Sanford bristled at the notion that the acquisition will result in fewer choices for customers. He foresees no product consolidation. ProQuest buys companies to invest in them, not kill them off. He cited ProQuest’s acquisition of ebrary and EBL as a model. Both ebook companies continue to operate, along with a new combined product, ProQuest Ebook Central. He also mentioned investing resources in recent acquisitions, such as Coutts Information Services’ OASIS (Online Acquisitions and Selection Information System) and MyiLibrary.
He’s particularly excited about combining the knowledgebases of both companies. ProQuest’s is larger, but each has unique information. Increasing the knowledgebase will benefit customers of both Primo and Summon without forcing them to switch allegiances.
Keeping product lines does not equate to static products. ProQuest updates its products as technology changes. After buying Dialog, it radically changed the platform to bring it up-to-date. It also eliminated hundreds of databases from the service; decided to focus on the main areas of intellectual property, engineering, sci/tech, news/trade, and pharmaceutical/biomedical; and acquired Pi2 to enhance that focus.
What about relationships with other companies? Sanford reiterated that ProQuest intends to maintain its commitment to openness. Both Ex Libris Group and ProQuest collaborate with information industry organizations, including OCLC, EBSCO, Google, Gale, Elsevier, and HARRASSOWITZ. Both actively support NISO’s (National Information Standards Organization) Open Discovery Initiative (ODI).
Sanford listed six key things he thinks customers should know about the acquisition, which he terms “additive”:
- Customers will still have choices.
- The company will honor its commitments, and there will be no disruptions.
- Ex Libris Group and ProQuest products are complementary and will strengthen each other.
- As a result of the acquisition, the company can build new things.
- It can more deeply integrate into library workflows.
- More content will be available to global customers.
“Libraries,” said Sanford, “have big problems and they need big solutions. We can provide that.”
Not everyone is so sanguine. Librarians worry about nuts-and-bolts issues. Who will be their rep after the acquisition? How will invoicing change? Will prices rise? How will the knowledgebase integration work in real life? What changes in functionality will occur? Will their voices be heard, now that the company is larger? When the acquisition is completed, expect ProQuest to aggressively cross-train its sales and support staff to answer these questions.
The role of private equity in the library automation and workflow market shows no discernable trend. The same day that ProQuest and Ex Libris Group made their announcement, Bibliotheca completed the purchase of 3M Library Systems’ North American business and entered into agreements to purchase the assets of 3M’s global Library Systems business. 3M is a publicly traded company. Bibliotheca’s owner is private equity company One Equity Partners.
Taking the completely opposite approach from ProQuest in its Ex Libris Group acquisition, Bibliotheca will combine the 3M business with its own and move to a single Bibliotheca brand. Its strategy is to integrate products rather than regard them as complementary.
Implications of Industry Acquisitions
Ithaka S+R’s Roger C. Schonfeld looks at the “larger implications” of the ProQuest acquisition of Ex Libris Group. In his blog post, he makes the distinction between content platforms and library systems. He thinks the lines between them are increasingly blurred and that ProQuest sees the synergies between the two as a business opportunity. It probably does, but the bigger question is how libraries will view discovery services going forward. If discovery services don’t deliver on their promises, libraries will be looking for alternatives.
One unanswered question is how ProQuest’s competitors, most notably EBSCO, will respond to the acquisition. Carl Grant, associate dean for knowledge services and CTO at the University of Oklahoma Libraries, speculates that EBSCO might buy Innovative, given the latter’s sudden change in top management. Innovative CEO Kim Massana left abruptly and was replaced by Bert Winemiller, a senior partner at JMI, as interim CEO. Private equity companies JMI and HGGC, LLC own Innovative.
Should customers dwell too much on whether their suppliers are owned by private equity firms, publicly held companies, or family businesses? Probably not, advises Hulser. What’s important, he thinks, is making sure that librarians understand the specific needs of their organizations and communicate that to suppliers. “Functionality is more important than brand,” he says.
The library marketplace is shifting. ProQuest’s acquisition of Ex Libris Group is just one indication. Librarian reaction to the resulting company will determine how the market will shift next.