Tim Collins has been at the helm of EBSCO Publishing for more than a quarter of a century. As founder and president of EBSCO Publishing, Collins has been no stranger to the ebbs and flows involved in the rapidly changing information industry and some rather rough economic times.
Experience and business expertise has taught Collins to know when it’s time to switch gears to accommodate new markets and to provide better services to its global network of libraries. And in late May, the news of such a shift made headlines as EBSCO Publishing (EP) was merged with EBSCO Information Services (EIS). Both companies were divisions of EBSCO Industries, Inc., one of the largest privately owned businesses in the U.S. The merged companies will now be known as EBSCO Information Services, with Collins as president.
As details of the merger began to unfold, Collins pointed out that the two divisions have worked closely together for years, but the possibility of a merger first began to generate buzz less than a year ago.
“We decided to merge the businesses because we feel we can better serve our customers as a result,” says Collins. Since libraries were asking for more integrated product offerings, the merger was designed to create better integration between products that support the companies’ journal, e-package, ebook, database, and discovery businesses. The consolidation of the two companies lets the new EIS “offer more creative product packages to our customers as the result of a single sales organization selling all EBSCO product offerings,” he says.
For industry analyst John Blossom, president of Shore Communications, Inc., the timing was right, and the merger is poised to provide more value to customers and end users. "Aggregation is an information service," says Blossom, "and in [the realm of] The New Aggregation, we treat it is as part of a stack of information services that are tailored to solve specific problems for audiences. Access to a database is no longer sufficient in and of itself for most institutions to justify subscription costs."
Responding to Customer Need
EBSCO has continued to roll out an impressive portfolio of library resources to its global customer base that spans the academic, medical, K–12, public library, law, corporate, and government markets. Among its top offerings are EBSCONET, with a complete eresource management system, and EBSCOhost, which supplies a fee-based online research service with 375 full-text databases, a collection of 380,000-plus ebooks, subject indexes, point-of-care medical references, and an array of historical digital archives. In 2010, EBSCO also introduced its EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS) to institutions. EDS’s single search box lets users easily access EDS’s complete content collection, with deep indexing and full-text searching of its expanding portfolio of journals and magazines.
Collins credits EBSCO’s customers with helping the company move toward the merger. “The extremely positive response by our customers to our discovery product, EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS), and our ability to automatically offer direct linking from EDS and EBSCOhost to content subscribed to via EIS reinforced to us that the businesses were becoming more closely aligned,” he says.
EBSCO customers who purchase ejournals and e-packages via EBSCO can offer their users SmartLinks+, which supplies accurate, one-click access instantly to the full text of ejournals in the EBSCOhost and EDS collections. All of the key players will eventually reap the benefits: “It’s great all around,” he says, “for libraries [that] get more value from the e-journal collections; for end users who have greater, simplified access to the full text that they want; and for publishers who will see more usage of their content, and subsequent value attributed to it.”
Both EIS and EP were the largest companies in their respective fields in terms of sales, says Collins. While EP had slightly more employees than EIS, it claimed a larger sales volume since EP sales were processed through EIS offices, he says. Deciding on the name of the new company was based on the fact that “EBSCO Information Services” was a better choice of wording to describe the new combined business, he says. “Information” is the operative word.
"While we are a publisher of numerous proprietary content and software products,” says Collins, “we are also a distributor, aggregator, and agent. However, all our product lines relate to the provision of information.” But the name choice wasn’t designed to reflect any negativity about EP. “I have been proud to run EBSCO Publishing for 26 years and those have been years of steady financial growth and product innovation,” he says, noting that he considers this merger as a positive step for EBSCO and its customers.
As with any merger, industry observers weigh in on the short- and long-term effects on the staff, operations, and services going forward. Collins says he sees consolidating EP and EIS into one business as a better way to leverage resources with the EBSCO businesses, all of which is intended to ultimately provide value and benefits to its customers. And as for job cuts and layoffs? “We do not anticipate that this merger will have an impact on the number of jobs at EBSCO,” he says. “We actually have a number of open positions within EIS that we are recruiting for now.”
But Collins would be remiss if he didn’t mention that there would be some changes in the support staff: With Collins at the helm, subscription service operations will report to Allen Powell, president of subscription services; sales and marketing staff will report to Sam Brooks, executive vice president of sales and marketing; development and technology teams will report to Mike Gorrell, executive vice president and corporate information officer; and the product management and product support teams will report to Stratton Lloyd, executive vice president of product management and customer satisfaction.
