Cambridge Information Group (CIG; www.cambridgeinformationgroup.com), the family-owned management and investment company that owns ProQuest, Dialog, AquaBrowser, Syndetic Solutions, and Bowker, has acquired a minority interest in LibraryThing (www.librarything.com). LibraryThing provides online book cataloging in a social networking context. Individuals and libraries can catalog their collections and add them to LibraryThing. They can also create their own descriptive tags, review books, share what they’re reading, upload images of book covers, and discuss topics of interest. In mid-January, LibraryThing had more than 35 million books cataloged and some 500,000 registered users. LibraryThing for Libraries (LTFL) adds data and features directly into a library’s OPAC, resulting in new ways for library users to discover the library’s holdings through social networking.
CIG’s investment in LibraryThing will give it the exclusive right to distribute LibraryThing for Libraries through its Bowker (www.bowker.com) subsidiary. Terms of the agreement were not released, but LibraryThing’s founder, Tim Spalding, emphasized that he still owns a majority of the company. "We stay small, quirky, and in Maine," he said. Pricing for LTFL will not change, and LibraryThing will still provide technical support.
CIG is the second minority owner of LibraryThing. AbeBooks bought 40% of the company in May 2006, 9 months after LibraryThing’s launch in August 2005. AbeBooks was subsequently acquired by Amazon in August 2008 (see the NewsBreak at http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbReader.asp?ArticleId=50287), so Amazon is now the 40% owner of LibraryThing. With Spalding remaining the majority owner, that leaves up to only 9% of the company available to be sold as a minority ownership stake. CIG did not reveal how much of the company it bought. LibraryThing did have a relationship with AquaBrowser—it was the first library catalog software to integrate LibraryThing—before it was bought by CIG in June 2007.
Andy Snyder, president of CIG and chairman of CIG’s subsidiaries ProQuest; Bowker; and Navtech, Inc., acknowledged that CIG’s stake in LibraryThing is a small, but strategic, investment and called the deal "a logical partnership." He added that he’d been talking to Spalding "for a long time" and noted that CIG brings its sales and distribution expertise to the table, while LibraryThing adds tool building and community building.
Spalding concurs. He admits the biggest weakness of LibraryThing staff is sales and marketing. Of the 150 libraries signed up for LTFL, 85 approached LibraryThing directly; and 65 get their LFTL data through AquaBrowser My Discoveries. For LTFL to grow, a company with sales, marketing, and distribution expertise was needed. Bowker fills that need. Says Spalding in a blog post (www.librarything.com/blog/2009/01/librarything-and-cigthe-deal.php), expanding on the lack of sales expertise within the company, "We’re programmers and librarians!" In other words, he’s delighted to have another company do the sales support so that he and his staff are free to do what they do best. He’s also pleased with the additional funding, as it will enable LibraryThing to invest in servers and to hire programmers. LibraryThing currently has nine employees.
Some of LibraryThing’s data will be added to Bowker’s Books in Print, a deal that was already in the works before the CIG purchase. Spalding says that "only anonymous or aggregate information" will appear in Books in Print. Through Bowker’s Syndetic Solutions arm (www.syndetics.com), LibraryThing’s book covers and user-contributed book reviews, assuming the user has given permission to share the reviews, will be available. Syndetic Solutions already has a collection of book covers; those from LibraryThing that do not duplicate the current images will be included.
This is a deal that seems to benefit everyone involved. Bowker is sure to increase the LTFL business, and LibraryThing personnel can concentrate on product development and technical support. It seems the epitome of the win-win transaction.