of the beauties of acquiring bigchalk."
For now, Gauvin said, "We are talking to customers about the bigchalk name, getting customer feedback to determine if we should carry it forward, enhance it, or use the ProQuest name." As to whether or how ProQuest would continue one of the few direct-to-end-user market outlets it has, Gauvin indicated the company had no clear strategy at present.