Growing Value in EDS
In the past 2 years, EBSCO’s business has prospered, especially the discovery business, which Collins says “has exploded.” The company still adheres to its core mission of staying the course as an online research service dedicated to serving institutions, but the scope and depth of those services continue to evolve with a big boost in ebooks, a greater stake for medical point-of-care products, and a flood of content to EDS, he says.
A big surge in ebooks usage is being credited to integrating ebooks and audiobooks into the same search platform that is used for database content, says Collins. “We are able to offer e-books with no fees and no mark up and within a platform that is the most-used research platform in libraries,” he says. As ebooks gain popularity, libraries turn to a provider that can offer the most access options (multiple purchase options, patron-driven acquisition and subscription resources), the best content, and an integrated solution for ordering eresources. And that’s where EIS steps in, he says, with a responsive design that gives users access to databases, ebooks, and discovery when they need it in a multichannel, multidevice world.
When EDS was launched in 2010 and as EBSCOhost’s offerings were expanded, EBSCO pumped up its search capabilities. Collins gives these initiatives two thumbs up. “We are very pleased with the market reception to our EDS product line,” he says. “We have listened to our customers and are now partnering with numerous ILS vendors, including Innovative Interfaces, OCLC, and SirsiDynix, to make EDS available through their services.” Nearly all of the ILS companies are interested in partnering with EBSCO and see advantages in these mutually beneficial partnerships.
DynaMed, EIS’s flagship evidence-based, point-of-care product, continues to excel with customers for its currency, functionality, and consistency of treatment recommendations, says Collins. He sees M&As as a way to augment EBSCO’s range of offerings. This is a business strategy that Collins says will continue as the company looks “for sensible acquisition opportunities.”
One such deal was signed in January 2013, with the acquisition of PEMSoft, a pediatric evidence-based resource. This acquisition, and others like it, helps DynaMed meet the needs of doctors and other healthcare providers. Collins says Social Work Reference Center was another evidence-based, point-of-care product that was added for social workers and other mental health professionals. Likewise, Nursing Reference Center is becoming a staple in hospitals, and these resources for nurses will be expanded and enhanced going forward.
Later this year, EBSCO is planning to release Full Text Finder, which will replace A-to-Z with LinkSource. Full Text Finder will be available either as a standalone product or as one that is totally integrated into EBSCOhost and EDS. Customers will get Full Text Finder at no additional charge since it will be part of EDS.
As part of the new Full Text Finder, EBSCOhost customers can manage their holdings via EBSCOadmin’s management module. Full Text Finder will use this module to drive its functionality for publications with its browse-and-link resolver and as the full-text limiter for EBSCOhost and EDS. For customers who buy ejournals and e-packages from EBSCO, their purchase information will automatically be populated into the EBSCOadmin holdings module, which saves time and guarantees that users will continue to have access to content. Any ejournal articles and e-packages that are purchased through EBSCO can automatically be accessed with one click from EBSCOhost databases and EDS via SmartLinks technology.
The Benefits of Ongoing Innovation
Although Collins won’t disclose any details about revenue since EBSCO is a privately owned company, he’s quick to say that “[w]e’ve grown nicely in recent years and appreciate the confidence that libraries and other institutions have shown in our products and services.” He sees the EBSCO brand as having staying power with customers and users. Most customers still refer to the company simply as EBSCO, “which is fine with us. We are still the same company our customers have worked with for more than 70 years.”
Since industry competition is fierce, especially in the Google Age, Collins is proud that EDS keeps gaining a greater foothold in the search-and-discovery market. He says he’s heard plenty of positive feedback about EBSCO services from librarians and end users and continues to seek insights from a range of industry experts. EBSCO relies on its network of advisory boards and trainers, discovery engineers, an EDS wiki, and a listserv to keep pace with librarians and their needs. Open communication is what Collins views as helping EBSCO drive innovation to improve services and respond to the needs of its end users. As soon as researchers understand that they can access databases, subject indexes, ebooks, catalogs, and other resources in EDS, they can see that they are getting the best search results on the first page, he says.
Getting end users to understand a library’s many benefits is an ongoing process, says Collins, who sees EDS as a critical part of a rising tide that lifts all boats: “One of the best gauges was a comment of a faculty member at Mississippi State University who declared that EDS has made the library, ‘relevant again.’”