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Online, Inc. Acquired by Information Today, Inc.
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Posted On May 14, 2002


See related Press Release
Tom Hogan, president and CEO of ITI, announces acquisition at InfoToday 2002.
Information Today, Inc. (ITI; http://www.infotoday.com) announced today that it has acquired Online, Inc. (http://www.onlineinc.com) and its assets, including EContent and EMedia magazines and the Web Search University, Intranets, and Buying & Selling eContent conferences. Key Online, Inc. management and staff, including Nancy Garman, Adam and Andrew Pemberton, and about a dozen others, primarily in the editorial and graphics area, will join ITI and continue to operate from Online, Inc.'s Wilton, Connecticut base.

Tom Hogan, president and CEO of ITI, commented on the sale prior to his formal announcement at the opening session of the InfoToday 2002 conference in New York. Why did Online, Inc. put itself on the block? "It's been a difficult year for everybody," he pointed out. People aren't traveling as much, which of course impacts conference attendance, and advertising is down, which affects the profitability of the magazine side of the business. "There's a problem being small," Hogan continued, "a scale issue."

ITI itself hardly ranks as a giant as corporations go, but it is bigger than Online, with a larger reserve tank to weather the vicissitudes of troubled economic times. Industry veterans have also suspected, and Hogan confirmed, that Jeff and Jenny Pemberton, Online, Inc.'s founders and longtime hands-on management team, were edging into retirement and surely wanted to cash in the value of the business they had built. From ITI's point of view, the eContent meeting, Web Search University, and EContent magazine, to name just three, were attractive elements of the acquisition package, with great potential for future growth and development.

ITI and Online, Inc. have been more or less friendly rivals since their founding 20-some years ago. In the last few years, ITI has acquired several of Online's print assets, including MultiMedia Schools, the CyberAge Books division, and, most recently and tellingly, Online, Inc.'s flagship publication, ONLINE magazine. Online, Inc., meanwhile, has focused increasingly on the business-to-business market, launching several relatively small, specialized, technology-centered meetings throughout the U.S., as well as the executive-level Buying & Selling eContent conference and a Silicon Valley-based eContent Expo. (The latter is on hold after a disappointing debut and is not part of ITI's plans for the future.) Online, Inc. also repurposed its EContent magazine as a B2B publication after a lengthy run as the info-pro-oriented Database. On its recently redesigned Web site, Online, Inc. describes itself as a "recognized B2B media and event producer."

Information Today, Inc., however, has remained steadfastly focused on the library and information professional market. Since 1998, ITI has purchased several well-known Bowker directories, as well as Information Science Abstracts and Fulltext Sources Online. Meanwhile, its array of conferences aimed at information professionals has expanded. The annual National Online Meeting is now part of a triple-tier collection of program offerings under the umbrella of the InfoToday name. Internet Librarian, the highly successful West Coast conference that debuted in 1997, has spun off a London version as well, Internet Librarian International.

In contrast, a couple of years ago Online, Inc. splintered its longstanding major meeting, the Online World conference and exposition, into a series of smaller, more seminar-like Web Search Universities. In doing so, Online effectively ceded the "big" conference market to ITI.

Carol Tenopir, a columnist for Library Journal and professor in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Tennessee, summarized the acquisition this way: "For more than 20 years, ITI and Online, Inc. competed head-to-head for information professionals' attention. In the last few years, it was becoming clear that ITI was outpacing its competition. When ITI purchased ONLINE magazine last year, it got the heart and soul of Online, Inc. Now it has the rest."

This morning's announcement, though dramatic, has an air of inevitability about it. The online industry in general has been marked by acquisition and consolidation, especially in the accelerated competitive environment of the Web. The initial dot-com shakeout has continued to reverberate throughout the business economy. Even before the current climate of uncertainty and financial retrenchment, budget-conscious information professionals had begun choosing, annually, between apparent equivalents on the conference and periodical fronts. As CEO Hogan told Tenopir in the March issue of Library Journal, competition is generally regarded as a good thing, but, "especially when a market is of a finite size, you kind of relish not having to worry too much about what the competition is doing and whether or not there is room for two magazines, or two conferences, or two Web sites—all delivering similar content to the same audience."

ITI acquired the Online name along with the company's assets and will explore how best to leverage it without confusing consumers. Assuming that ITI integrates its latest acquisitions smoothly, with clear branding and minimal overlap, the choices available to its constituents should be at least as rich as before, and not nearly as confusing. Well-known industry analyst Stephen Arnold points out, too, that "the new deal offers new opportunities for ITI. Because online has become ubiquitous, a combination of the companies' two editorial and content streams permits slicing and dicing for different market segments." Illustrating this point, Hogan pointed to both the Buying & Selling eContent conference and EContent magazine as natural adjuncts to ITI's news-oriented monthly, Information Today, which serves primarily the "provider" segment of the information industry.

Marydee Ojala, editor of ONLINE, who moved with the magazine from Online, Inc. to ITI at the end of last year, comments that the sale, though inevitable, is sad "because one of the companies that grew up with the industry, that actually helped the industry become an industry, has been sold." Tenopir adds, "The information industry wouldn't be the same today without the products and conferences offered by two strong competitors, Online, Inc. and Information Today, Inc. All information professionals owe much to Jeff and Jenny Pemberton, who founded ONLINE magazine and provided many other journals and conferences for us for more than 20 years. ITI alone now takes over the important responsibility of representing the needs and interests of information professionals. The next generation of Pembertons and Hogans will be working together—we all hope as continued strong advocates for information professionals."


Reva Basch is an editor, writer, and consultant to the online industry. She is executive editor of the Super Searchers book series published by Information Today, Inc.

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